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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

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August 13, 2003

In my earlier post on the ABC I mentioned Robert Manne's judgement that the ongoing reduction in the public funding of the ABC meant that the public broadcaster would be forced to find other income streams. I quoted Manne:

" political judgement [is] that there is no prospect that either the Coalition or Labor will substantially increase in the budgetary allocation to the ABC."

I suggested that this need to find extra income would be the way the competitive market will increasingly impact on, and shape the direction of, the ABC. Manne suggested between program advertising as a way to find that extra income:

" With a revised charter, requiring the ABC to maintain its independence from both government and business, and with a truly independent board, I do not see any reason why between-program advertising need compromise in any way any activity of the ABC."

Christopher Pyne has jumped on the bandwagon:

"...the ABC must find an additional revenue source, by introducing "between-program" advertising.The ABC cannot sustain its current reckless programming priorities unless it is prepared to find supplementary income.... Governments and government bodies are operating in a new paradigm. The days of funding largesse and blank chequebooks are long gone....Creating a new revenue stream would help the ABC face the reality that its appetite for government funds is greater than the Government's capacity to sate that appetite."

That is the Liberal Party response to the ABC cutting children's educational television programs in response to ongoing reduction in public funding. Cutting the Behind the News program has obviously touched a raw nerve: it has cut into its core programming responsibilities. Pyne talks about "The ABC's belly-aching", its "more esoteric programming", and the dumb downing" of the ABC is caused by the ABC management. And the headline refers to stopping Aunty's whingeing.

There is nothing here about the ABC being the watchdog of democracy or the media as the fourth estate. Its about the market. The purpose of the core responsiblities of the public broadcaster is neatly sidestepped by Christopher Pyne in his capacity as chairman of Federal Parliament's Communications Committee.

He evades a core issue: that big and important issues like the Howard Government's first pre-emptive war in Australian history should have been debated more thoroughly in Parliament; should have been covered more extensively and critically in the news media, and the options better presented to Australian citizens before our nation made such fateful choices. What we got was misleading Parliament and a weakening of the honesty check in the political system that gives Parliament a few teeth against a dominant executive.

The politics of this is pretty clear --discredit the ABC as a critical voice in the formation of public opinion. The politics is best expressed by Tapped:

"If a politician seeks to implement policies that he or she knows will have negative or unpopular consequences, it's important to discredit those institutions the public relies on for accurate, fair-minded assessments of how the policies will play out."

Of course, the claim that the ABC's AM program was accurate fairminded assessment of the Iraqi war is hotly contested. But it is the politics that is crucial as it is the main game.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 9:13 AM | | Comments (3)


I'm in agreement with Pyne, but for entirely different reasons. I'd love to see the ABC operating on a basis similar to that of SBS, where much of the funding burden is relieved by external commercial advertising. Such a move would lessen to a great degree the political back-stabbing that's going on, the continual gagging of freedoms of that arm of the media based on political biases. It would also remove that odorous complaint of some sections of the tax-paying population of 'their' money being used to fund a national broadcaster.

its an attractive solution the SBS model--I have to admit. And possibly the only one on the public agenda.

But I concur. Another way of financing the public broadcaster has to be found; one that would enable the ABC to be independent of the government the day.

As far the political backstabbing ---I was listenig to the Senate debate the ABC today. A Democratic (Senator Cherry) motion for Senator Alston to apologize to the ABC.

I was shocked by Coalition Senators--Eggleston, McGauran and Santoro were the ones I hear.

The ABC was defined as the enemy because it disagreed with the government's policies. It was not permissable that the ABC disagreed with the government; or even to link to economic policy websites in Washington that were against privatisation.

The problem with the between program adverts is that once advert funding commences, governments will be tempted to use it as an excuse for further budget cuts, thus requiring more advertisements.

We soon get to a point where the ABC is bidding for Big Brother rights so as to maximise advertising revenue, and jetissoning it's programming quality. This ultimately undermining the entire cultural purpose of the ABC. At that point it is an easy decision for Government to sell it off.
It is privatisation by stealth.

Much better instead to fund it by introducing large fines to commercial media organisations who are blatantly biased, and use this revenue to Fund the ABC.