The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) says it is strictly impartial when it comes to politics. No bias whatsoever. The point was proven beyond a shadow of a doubt when it came to one of its comedy programmes calling conservative politicians c@nts. It is not a question of humour (if one can call it that) being like cartoons addressing political satire, it is a question of the organization flagrantly violating its own charter. Australian taxpayers deserve better. The financials of the ABC reveal how out of touch it is.
The ABC was originally established to make sure even rural communities could access news. Scroll forward c.90 years and we are able to stream radio programs from Berlin or TV shows from Canada right to our mobile handset, desktop or TV screen. Media choice is everywhere. Yet the Aussie taxpayer funds multiple ABC radio and TV stations to cater to markets well covered by the commercial sector. The ABC and the SBS get over A$1.5bn a year in funding.
Let’s dig a bit deeper in the stats of the ABC. Comparing 2016/17 and 2015/16 we see that TV audience reach for metro fell from 55.2% to 52.5% and regional slumped from 60.3% to 57.3%. If we go back to 2007/8 the figures were 60.1% and 62.4% respectively. For the 2017/18 period, the ABC targets a 50% reach. Hardly a stretch.
Since 2008, the average salary of ABC’s staff has risen 25% from $86,908 to $108,408. Total staff numbers have risen from 4499 to 4769. Therefore salaries as a percentage of the ABC revenues have risen from 37.1% of the budget to 50%. The ABC’s ability to generate sales from content has fallen from A$140mn to A$70mn last year. The multicultural SBS has seen its budget grow from A$259mn in 2008 to A$412mn in 2017. SBS staff numbers have grown from 844 to 1,466 over the same period with average salaries rising from A$82,689 to A$88,267 or 7.2%. Which begs the question why is the SBS able to operate at 31% of the budget in salaries while the ABC is at 50%? Surely the ABC’s economies of scale should work in its favour? Clearly not.
Australia’s largest commercial terrestrial station, Nine Network, has 3,100 employees against revenues of $1.237bn. So to put that into context, Nine can generate c. A$400,000 per employee whereas the ABC generates A$217,236 in tax dollars per employee. In a sense the ABC could be shut down, and each employee paid $108,000 in redundancy costs annually for two years simply by selling off the land, buildings and infrastructure. The SBS generates A$281,000 in tax dollars per employee. The ABC will argue it deserves $400,000/employee revenues rather than a 46% headcount reduction to be on equal terms with the efficiency in the private sector.
On a global basis, the BBC generates GBP 4.954bn and employs 21,000 staff. 22.7% of those revenues are spent on salaries. Average salaries have grown 17% since 2007/8. Average income per employee at the BBC is now GBP236,852 (A$428,000) thanks to the generous mandatory licensing fees. Average salaries at the Beeb are now GBP 55,651 ($A100,728).
Imagine if the ABC was listed and forced to compete. If it is infinitely confident it has the right content which captures future audience trends (which by its own measures doesn’t) then it can call whoever it wants a c*nt and see whether the ratings stack up when it comes time to attract revenue and capital. Why not give the ABC staff a choice to list and say what it wants or stay government owned and tow the line of the charter? Of course the answer is stay under the protectorate of blind politicians and say what they please. The beauty of the private sector is that sunlight is the best disinfectant.
Is it really our ABC? There is no balance in content and even less balance in its accounts. It should be massively defunded.