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

ABC: Judith Sloan's attack « Previous | |Next »
October 2, 2010

I see that Judith Sloan has taken to recycling James Murdoch's attack on public broadcasting in Australia. Where Murdoch directed his canons at the BBC Sloan attacks the ABC, where she was deputy chairwoman from 1999 to 2005.

Her primary argument is that the ABC gets bigger all the time, but it should stick to areas overlooked by the private media. She advocates altering the charter of the ABC to narrow the focus of its operation and reduce the organisation's funding accordingly. She says:

Since I left the board, one of the most significant developments has been the sheer growth of the ABC's activities.There have been two new digital TV channels put to air, making four in total, new digital radio stations and an extensive expansion in the ABC's online presence, particularly the new The Drum website.Whereas the BBC is pulling in its horns and reducing its presence, particularly online, the operations of our ABC are becoming more expansive and intensive. Clearly, none of the senior management in the ABC is keen to acknowledge the market failure argument for public broadcasting: that the ABC should concentrate its activities on areas of the media where there is clearly insufficient or deficient private provision. The attitude within the ABC seems to be that there is no media nook or cranny that should not be filled by the public broadcaster.

The ABC should plug the gaps left by private media due to market failure. What, then are the areas of market failure--the media nooks or crannies that the ABC should plug? Sloan doesn't say. All she says is that 'there are some gaps that probably would not be filled by the private media.'

That is pretty vague. However, we cannot eliminate the areas where there is no market failure. It cannot be a 24 hour News channel because that is provided by Sky. It cannot be online commentary because that is provided by The Australian. It cannot be television because that is provided by the free-to-air commercial channels. It cannot be radio because that is also provided by private media. So we have a real slimmed down ABC. It cannot be Australian drama because the commercial channels are the ones showing original Australian dramas, not the ABC.

Maybe the media nook or cranny is media quality in all its forms because that is definitely not provided by the partisan media owned by News Ltd. An example from a recent editorial:

We believe he (Brown) and his Green colleagues are hypocrites; that they are bad for the nation and that they should be destroyed at the ballot box. The Greens voted against Mr Rudd's emissions trading scheme because they wanted a tougher regime, then used the lack of action on climate change to damage Labor at the election. Their flaky economics should have no place in the national debate. We are particularly tired of the Greens senator Christine Milne arguing that 'green jobs need a real green economy to grow in'. What on earth can she mean? Ms Gillard's embrace of the Greens underlines the vacuity of her party.

The bottom line of the Australian is defending the commercial interests of News Ltd. The best way to do that, in their judgement, is become the Coalition's noise machine.

Keeping the explicit areas of media market failure vague and avoiding what is meant by market failure is the point. The strategy is to kneecap the ABC-- privatizing the ABC is out of the question--- so that Murdoch's competition is much reduced and his spay wall strategy would work. Murdoch loves media dominance and detests competition: it must be eliminated, even if it is independent bloggers such as Grogs Gamut. The justification is the public interest, of course.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 9:45 AM | | Comments (12)


The key area of deficit of the MSM is in the area of 'fair and balanced' reporting of the entire range of issues that should be, but is not, on the political agenda.
It would be desirable even necessary from the point of view of an informed and empowered democracy for the ABC to remedy this lack of objective and all-encompassing reporting and to undertake 'courageous' coverage rather than the transparent echo chamber of the MSM, Murdoch in particular, to which it has transparently and shamefully been confined.
A simple example is its recent admission that its reporting of the Orgill report, borrowed from the MSM, was 'mistaken".
A belated admission of a failure of courage and responsibility that should never have occurred in the first place.

See the ABC correction here:

I tend to agree with Sloan's argument although I'm sure the conclusions I end with would be very different to hers.

I believe ABC TV (and radio to a lesser extent) waste an enormous amount of money broadcasting the same kind of crap as the commercial stations. There are simply no public interest grounds for doing it and it ought to end. SBS and ABC TV should be merged into a single public broadcaster doing things that the commercials don't do but which are in the public interest: kids' educational programs and the like.

Regional ABC radio is also a public good to be retained but there is no reason to keep it free of advertisements, especially if the best programming it can come up with is something like test cricket commentary. The objective should be to make it as self-funding as possible. The same applies to Classic FM, where ads should be accepted much like SBS does already. I'd be inclined to close down radio operations like JJJ altogether.

This does not mean the budget should be cut; it means the funds should be redirected within a revised charter that makes the ABC's primary function the gathering and dissemination of news. Governance should be changed so the directors cannot have a party-political agenda. Confirmation by at least two thirds of the Senate or a similar measure should encourage this. The ABC could then ensure that we have at least one independent, properly-resourced source of news in the new digital age.

Sloan and company would shrilly condemn all this of course. As you say, their agenda is to drive the ABC into irrelevance using the fatuous argument that the private MSM empires are meeting the public's need for news. But Sloan may live to regret her argument because it can easily be used to justify increased ABC activity in the area of news and current affairs, even if it also leads to less ABC entertainment ventures.

