I love my ABC. It is the complete channel. It provides a news service that is far superior to anything delivered on the commercial channels. It provides access to art, music and theatre. It provides access to talk back radio without the fear of being cut off abruptly should one’s views differ from that of the host. It is reliable, constant and unable to be toyed with in a way commercial interests toy with their own outlets. It is not subject to takeovers, buy outs; nor does it reverse positions when it is convenient. Most importantly, it belongs to the people and answers to the people, not the government. Governments come and go and each brings its own peculiar philosophies and moral ideologies. But if any of them think they can persuade the ABC to adopt those philosophies and ideologies, they had better think again. That is not its charter.
Tony Abbott’s bizarre claim that the ABC should support “the home team” is utterly ludicrous and to hear this from a former journalist makes it, and him, even more astonishing. And who is the home team anyway? Australia or the government of the day? In any event, the public interest has precedence over “the home team” on any level. If the ABC were to join “the home team” that would deliver a coup for this government and compromise everything the ABC stands for and represents. That this present government thinks it has a right to a special relationship with the public broadcaster is petty, ignorant, arrogant and simply wrong. They need to be told that. They already have a compliant commercial media, some of which is rampantly so, others by omission. Without the ABC only citizen journalism would be left to challenge authority. Is that what this government is aiming for? Do they think that if they can silence the ABC, silencing citizen journalism would be relatively easy?
It should not surprise anyone that the Coalition would attempt to pressure the ABC to pull its head in. They think they fund it. They believe, therefore, that they own it. But the government is owned by the people and can be dismissed by the people. It is the people who own the ABC and fund it. Historically, governments of both persuasions have failed to show much respect for this fundamental fact. In any event, funding should not be the issue. The ABC’s annual budget is around $1.2 billion from total government revenue of around $400 billion. That is hardly a big ticket item. But successive governments have always tried to pressure it into seeing things their way. Gough Whitlam sacked the entire board in 1972. Bob Hawke had the odd run in during the first Iraq war; John Howard likewise, with his minister Richard Alston having issues about coverage of the second Iraq war. A cursory glance over the various board appointments for the past three decades demonstrates both sides of politics have tried to put their supporters into positions of authority and influence at the ABC. All have failed.
In 2008 the Rudd government moved to end political appointments at the ABC a practice that has been happening since 1932. In the end, nothing happened. And so the circus goes on. But through all of its political travels, the ABC has remained the one reliable, stable and trusted source of information for the public, delivering what has always been in the public interest.
Now another skirmish is playing out. In an interview with Ray Hadley on Sydney radio station 2GB.Tony Abbott said, “A lot of people feel at the moment that the ABC instinctively takes everyone’s side but Australia’s.” Such juvenile comments are akin to a child running to its mother and saying, “Mummy, mummy, all the kids are picking on me”. Why did he have to go on commercial radio to say that? Why could he not have said it on the ABC? Was he afraid to go into the Lion’s den? Is he afraid to face up to the hard questions? Did he feel he needed some moral support from a friendly host? It is times like this Abbott gives me the impression he possesses neither the thinking skills nor the verbal skills to present himself as a national leader.
And what is the purpose of this tawdry exercise? What have they got planned that they feel the need to run a smear campaign? Are they planning a funding cut? If so, they should look to history. Past funding cuts have never stopped public interest reporting on the ABC. Is the government not content with the compliant coverage from the Murdoch press? Do they feel they need more? What is it with politicians and criticism? Shouldn’t they welcome it as a means of doing their job better? Or do they so despise criticism from any quarter they would move to muffle it, particularly one they think they own?
The most sensible comments on the subject I have seen thus far have come from a member of the Coalition’s own team, MP Craig Laundy. His comments are taken straight from his Facebook page, “My advice to those who don’t like the job the ABC are doing, my colleagues included, is to do what those living a democracy have been doing since “Adam was a boy”….change the channel, the dial, or the website you visit. And before the howls of “but they’re funded by the taxpayer” breaks out – stop and think about how vast Australia is, and diverse it’s media needs are, as well as how commercially “unviable” the media markets are outside of our major cities …i.e. rural Australia.”
Well said, Craig. It is fitting that one of their own should put them back in their place. Their own secrecy on asylum seekers has been the catalyst for this poorly managed exercise.
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