09 December 2008


A-SPAN is the acronym for Australian Subscription Public Affairs Network which was, as reported in today's Australian, launched by the Prime Minister yesterday.

A-SPAN, or Australian Subscription Public Affairs Network, will begin broadcasting on January 20 next year with live coverage of the inauguration of US president-elect Barack Obama.

Operators say it will become part of the subscription TV platform and will be available for broadcast as a free-to-air digital channel, online and on mobile phones.

A joint initiative of Foxtel, Austar and the Australian News Channel (ANC), provider of Sky News, it will be an Australian version of US network C-SPAN, which provides live coverage of the US Senate and Congress.


“Political junkies will of course love it, they'll now have one more way to drive their family and friends absolutely mad,” Mr Rudd said.

He described the new network as “a good thing” for our democracy and valuable to educators, students and all Australians who want to understand how democracy works.

The venture jumps ahead of the ABC, which a few months ago announced that it was considering a dedicated news and public affairs channel.

The chief executive of Sky News, Angelo Frangopoulos, said A-SPAN would be available on pay TV from January 20.

He expected it would initially be available on free-to-air digital TV only in Sydney.

Former Nine and Seven network political correspondent Laurie Wilson will host a program on A-SPAN, which will also provide broadcasts of the British and New Zealand parliaments and question time from parliaments in Queensland, NSW and Victoria, with more to come.

There will also be live broadcasts of speeches from the National Press Club, think-tanks such as the Lowy Institute and the Sydney Institute, and from universities.

The ABC report is slightly different: it implies that the network will be available on free to air TV throughout the country, not just in Sydney.

I'm currently a pay-TV subscriber but believe that this kind of material should be as widely available as possible, which means on a free to air network (and preferably one free of commercials). The ABC comes to mind but it appears, as the report indicates, to have been caught napping. Once again it seems the ABC will be left with the radio rights to broadcast the national parliament but little else.

In the new world of digital TV (15 " Freeview" channels) which we are being promised parliament should fund a direct telecast and online streaming of all its proceedings
, not just Question Time and a few other highlghts which is all we get nowadays. It may be that few people watch it but it shold not be left to solely to private commercial interests.

Joshua Gans makes some good points on his blog post, including one about the cost to users of online streaming, which sounds good in theory but can be expensive in practice.

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