I have said many times that a person from Mars who read and listened to Australian media would conclude that we are an island parked off London or New York with little relationship to Asia. Our news and media coverage is so derivative, relying heavily on the BBC, CNN and other news and entertainment houses in the UK and the US .We are recyclers. Tony Abbott delights in our being part of this Anglosphere with its British monarchy, Sirs and Dames.
My main concern about the ABC is its meagre coverage of our region by its foreign correspondents. That coverage is grossly inadequate at the present time and I expect that with the current funding cutbacks the situation will worsen.
Having said that about the ABC, it must be conceded that it is much more regionally oriented and less derivative and parochial than the commercial media in Australia.
But the ABC has a particular responsibility to project and respond to our regional interests. The importance of our region was on show only last week with the visits of President’s Xi and Widodo and Prime Ministers Abe and Modi and others. The Asian region accounts for almost 60% of Australia’s two way trade. Seven of our top trading partners are from the Asian region. Asian investment is increasing. China, Japan and Korea are three major sources of tourists. Our educational institutions depend very heavily on foreign students, particularly from China and India. India is now the top source of migrants. These trends are clear and are likely to accelerate.
We speak glibly about our future in the Asian Century and the need to equip Australia for its future in Asia, but our media remains fixated on London and New York.
I don’t accept that the ABC should cut its foreign correspondents in our region. A Board that is seriously interested and concerned about Australia’s future would be expanding our coverage in and of the region and cut costs in lower priority and domestic areas. Unfortunately the Board and senior management of the ABC is largely bereft of anyone with experience in or of Asia.
I am also inclined to the view that there are pockets of waste in the ABC that need excising.
The Prime Minister has clearly broken another promise with funding cuts to the ABC and SBS and Malcolm Turnbull made a futile effort to explain away the clear breach of promise.
The government also throws a red herring across the track by suggesting that the ABC cuts are about getting the budget into shape. There is also a nasty factor at play and it is called political revenge by the Abbott Government which would like the ABC to be as compliant and supportive as the Murdoch media. Cutting funds to the ABC also does a favour to Rupert Murdoch who supported the Coalition in such an unprofessional and unprincipled manner at the last election. Further, Rupert Murdoch and his sons have conducted a relentless campaign against both the BBC and the ABC. They don’t like public broadcasters. News Corp has polluted the media in the three major English-speaking countries of the world. It is too horrible to contemplate the consequences for Australia if there was no ABC and News Corp filled the space.
But my main concern at the moment is about the failure of our media, including the ABC to respond appropriately to the facts of our geography and our national interests. The structure of our media was laid down over 100 years ago. It is still north Atlantic oriented.
In the White Paper ‘Australia in the Asian Century’, October 2012, the government was advised in the following terms about our media.
‘Media is central in shaping perceptions and enhancing communications between Australia and the region, and the information revolution offers unprecedented opportunities to connect in new ways. … The content and coverage of the region in Australia’s media needs to improve. This is the responsibility of media organisations themselves. It is an important part of the whole of Australia approach to building links and engaging with Asia that is needed. … We will request the boards of the ABC and the SBS to examine how to promote more extensive coverage of the Asia region in all aspects of their content and programming, with special attention to news and information coverage, to ensure their content reflects the depth and diversity of our regional connections.’ P271/2
We have been warned and told directly, and in quite explicit terms, about the importance of our media for our future in the region.
The only media organisation that will redress our north Atlantic orientation is the ABC. Only the ABC can fill the gap as the business model for commercial media and journalism collapses.
But with the cutbacks to the ABC, it will now be much harder.
The commercial media has failed its responsibilities in regional coverage. The ABC has done much better, but that is now at risk.
We really do have a White Man’s Media that is failing to advance our interests and responsibilities in the Asian region.