Do not privatise the Australian Broadcasting Commission

It is Wednesday and my blog-light day. I am travelling a lot today and so have little time anyway for blog activities. Today, though, I reflect on the current demand by the conservatives in Australia to privatise our national broadcaster. This is a brazen attempt by mindless people, who are scared of knowing about the world beyond their own prejudices and sense of entitlement, to shut down a broadcaster they perceive to be an ideological threat. The amusing aspect is that this lot are too stupid to realise that the ABC is not left-leaning anyway. It increasingly runs news and economic commentary that is neoliberal to the core! But it remains that a public broadcaster has an essential role to play in a media landscape where profit rules content. The ABC has a long tradition of providing quality programs and analysis and while it has gone off the rails in recent years with its economic analysis (bowing to the neoliberal norm) it still provides excellent material to the public without advertisements that the commercial broadcasters have (and would never) provide. I also have some nice music offerings today.

Privatising our public broadcaster

While the Liberal Party (Australia’s conservative party) is not brawling in public places and having police called out to cafes to stop them fighting and injuring others (Source), they are plotting to get private hands on our national public broadcaster.

Last weekend, at their Federal Council meeting a motion was passed to privatise the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC).

The ABC History began in 1932 when a single radio service was created under an Act of Federal Parliament “to ensure that audiences had reasonable access to a range and high standard of radio services”.

It provides content free of advertisements and is funded by the Federal government, which periodically holds it to ransom, usually when the conservatives are in power.

This Parliamentary Library analysis (August 11, 2014) – The ABC: an overview – is an excellent information source.

In terms of funding it is one of the lowest funded public broadcasters in the world. This table (taken from the previous linked article) shows the reality:

It has been a leader in sports coverage, drama, documentary, current affairs, childrens programs and more. I listen or watch it every day.

The ABC Charter:

… directs that ABC services must reflect what is seen as the traditional role for a public broadcaster-to deliver policy objectives through the broadcast of programs that inform, educate and entertain. It must also address market failure, in areas such as the delivery of local content. Further, its programming must contribute to national Australian identity and reflect cultural diversity.

So while the commercial broadcasters are free to show anything they like basically the ABC must reflect distinctive Australian cultural viewpoints in all their diversity.

In 1985-86 financial year, the ABC received in real terms $A1,074.5 million (2012-13 prices). By 2012-13, that allocation had fallen in real terms to $A830.7 million. In the time that has elapsed since then further cuts have been made in real terms.

The ABC has also been under major pressure from the conservative government in recent times because the Right think that it is left-leaning.

If you listen to its economic commentary you would conclude exactly the opposite.

But the conservative elites hate it and it has been subjected to major funding cuts in recent decades.

In recent years, it has provided excellent on-demand streaming services, which the pay-TV provider (Murdoch own Foxtel) hates. The private streaming providers continually carp on about it having an unfair advantage due to its public funding.

But the failure of the commercial business model of broadcasting has little to do with the presence of the ABC.

As this commentary argues (Source):

What has changed for all media is the arrival of the FAANGs – or Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Google – with their mega-billion-dollar production budgets and global scale-economies that have upended business models the world ove

Further, Australia citizens, in general, overwhelmingly support the public broadcaster, which operates on around half the funding that it received 30 years ago.

Polling shows that:

1. “just under 75% of Australians using ABC TV, radio and online each week” (Source).

2. ” it’s not just widely used, but widely trusted with 78% of Australians saying the ABC does a good job of being balanced and even handed”.

3. “it’s also widely popular, with 85% of Australians saying the ABC performs a valuable role.”


1. “No reputable independent study has found bias to be a problem in the ABC.” (Source)

2. “The Australian National Audit Office review found ABC procedures and practices to be effective in delivering news and current affairs which is independent, accurate and impartial.”

3. “if public service broadcasters have a strong audience share, they set standards for commercial broadcasters.”

So with the background, the battle to privatise the ABC opened up at the weekend. The Young Liberals, which is a group of nitwits whose distinguishing characteristics that they grew up with plenty of entitlement but not the brainpower to match, is leading the charge.

They are brainless, aggressive, opinionated and are continually making demands to deregulate this and privatise that.

Yesterday, the Fairfax press published an Op Ed (June 18, 2018) – The ABC is an indulgence we can no longer afford – by the President of the NSW Young Liberals.

This intervention is one of those where the writer is so stupid that by the end of the tract they have proven exactly what they started out trying to refute.

Consider the following statements:

1. “The technological advancements of the past few decades have made the barriers to producing and distributing media content lower than ever before. Online publishing services are essentially free and TV and radio production costs have plummeted, making it possible for amateurs to produce television quality content at reasonable prices.”

