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ABC mission creep

By Ari Sharp - posted Friday, 23 June 2006

Top stories from June 16:

Britney says “back off”

Britney Spears' string of unfortunate encounters with the media is taking its toll on the pregnant singer. She's told US television her biggest wish is for the paparazzi to "leave her alone".


Married to the job

Hollywood actress Renee Zellweger has warned fellow Oscar-winner Nicole Kidman to call off her wedding to country music superstar Keith Urban. Renee's told a friend that Keith's too much of a workaholic.

Delta ditches mum as manager

Aussie songstress Delta Goodrem has dumped her mum Lea as her manager, to sign on with boyfriend Brian McFadden's management instead. She says the break was a mutual decision.

Want to have a guess at who put these stories top of the agenda? One of Rupert's tabloids? The UK gutter press? The National Enquirer? Nope. It was your ABC. Or more precisely, its pop culture blog, The Shallow End.

So how did we get to the point where the ABC, the national public broadcaster, has decided that it should publish celebrity gossip as a regular feature on its website? It seems to me that we need to re_examine the reason for the existence of the ABC in order to see how the current incarnation is a long way from where it should be. In short, the ABC has undergone what military planners might call “mission creep”.


The reason that governments choose to perform a service is because a free market cannot perform it effectively: market failure. We therefore have governments providing universal school education, public parks and libraries, all of which are considered to both have a redeeming social benefit and be lacking were market forces to be operating alone. These are things that produce a “positive externality” - a social benefit - that makes them publicly desirable but privately unprofitable.

Where the market can provide a good or service effectively, however, then this is vastly preferable to state provision. This is the pervasive logic of capitalism in a liberal democracy, and one that explains the relative affluence we enjoy today.

In the areas of broadcasting, there is market failure. Left to their own devices, commercial broadcasters would produce news, current affairs and educational programs that were insufficient in both quantity and quality. These types of programs are undesirable for commercial broadcasters since they are usually costly to produce and are of limited appeal. They are also the sorts of programs that are most likely to be interfered with by a malevolent proprietor. They are, however essential to a functioning democracy. They inform the population, scrutinise government and foster intelligent, critical thought: in economic terms, these things are the “positive externalities” of news and current affairs broadcasting.

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About the Author

Ari Sharp is a Commerce and Arts student at the University of Melbourne. He blogs at

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