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Your ABC: proudly brought to you by your sponsors?

By Jill Greenwell - posted Monday, 21 May 2007

This service, the ABC, now belongs to you. We are your trustees. It is a service that is not run for profit, but purely in the interests of every section of the community.

Those words introduced the ABC to the nation on "the wireless" in 1932. In this the ABC's 75th birthday year, that quality of service, to every section of the community, continues to differentiate the ABC from the commercial broadcasters.

The prohibition on advertising protects that distinctive quality of the ABC.


However the ABC's commercial independence has repeatedly been threatened with advertising. When a government-appointed Commission recommended advertising on ABC television and radio, the idea was rejected because, according to the then Minister, “it is apparent that people view the proposal as a threat to editorial independence and programming integrity” (Quoted in Inglis, K. This is the ABC).

Although that was in 1982, the threat persists.

Sold out with ads - the problem with advertising

The fundamental conflict between public broadcasting and advertising is that the focus shifts from programs to audiences. The company paying to advertise its goods or services wants to reach as large an audience as possible, at the times of day when that audience is captive, and it does not want that audience offended. It is not interested in an informed public, an inquiring public, an adventurous public, and it is certainly not interested in a diverse public.

The public broadcaster, not having to deliver an audience to advertisers, can focus on the quality of its programming and on the many specialist interests of its audiences. It can address itself to the idea of excellence, not the idea of acceptability.

Where do the threats come from?

Inadequate funding

In the lead-up to the ABC's triennial budget submission, advertising - discreet and regulated - was being suggested as a solution to funding problems.


At the time Senator Coonan rejected the suggestions, but she has since been ambivalent. In fact she said that if the Board wanted to consider some form of advertising, consistent with the ABC Charter, for the next triennium, then it could do so (ABC AM, March 15, 2006).

Attacks on ABC culture

Attacks on the "ABC culture" are a looming threat. Membership of the current ABC Board gives no reassurance that the Board would reject proposals about advertising - or even see the inconsistency between the ethos of a public broadcaster and the ethos of commercialism. Keith Windschuttle, appointed to the Board in 2006, has said publicly that the ABC ought to be commercialised in order to break its left-wing culture.

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This article is an edited version of a speech given to the 2006 Annual Conference of the Independent Scholars Association of Australia held at the National Library of Australia, October 19-20, 2006.

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About the Author

Jill Greenwell is the President of Friends of the ABC (ACT & Region).

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Jill Greenwell

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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