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The ABC is under attack for no good reason

By Klaas Woldring - posted Wednesday, 16 April 2014


The article by Barry Spinks that the ABC needs a new business model cannot go unchallenged. First of all the ABC is not a business in the sense that it needs to make money and make a profit. It is a not-for-profit public organization with a Charter .Those who view the ABC as something like Sky News, as former Minister Peter Reith felt was appropriate (SMH 15.4.14) recently, start off on the wrong foot. Sure it should be an efficient public organization but that requires quite a different yardstick. The question here is "Efficient to do what?" To perform its obligations according to the Charter and in the most efficient way. Frequent efficiency tests tend to show the ABC has consistently been doing well here operating of course in an environment of private sector broadcasters. These broadcasters often pay higher salaries to their frequently ABC trained personnel. The ABC has often played the useful role of incubator.

Statements by PM Tony Abbott and some of his associates that the ABC is not barracking for the "home team" and is "un-Australian" presumably prepare the ground for funding and program cuts. One could also argue, and most Australians would, that these reasons are not only without justification, but they are unworthy to come from an Australian PM. It appears to be a ploy to please his benefactor Rupert Murdoch as these comments were prominently printed in a recent Daily Telegraph article under the heading "The ABC of Treachery". This is not what the public thinks at all. The evidence indicates that an overwhelming majority of people believe the ABC is balanced and even-handed, and quite recently it's been rated "the most trusted media organisation in Australia".

Newspoll conducts an annual survey for the ABC and asks what people think about the national broadcaster. The most recent survey, a phone poll of 1900 people in June 2013, found 78% of respondents thought the ABC did a good job at being balanced and even-handed. The number of those who think it does a "very good job" is steadily rising and stands at 42%. Just 11% agree with Mr. Abbott that it is doing a poor job. And in case the PM has concerns about bias in the taking of this poll, he can rest assured that Newspoll is half-owned by News Corp Australia and its findings regularly appear exclusively in The Australian.

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Newspoll's findings are broadly borne out by another set of data from Essential Research, which regularly polls on trust in media. In an Essential Research online poll of just over 1000 people from December 2013 it found that the ABC was the most trusted media organisation in Australia (the same finding as when it asked the question in January 2013).

Other very disappointing and quite disturbing statements were reported in the Sydney Morning Herald suggesting that the PM wants to "axe" the ABC 's 10 year Government contract to provide TV programs in several Asian and Pacific countries, known as Australia Network.

My own experience with watching ABC programs in Asia has been very positive. I viewed them in several Asian cities during the late nineties as an academic teaching distance MBA courses there; also later in the noughties as a tourist in places like Bali and Hong Kong. They were informative, educational and sport-oriented. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop's complaints that these programs are not representing "soft diplomacy" and that she received "negative feedback over programming" appear not justified. Researchers have tried to discover on what hard evidence such sentiments are based but they have found nothing. Bishop also claimed that the ABC "is not meeting the terms of the $223 m. contract Australian Network contract" – without providing further detail. To justify the ending of the contract she claims that the tender process was "corrupted" because the ALP Government did not want the service to be awarded to Sky News in which Rupert Murdoch has a substantial interest. The fact remains that the ALP Government put the national interest first by favouring the highly trusted public broadcaster. Surely it has the right not to accept a tender from an undesirably party. The ALP had the good sense to stop Murdoch's Sky News service from risking Australia's excellent TV reputation in Asia and the Pacific.

If the service would now be transferred to the Murdoch Media Empire, Australia's relationship with Asian countries could well be coloured by their ideological preferences and tactics. Murdoch has delivered a hard right federal government with a leadership that has already displayed incompetency in foreign and international affairs. The Abbott Government may now be paving the way to reward its key supporter for his electoral support. Would this be in Australia's interest? The remarkable outcome of these events could be that the Minister for Communication's leadership prospects, one Malcolm Turnbull, and an ABC supporter, might well be improving quite rapidly. PM Abbott's and Foreign Minister Bishop's attack on the ABC may erode support for the Coalition even further.

When asked in parliament in February whether he stood by his statement of "no cuts to education, no cuts to health, no change to pensions, no change to the GST and no cuts to the ABC or SBS" made the night before the election, Mr. Abbott responded:

"Of course I stand by all the commitments that this government made prior to the election. If there is one lesson that members opposite should have learnt from the experience of the previous term of parliament it is that you cannot say one thing before an election and do the opposite afterwards".

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The ABC is not only a balanced and informed news provider

In many ways it IS the balance in Australian society. It would be a gross error to cut its proper funding or make it dependent on advertisers. It is very much part of the luck of this country that is now under siege from a misguided clique of the Liberal Party, elected on the basis of promises they may now not keep.

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Klaas Woldring is the Central Coast Conventor of the Friends of the ABC.



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About the Author

Dr Klaas Woldring is a former Associate Professor of Southern Cross University.

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