The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) has a charter to be politically unbiased. The public knows it is unashamedly partisan. Yet its overseers (aka the Government) still give funding north of $1bn to the state owned media group without calling it up for what it gets away with. What it passes for ‘free speech’ usually ends up in the climate change, asylum seekers or any other social justice cause it feels strongly about. Yet the charter is not supposed to act as a platform for disgruntled public servants to broadcast their own views on the taxpayer’s purse. The latest saga is the ABC’s JJJ station which broadcasts alternative music. It has decided it won’t be playing the Hottest 100 Countdown on Australia Day because of its political views that it is in reality ‘invasion day.’ There is no problem for each and everyone of those JJJ employees who thinks of Australia Day that way to believe that. It is another to provide a tax payer funded platform to express it.
To put it in perspective, given several Victorian local councils decided several months ago not to host naturalisation ceremonies on Australia Day, one would hope that JJJ has just woken up from the marijuana smoke haze in the studio to realize this fact. Otherwise, why has it taken them so long? Surely if the producers were savvy enough at JJJ they could have announced their political stunt the week all of the social justice governments were announcing it.
However it is a serious issue. Why is there a need for four taxpayer funded stations in Melbourne? It is a similar story in the other states. The original purpose of the ABC was to fill in for a lack of a commercial alternative, especially for those in the countryside. Now we can all choose to stream Australian radio stations while we’re in Berlin or Caracas if we feel like it. When you look through the stats, JJJ key demographic is 25-39yo but across all time segments except ‘Afternoon’ it struggles for better than 5%. ABC Melbourne caters to pensioners. Is there a need to provide the infrastructure to supply four stations. Surely the rational argument is that a similar number of bodies must be employed to fill the same roles – the producer, technician, the script writer, the news gatherer….even the guard at the front door. Run many of these stations on commercial terms and most wouldn’t pay the cost of operating.
If one believes we must have a public broadcaster then the number of stations should be cut to one, not four. If the private sector can’t see a ‘commercial’ justification for filling the gap it would leave then it is odds on that advertisers aren’t prepared to either. On the flip side if the ABC radio presenters are desired by particular audiences then the private stations will gladly snap them up.
This is not to undermine the efforts of some quarters of the ABC. Some documentaries such as ‘The Killing Season’ or Foreign Correspondent’s expose of the Fukushima reactor were extremely well done. However it is the fact that some in the ABC think they have a right to dispense the billion plus funding on their own political and social causes. Yet who can blame them when the former Communications Minister (now the Prime Minister) is desperate to avoid courting negative media coverage? When a conservative (by name plate) PM is afraid to go on private radio stations with conservative audiences you know this problem of bias at the ABC won’t be going away for a long time, especially after the drubbing the conservatives will get at the coming election.
With a $500bn and rising debt in Australia, we can ill afford frivolous public spending, especially on broadcasting where the ABC ignores its charter so brazenly. We can chose to listen to left leaning or conservative radio stations in the commercial space. We can consume on line any form of media we choose from around the globe. With media now so ubiquitous, what is the ABC offering that is remotely ‘differentiated’ to warrant its existence? None that can be seen.