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Cash cows and emasculation

Fanaticism is a concerning thing. It is a concern when some people cannot understand that there is sometimes a perfectly acceptable alternative to a view they hold dearly and to the exclusion of all others. For many years the Australian ‘Supercars’ racing circuit prospered on the rivalry between those who that believed the Ford Falcon or the Holden Commodore was the best car ever produced. Those that wouldn’t be seen dead anywhere near the other product were given something to think about when ‘Supercars’ drivers and team owners started swapping between the Ford and Holden camps. They must have been gobsmacked when Ford and Holden announced that they would no longer manufacture vehicles in Australia a few years ago.

It’s a similar story with music — some people will not even countenance that good music can be played on ‘classical music’, ‘hits and memories’ or ‘alternative’ radio stations, or those who have a strong belief that the only household appliances worth buying have a ‘European’ brand name and so on.

When it comes to religion or politics, the fanaticism is not only concerning, it can be dangerous. History is full of stories of wars and terrorist attacks, where both sides of a conflict will tell you they are fighting for a ‘just cause’; ‘(their) god is on their side’ or similar claims.

It is likely that those who moved the motion to privatise the ABC at the recent Liberal Party ‘peak council’ are fanatics as well. If you have a dogmatic view that a particular point of view is correct, you will probably be quite upset when your particular world view is challenged. Genuine analysis of any newsworthy event should, where possible, discuss the benefits and disadvantages of multiple viewpoints, giving the consumer of the reporting sufficient evidence to make an informed judgement. Informed judgements sometimes don’t tally up with the particular ideologies of those with dogmatic views.

The danger of fanaticism is apparent in this clip from The Lego Movie (which is a retelling of George Orwell’s 1984).

And like the Lego people in the movie, the problem with the dogmatic conservatives in the Liberal Party is they can’t see the wood for the trees. Certainly the ABC doesn’t necessarily ‘toe the party line’ when reporting on the news of the day, but by the same token it’s hard to see Bill Shorten and the ALP being impressed by headlines such as “Labor suspects an election is imminent, so what does that mean for Bill Shorten?” published on 30 June.

There is a problem here for those with dogmatic beliefs. The ABC is popular amongst the ‘mug punters’ like you and me across the media formats it uses to generate content, probably because it’s seen to be a trusted news source as there is more likelihood of getting enough discussion to determine an informed opinion.

Every morning across Australia, people turn to breakfast television to catch up with the news and see if they should take the umbrella to work while getting ready for the day ahead. Three networks broadcast a breakfast television news show — two commercial networks as well as the ABC. All three networks have a similar format. The news and weather every half hour or so, some analysis of the news as well as ‘lighter’ items that inject some human-interest stories into the mix. Given that these shows run for a few hours each morning, there is also a fair amount of repetition of the harder news as people typically don’t sit down and watch the entire two to three-hour duration of the shows in question.

The interesting thing about these breakfast news shows is that the delivery methods are pretty similar — usually a male and female presenter, a person who reads the news every half hour or so, and someone who repeats the weather forecast with similar frequency to the news presenter. As well as that, there is usually the ‘sports guy or gal’ that runs through the ‘dramas’ and results of higher profile sport over the past 24 hours.

Two of the breakfast television shows have a declining audience and are offering incentives to ‘registered’ viewers, such as the potential for a person dressed in a cow suit (with camera crew in close pursuit) knocking on your door early in the morning and giving you money, or winning money for repeating a ‘code word’. The show on the ABC doesn’t offer incentives and the audience is increasing. The ABC presenters have to work harder (no chance to slip off-set while the commercials are broadcast), are probably paid less and don’t have to rely on stunts or gimmicks to gain and retain viewers, so maybe the increased viewership is due to good old fashioned discussion of the issues around a story.

Allowing a ‘privatising the ABC motion’ come to a vote demonstrates the ‘tin ear’ of the conservatives within the Liberal Party, as the non-binding motion leaves the way open for another ‘Mediscare’ campaign by the ALP come the next election. While the motion was moved by the ‘young Liberals’, the collected wisdom of the so-called adults in the room who are ministers or shadow ministers in the ‘peak council’ meeting, either didn’t think of the damage it would cause or potentially even worse, didn’t realise it would cause damage to a government that has lost 35 Newspolls in a row. The Guardian reported at the time

The communications minister, Mitch Fifield, who has made six official complaints against ABC coverage in as many months, told delegates it was not government policy to privatise the broadcaster, and said he had made two appointments to the board and was working to change its governance act.

Turnbull was not present, and no one in the room spoke against the motion.

