RANALD MACDONALD. ABC cuts – the gloves are off.

May 10, 2018

The Coalition’s latest budget aimed at ensuring the voters return it to the government benches has dropped any pretence of supporting a vibrant, independent and properly funded ABC.

It is now a fight by the ABC and its supporters for its survival as an effective public broadcaster and for it to be able to fulfill its Charter requirements.

Interestingly, the European Commissioner for Human Rights has just issued a report, which begins:

Well-funded and strong public service media are a good indicator that a democracy is healthy – this is the result of a study published last year by the European Broadcasting Union (EBU). The report notably found that countries that have popular, well-funded public service broadcasters encounter less right wing extremism and corruption and have more press freedom.

However, the situation on the ground gives rise to concerns: an analysis of the alerts submitted to the Council of Europe Platform to promote the protection of journalism and safety of journalists, since its launch in 2015, shows an emerging trend of threats to the independence of public broadcasters or of their regulatory bodies. A growing number of alerts concern political interference in the editorial line of public broadcasters, insufficient safeguards in the legislation against political bias, or the lack of appropriate funding to guarantee the independence of the public broadcasters. Independence is key.

In Australia we have seen a succession of Governments totally ignore the ABC Act of 1983, which is meant to enshrine the independence of Board and Management from political interference.  We have thad:

  • recent attempts to force publication of salaries;
  • the “competitive neutrality inquiry” which commercial media magnates hope will result in the ABC not being able to compete in areas digital;
  • regional and rural legislation to force changes in board membership and direct the ABC on how to spend its dwindling budget; and
  • the idiotic move to enshrine “fair and balanced” (the mantra of Fox News in the States) on top of “impartial and accurate” i.e. fair reporting which is the current commitment of the ABC.

Scarcely a day goes by when IPA member, Communications Minister Senator Mitch Fifield, does not represent the interests of those who would benefit financially or politically from a weakened or ‘privatised’ ABC.

Many years ago, the ABC ran a famous campaign under Managing Director David Hill promoting the fact that Australians gained from the range of programs on radio (now 46 stations) and television at the cost of eight cents a day.

The cost has reduced to four cents a day and we now have the addition of digital and other platforms including the excellent iview service.

Last night’s budget was another bad one for the ABC.  Cuts of $84 million over the three years and other reductions – plus the generous not-to-be-refused offer of another ‘efficiency review’.

Rupert Murdoch and others must feel good about the Budget – despite losing the supportive leadership of Tony Abbott and his ‘promise’ of no cuts to the ABC!  And Pauline Hanson continues to cast a wide shadow on Coalition decision-making.

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.

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