I also have problems with the ABC following the agenda set by the Australian. It is particularly noticeable on Radio National Breakfast. Is it laziness? Lack of research? Or a misguided attempt to be balanced?

a big hunk of the ABC's audience are upper middle class Liberal voters. They assume it’s their ABC and they grind their teeth when they watch the 7:30 Report or Lateline. These conservatives would see the ABC as left, and dismiss it for that bias. It needs to be whipped into shape- as the Howard Government tried to do. They would welcome the retirement of Kerry O'Brien from the 7:30 Report

Slaan is happy to see Kerry O'Brien go. I gather from her comments in The Australian that she doesn't really like the ABC.

Its deliberate premeditated bias Gary.
I know of at last 4, excluding the one above, clear examples where the individual item presentation on RN is the result of planning and writing at the production level.
Too clear cut to be excused by sloppiness, the chain is evident where the only reason the message is presented as pro-COALition is pre-planning.
By pre planning I mean that the only way some items can have been presented as they were is if somebody, presumably at production, management and presentation stages, all 3 necessarily, has specifically decided to bias the report in favour of the COALition.
I can itemise if you wish.

Just as a teaser here is one apparently trivial but clear cut illustration.
A few days before the Independents gave their decision RN led a news bulletin with:
"The leader of the COALition ....".
That perked my attention because their normal intro is "The Leader of the Opposition ..." or "the Opposition says..."
But Abbott, in this case, was saying:
"We are no longer the Opoosition but are the government in waiting".
Who ever wrote, produced and presented the news that day had clearly changed their normal introduction to reinforce and give credibility to Abbott's words.
Clear collusion.


fred and Ken are pretty well right. Sloan unintentionally makes the most valid comment:
"...that the ABC should concentrate its activities on areas of the media where there is clearly insufficient or deficient private provision."

If only the ABC had followed that line in the election campaign we might have had informed discussion of real issues instead of the nonsensical trivia that we had until the Grog outburst.

The agenda was firmly set by The Australian and to a lesser but relevant extent by other News ltd publications feeding into the radio and TV commentary.

The ABC simply picked that up exactly as the commercial broadcasters, leading to Menadue's complaint that it was the worst election reporting in memory.

I'm with Ken, too, on allowing the selective usage of paid commercials. It may be one way of maintaining an independent news and public affairs unit setting up its own sources.

Judith Sloan’s article in "The Australian" (linked by Gary Sauer-Thompson) simply refers to areas which there is “clearly insufficient or deficient private provision”. Without some way of measuring this, it is as long as a piece of string. Sloan makes no attempt to define such areas except to say that she has a desire for the ABC to commission more Australian drama. But she justifies this in terms of the ABC’s charter, not “clearly insufficient or deficient private provision”. So which is important, the charter or filling gaps the privates have left? What do you do in case of conflict? One can only conclude that Sloan’s whole “Australian” piece is a monument to sloppy thinking.

Closing down JJJ would be the first thing that I wouldn't do. You may be past the age of enjoying new music but that doesnt mean everybody else is.
JJJ is the best radio station in the country.

I don't think it is the role of the public broadcaster to provide "courageous" coverage. Just balanced, factual,available free and accessible to all news.

Sorry, must laugh.
Sloan wants them to do alternative media, but it was her ideological mates who destroyed the didactic elements within the ABC in order to prepare it for privatisation, as ad friendly.
All the money that used to be spent on docos, current affairs and so forth with the ABC and SBS, went on employing serried ranks of executives to micromanage curent affairs out of current affairs and was wasted instead instead on the sort of duplication of commercial media that Sloane then has the cheek to grumble about.
Utterly gobsmacked at the righties; their absolute gall never ceases to amaze me.

JJJ certainly has its quota of crap but it still does a lot of things that are really good and not done but commercial broadcasters. Their current affairs output regularly outdoes that put out by the supposedly 'serious' current affairs arms of the rest of the ABC.

Yes Paul, shows like the Sports Factor were high quality and are sadly missed.

dj, that's exactly what I reckon.
The whole thing has been an onslaught on precisely the sort of media of that gives unrepresented groups a chance to express themselves and their viewpoint.
The best example I can remember is a little gem they had going maybe ten years ago describing the adventures of aboriginal bush mechanics travelling about the bush doing things like chopping down hardwood branches to replace broken axles on old holdens, out back of beyond..
It was dead funny; you laughed with these blokes, not at them.
The sheer ingenuity these bush mechanics employed in keeping their old bombs going was a most devastating critique on the popular notion or prejudice, that these people just sit around all day, incapable of a contructive and energetic response to a given problem.
Ceretainly blew away the stereotypical treatment afforded this group by tabloid media.
As you'd probably agree,dj, the Friday night young peoples show a few years ago was eye-opening also, exploding the myth that young people can't take on serious projects or express feelings or a viewpoint.
They dont like media that emphasises "community" and inclusivity any more.
It is no longer "our" ABC, but Ruperts, thanks to our gutless politicians and we'd better be greatful for the rubbish pitched at us, or Paul Kelly mightn't like it.