Make a deal for political expediency and then unforseen consequences usually follow.
The ABC and its future is not a ‘bargaining chip’ for the Government to use to pass legislation in the Senate.
Yet a deal brokered by Communications Minister Fifield to gain Liberal Democratic Senator David Leyonhjelm’s vote some months back has already come back to haunt it.
It related to the estimable push for more openness by SBS and ABC board meetings. With the PM and Fifield successfully pressuring the respective Boards to agree.
But, how does that square with political independence for our public broadcasters?
Now Senator Pauline Hanson and her One Nation (has there ever been a more ironic choice of nomenclature?) using her dislike/hatred of the ABC, which has given journalistic space to claims about impropriety and disruption within her party ranks, has chosen to play the ABC card.
“Our vote on media changes is dependent on the ABC’s budget being cut”, she says – “decimated” would be another description.
The commercial media’s reporting on this attempt at improper (and probably unconstitutional) blackmail is largely conflicted, as the major media groupings are supportive of media “reform” proposals being proposed by the Turnbull Government. (By the way, ‘reform’ by definition means change to improve?)
It is an unholy mess with Senator Fifield trumpeting that all media groupings support his ‘reforms’ without publicly recognizing that the major media would all benefit by getting more dominant, Murdoch gaining even greater ascendency with the removal of ownership restrictions and ant-syphoning commitments and Fairfax becoming a more valuable takeover target.
That is quite apart from the lessening rural and regional commercial coverage Australians will have, which will inevitable follow, and current moves to take away the commercial requirements to provide childrens television programs.
All of the above places a greater reliance on the embattled ABC to cover the Nation’s needs and to be a strong and independent source of news and information – with already increasing budgetary pressures.
So One Nation is moving in for the ‘kill’ – a word specially chosen!
The ABC Friends National President Margaret Reynolds said publicly when Sebnator Leyonhjelm’s vote was obtained – that the use of the ABC and SBS to achieve his vote was a conflict. Not just because of the awful precedent set of Govt. pressure on our national broadcasters, BUT because the objective was actually constructive.
Now we have One Nation trying to use its muscle to achieve what it cynically wants.
That is why the ABC Friends national has launched its Defenders Campaign.
It is a critical time for those that believe in the catchphrase Democracy Demands Diversity in both the media and in the range of options available on it.
More information on <abcfriends.org.au>
And hats off to the Australia Institute with its full page ad in the Sydney Morning Herald about to be published for all Australians to consider on Wednesday about the Pauline Hanson and other challenges to the ABC and SBS
Ranald Macdonald is a former Managing Director and Editor in Chief of The Age newspaper. He is an ABC 3LO morning presenter and Friend of the ABC