The vote was non-binding and the treasurer, Scott Morrison, immediately ruled out adopting it as policy saying, “I know some out there might think that the Labor party already owns it, but certainly not the government and it’s important that people understand that position.”

Besides, if you want to control the information being presented, privatisation is probably not the best option anyway, emasculation is. Qantas is a privatised government business and in October 2011 grounded its entire fleet in a pay dispute with its staff

The Australian government is urgently looking to setup emergency talks to resolve the dispute and says the grounding could have implications for the country’s economy.

The Australian Transport Minister, Anthony Albanese, said the government was caught by surprise by the move:

“We were notified only mid-afternoon with no advance notice from Qantas at any stage.”

Qantas apologised on its website to customers but blames the unions for the need to ground its flights.

In 2015 the Liberal Party controlled New South Wales State Government privatised the Liddell Power Station. The successful purchaser was AGL. Liddell is the oldest coal fired power station in Australia, dating back to the ‘70s. AGL announced earlier this year that it intended to close the power station down in 2022 with replacement energy being provided by renewables.

AGL spent $123 million to boost reliability after buying the station from the NSW Government in 2015. But last year, a leak on an external boiler tube cost up to $20 million to repair.

Two of the four generators were shut down during the February heat wave this year. AGL has now committed a further $159 million to improve reliability before the scheduled closure.

That’s just to keep it running until 2022.

However, Prime Minister Turnbull wasn’t happy, despite AGL casting

some doubt on whether the plant can feasibly remain open.

“Keeping old coal plants open won’t deliver the reliable, affordable energy our customers need,” AGL CEO Andy Vesey said on Twitter.

“We’re getting out of coal. We committed to the closure of the Liddell power station in 2022, the end of its operating life.”

The company has also spruiked in advertisements in recent months that it is “getting out of coal”.

Mr Turnbull said he spoken to Mr Vesey about the matter.

“He says AGL wants to get out of coal, but he said that he is prepared to sell to a responsible party and that’s what we are talking about” he said.

“I’m not particularly interested in who owns Liddell.”

Mr Turnbull said it was unlikely the Federal Government would buy the plant and that he thinks “it’s better that the private sector owns generators like that”.

In both cases, the privatised owners of former government assets were not compliant to the ‘needs’ of the government of the day. What makes the collective ‘brains trust’ at the Liberal Party ‘peak council’ think that a prospective buyer of the ABC would be any more accommodating?

In addition, the Abbott/Turnbull Government is destroying any value the ABC would have to a prospective purchaser. As The Saturday Paper reports (partial paywall)

From 2013 up to May this year, the Coalition government has slashed the ABC budget by $254 million. The most recent federal budget sliced another $84 million over three years.

Under this government, the ABC has shed some 800 jobs and been forced to make deep cuts in program output. Senate estimates was told a couple of months ago that the broadcaster now puts out 60 per cent less hours of factual programming.

The organisation is being subjected to a blizzard of largely bogus complaints from Communications Minister Mitch Fifield, who in his “frisky” younger days also supported privatisation. Reviews of “efficiency” and “competitive neutrality” are under way, not to mention multiple Senate bills to change its charter, partly inspired by the desire to placate Pauline Hanson and One Nation.

Factual programming is the sworn enemy of those that don’t like presentation of multiple viewpoints. Facts are also expensive to present in the media. Before a segment on 7.30 or 4 Corners is presented, the facts have to be sourced, checked, alternative options discussed and fleshed out as well as some testing of the claims made to ensure they are in fact accurate and not overstated. It costs money to employ the journalists, camera operators, production staff, lawyers and so on that are required to ensure that the claims made are accurate and balanced. If you emasculate the ABC by cutting funding to unsustainable levels or imposing onerous conditions on their work, you reduce the ability of the organisation to fund factual programming.

Purchasing a lifestyle, drama or quiz program from overseas is far cheaper. Even if there is enough money to produce a lifestyle or drama program, the costs could potentially be off-set by overseas sales. There would be very little interest in a factual program discussing Australian politics outside Australia. The ABC also have to demonstrate balance in the factual programming to a far higher extent that that required on commercial television or websites where the ultimate owner can dismiss claims of inaccuracy and bias without consideration, unless the person with a grievance has deep enough pockets to take the media proprietor to court.

The ALP has said they will return the last funding cut of $83 million to the ABC if they are elected sooner rather than later — however it would be nice if Bill Shorten and Chris Bowen returned some of the $1/4 billion Abbott & Turnbull pulled from the ABC since 2013. Otherwise will we end up with ABC staff attempting to get the person in a cow suit to visit ABC Headquarters at Ultimo? The ten grand might be useful!

What do you think?

This article by 2353NM was originally published on The Political Sword.

