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article imageOp-Ed: The war against public broadcasting —ABC Australia in firing line

By Paul Wallis     Dec 3, 2013 in World
Sydney - There’s been an ongoing war against public broadcasters, notably the BBC and PBS, waged mainly by commercial media interests trying to reduce their competition. In the case of ABC Australia, politicians are getting involved.
Sydney Morning Herald:
The ABC's funding should be cut and the national broadcaster forced to sell advertising and paid subscriptions online to compete with commercial newspapers, according to Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi.
"I don't want to see a state run media effectively dominating this landscape," the South Australian senator said.
Senator Bernardi's call for ABC funding cuts, which he made in an interview on ABC radio on Wednesday morning, comes amid widespread anger within the Coalition about the ABC's collaboration with The Guardian Australia to report on the alleged phone-tapping of the Indonesian president, its perceived left-wing tendencies and its $1.2 billion annual budget.
As you can see, this could well have been a macro of quotes from any American media outlet. As a statement made by a politician, however, it leaves a lot to be desired. The Guardian/ABC publication related to the Snowden papers, and was in effect broadcast around the world. The ABC is accused of “amplifying” the publication of this information.
“Left wing tendencies” comes directly from a playbook/phrasebook which hasn’t changed in decades on the conservative side of politics. This is the longstanding label for the democratic process among conservatives. The Australian “left” is apparently the middle class or anyone who remembers democracy, as it is around the world.
(Many writers, including myself, refer to the current left as “leftovers”, hacks quoting old ideological positions with or without regard to actual situations.)
Let’s enumerate the sins of public broadcasters as a species:
1. Public broadcasters are either state funded or otherwise publicly funded. This is “socialism” according to pedants, libertarians and anyone who simply doesn’t like the idea that the public should get something for its tax money for a change.
2. Public broadcasters provide an alternative to commercial sources of information and other media.
3. Public broadcasters are popular. In the face of the decaying remains of conventional commercial media, which has been underperforming spectacularly for over a decade, this is considered a crime.
4.Public broadcasters are not run by vested interests with political positions. This is not only a crime, it is absolutely incomprehensible to both politicians and commercial media.
ABC Australia, as a matter of fact is one of the core training grounds for some of Australia’s best-known journalists. It has an extremely long record of major exposures, investigative journalism, and has brought down one state government, one billionaire and exposed many Canberra-based “malfeasances”.
The Indonesian surveillance affair is a case in point. For God alone knows what reason, the former ALP government authorised phone tapping of the Indonesian president. This extraordinarily stupid “intelligence” operation was exposed by the Snowden papers, which is what the current fuss is all about.
More precisely, it is yet another excuse to attack a much loved and much respected public broadcaster. Politicians appear to fill that their comparatively very short time in public life entitles them to throw as many tantrums as possible. This has been an absolute disaster in America, where Congress appears to have turned into some sort of kindergarten for backwards looking geriatrics. During the Thatcher years in Britain, it was the norm for conservative politicians to simply cite ideology, not facts, as a basis for policy.
The commercial media have been after a slice of the public broadcasting market for some time. The fact that the whole world has changed beyond recognition since globalisation apparently hasn’t occurred to anybody. One of the reasons people watch public broadcasters is because they can’t stand commercial broadcasters.
In Australia, commercial television is so heavily saturated with advertisements that it’s almost unwatchable, roughly 20 minutes per hour. People have been screaming about the situation for years, and of course, the commercial media have paid no attention whatsoever.
Globalisation and the Internet have also done a very good job with trashing media networks. Two major Australian networks Nine and Ten, Have been teetering on the brink of total failure off and on for some years. As usual, antiquated business models, lousy marketing, and very inferior quality product are the main reasons.
Commercial media versus public broadcasters
This has been a case of open warfare for quite some time. Rupert Murdoch has been in the forefront of the push against both public broadcasters and Google News, basically as competitors. While this is understandable in theory, Murdoch, like many others, has completely failed to recognise that there are other sources of information available.
(Before I go any further with this, it should be pointed out that News Corp in particular did have a long and particularly unpleasant, ugly battle with the previous Labor government regarding its criticism of the government. The result was an extraordinarily stupid attempt at regulating news media, and an extraordinarily amateurish display or media management by the government. There is no good reason why News Corp or anybody else should have been expected to tolerate this intrusion into basic democratic rights to information.)
The News Corp owned Daily Telegraph has been conducting a round-the-clock attack on the ABC. News Corp supported the new Abbott government during the recent election, and has remained vocal in support of government initiatives of all kinds. Many, however would question the validity of some of the opinion pieces:
An article called “The ABC’s evil plan to get tentacles into kids” is a case in point. This is a sort of derivative article, finding new grounds to criticise the ABC. It refers to a youth news broadcast run by ABC two, Behind The News, and refers to what appears to be a rather dubious connection between former Prime Minister Rudd’s apology to the Stolen Generations and an apology to Indonesia regarding the spy scandal. Running the two incidents as comparative events is quite dubious, and the point could have been made well, but the headline’s bordering on hysterical.
Other information published includes the salaries of ABC journalists and news readers, which appear to be pretty much in the ballpark for senior journalists and broadcasters. It’s hardly critical information, and not even noteworthy in terms of the salaries of commercial equivalents.
The Daily Telegraph search of ABC is 10 pages long, and this is just one of News Corp’s outlets in Australia.
Ironically, News Corp’s BSkyB receives millions of dollars from the BBC in royalties, and the UK government is only now considering ending that no doubt highly affectionate relationship.
The case for public broadcasting
One of the reasons I had to spend over 1000 very much restrained words explaining the ABC situation is because there is clearly a complete lack of comprehension regarding the value of public broadcasting.
The public is entitled to information, not information as made available selectively by commercial interests.
The public is entitled to receive unbiased information, a criterion which very few broadcasters ever seem to match.
Public money is used to fund public broadcasters. There is no good reason why governments should have any right to interfere with public broadcasters any more than they have the right to interfere with commercial broadcasters. There are simply no grounds for double standards in this area.
One of the basic principles of democracy is the right to dissent. Any government which doesn’t understand that principle should go back to primary school. There is no right of government to interfere, even in theory, with the dissemination of news or dissenting opinions.
The actions of governments are legitimately subject to scrutiny by the public. There is absolutely no basis for the right to public scrutiny to even be questioned, let alone threatened.
ABC Australia, BBC, and PBS perform valuable roles. ABC in particular has the unique distinction of being accused by both sides of politics of bias.
Even George Orwell didn’t envision a society run by commercial media. Nor did Hitler, and the most likely reason for one of the world’s best known left-leading writers and best-known right-wing dictators having the same view would be because they simply couldn’t trust commercial media to do that job.
Interesting thought, isn’t it?
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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