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  1. helvityni

    Our mean Government has made the ABC into some kind of recycling place ; the ladies like Annabel, Ellen and Virginia are moved from one program to another, from cake-making to Insiders, from morning breakfast show to Q&A, from the Drum to 7’30…

    Many of the shows are repeated endlessly, no money for anything new…yet another thing to be sad or angry about….

    When will this ever end…

  2. Lurline O'Brien

    They cancelled The Checkout just last week. Apparently a show that tells consumers their rights and points out dodgy commercial operators is not affordable. This show that taught us these things in a way that encourages the young to watch and learn, was apparently unsustainable.

    The sooner Labor is returned to government the better. Hopefully when they reinstate funding, the shows the LNP canned can be renewed.

  3. MikeW

    I’d like to know what Murdochs agenda is in all this ABC bashing, constant ‘opinion’ pieces daily getting stuck into my ABC from so called journalists at the Daily Telelaugh. I used to post comments on Andrew nut Bolts blog but there seems to be a technical error or, as I suspect I have been banned from commenting on the champion of free speeches Blog, used to be a few sensible comments looks like anyone who is not a rwnj is barred as 99.99% of commenters agree with him.

  4. etnorb

    The really sad & stupid “thing” about cutting funds to the ABC/SBS etc is that whenever the inept “liberals” are in power, or whichever party is in power the critics all seem to think that the ABC etc “opinions” are slanted against that party! This inept, effing IPA mob should be ones being shut down! This entire, almost liberal party run, so called organisation is nothing but a front for all their lying, stupid, flat earth, right wings ideas etc. WTF?? And the bloody liberals want to keep this mob running, for what? Just more excuses to downgrade the ABC etc & of course to continually throw as much shit as they can towards anything the Labor party says or does! BASTARDS!! And to make matters even worse for the ABC etc, the bloody Mudrake so-called newspapers are continually “reporting” (sic) “news” (sic) about anything the ABC/SBS & or the Labor party says or does as “bad” for all Australians! WTF??

  5. helvityni

    “‘…’ The ABC is a vital part of our nation’s polity. It is one of the great foundations of journalism and news gathering and broadcasting in the country. It has a very special place in Australia.’ That was Malcolm Turnbull in January 2014 when he announced a cut to the ABC’s budget of $254 million.”

    The above is a snippet from the ABC’s Friends rally speech by Kerry O’Brien.

    If the ABC is so VITAL, why on earth would you cut their funding; Increase it and make it even better, I say… We might even support Aussie actors and produce more local shows, and maybe less buying from Britain…

  6. paul walter

    Their morning show is usually merely irritating, which puts it light years in front of its deadly commercial rivals.

    The ABC management IS about emasculating the cow which seems a contradiction in terms of course.

    The latest example of an organised attempt to destroy what makes the
    ABC necessary and attractive, content and substance, came when the perverse axing of Its consumer affairs show/satire, “The Checkout” was announced only a week ago.

    For “Checkout’s” death, follow the money trail.

    Apparently, it was the last show produced in-house, which is anathema to free-market ideologues and also upset the crooks who resented being exposed by it enough to scuttle off whinging to Fifield and co to get rid of it. It is a serious blow to a country that sees the criminality of current open slather business practices through the lens of the Banking Inquiry, a phenomena even more obsscured from view under cover of a neutered press and media even more impotent in the wake of the non-decision of the ABC management re “Checkout” and responding to its IPA string pullers

    As for SBS, those of us who remember it in its glory days can only weep in these sad current

  7. jimhaz

    [What makes the collective ‘brains trust’ at the Liberal Party ‘peak council’ think that a prospective buyer of the ABC would be any more accommodating?]

    The odds are that they would be wealthy or neocon bureaucrats thus inclined to the party that taxes wealth less.

    I wonder what assets they might have nowadays – probably many assets have already been stripped via production outsourcing or rights sales.

    Some of the best ever ABC productions were probably quite novel and this means $ risk. The new owners would not take risks – they would buy show formats from overseas…..just like all the others.

    Really though the whole media and movie industry appears to have run out of new ideas.

  8. paul walter

    jimhaz, personally I find it a sad commentary on the times.

    First the livestock export industry, now the mutilation of cattle.

  9. New England Cocky

    It is time to require by legislation all shareholders in media interests to exclusively be Australian citizens and specifically exclude foreign nationals and dual nationals.

    From various sources, Rupert is trying to achieve what is father Sir Keith was unable to do, shut down the ABC and replace it with trash television and rubbish radio for personal profit.

    Fiji had the correct idea; require Murdoch media to dispose of their media assets for the national interest.

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