Okay, so the commercial broadcasters should be booming because their costs are now much lower.

2. “Furthermore the ability of consumers to access this content has improved dramatically in recent years. Smart phones give any individual the capacity to access almost any media content produced anywhere in the world.”

Okay, nothing to do with the charter or operation of the ABC.

3. “the ABC was designed for a bygone era, founded in the context of an underdeveloped media market, before TV, before radio matured and before the internet.”

Therefore its services should be seen as archaic and not attractive to this new digital age.

4. “Today, a publicly funded national broadcaster crowds out its private competitors and is an indulgence we can no longer afford.”

So if people watch the ABC instead of commercial offerings, despite its alleged archaic model of broadcasting then what does that tell you about the quality of the commercial broadcasters?

5. “The proliferation of online TV, Radio and print media has left traditional players struggling to keep up. Increased competition has sent ad revenues tumbling and threatened the traditional subscription model for newspapers.”

So this is the FAANGS impact.

The ABC is not the problem here.

6. “The inclusion of the ABC in this market adds further pressure. A publicly funded provider, with no market pressure to economise and an ever-expanding remit is not the only threat to traditional media but it certainly adds to their ongoing viability issues.”

The ABC is not an inclusion. It has been in the market prior to many of the current broadcasters (see history).

The ABC is continually being forced to economise. Since 2014, the organisation has had to deal with $A254 million in funding cuts from the Federal government, and has to absorb a further $A83.7 million in cuts over the three-year period starting 2019. Its total budget is around $A1 billion. So these are massive cuts.

It has been subjected to “10 separate reviews in the last 15 years” (Source).

It is hardly free to do as it likes.

7. “Privatising the ABC would not mean that it would be shut down, no more than privatising the Commonwealth Bank, QANTAS or Telstra did. It would mean an ABC that was forced to economise and focus on delivering what consumers wanted.”

And in that last statement the idiot Young Liberal contradicts his whole argument.

If it is currently not “delivering what consumers wanted” (Statement 7) then how can it be a threat to the commercial broadcasters (Statement 6)?

Go figure!

Polo anyone?

Or maybe just a good old barney in a cafe in Sydney!

And to improve the day – here is what I have been listening to this morning

I have been playing the 2010 album (FatCat Records release) – Infra – this morning by post-minimalist composer/pianist Max Richter, who I have featured on this site before.

The album intersperses Outer Limits-style static audio with single piano and his usual array of melodic string orchestration (violins and cellos).

This is the track Infra 2.

A reviewer said of the track (Source):

“Infra 2” buoys up the album a bit, gently laying mournful strings down in a bed of ambient fuzz next to a high, fluttering tone that fades in and out with the insistence of a lighthouse beam.

I have also been listening to the Italian pianist Ludovico Einaudi today.

This video was recorded on June 17, 2016 for Greenpeace as part of their campaign to save the Arctic from global warming.

It is Einaudi’s own composition – Elegy for the Arctic – and it was recorded on a special floating platform in the ocean adjacent to the Wahlenbergbreen glacier in Svalbard, Norway.

Very atmospheric to say the least.

If you are in Melbourne tonight and want to hear music …

Then my band – Pressure Drop – is playing at the Maori Chief Hotel, 117 Moray St, South Melbourne, from about 20:00 to late.

This is a great little inner city pub. And, what else is there to do on a Wednesday night in Melbourne anyway?

Lots of great dub, rock steady and bluesy reggae coming up tonight.

I can also discuss Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) during breaks in the sets!

That is enough for today!

(c) Copyright 2018 William Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.

This Post Has 9 Comments

  1. I wonder if the privatisation motion and article by the Young Liberals was in reality a “kite-flying” exercise to gauge the public reaction (not exactly warmly received as far as I can determine).Senior Coalition ministers quickly played down the motion as “non-binding but it is an article of faith of the Institute of Public Affairs, an Orwellian named rabidly free market, small government lobby group, akin to the Jesuits in the Catholic church.

    Meanwhile the ABC is being gradually attacked by funding cuts, stacking of its Board with conservatives, staff are intimidated from robust articles that the government regards as “unfair and biased critiques of its policies etc, all aimed at making the public broadcaster less attractive and relevant.

    Its possible, if the Coalition wins the next election that they will force the ABC to introduce advertising. There is a precedent for this: SBS (Special Broadcasting Service). Ads between programs were introduced some years ago but it wasn’t long before these ad breaks during programs became the norm.

    Softly, softly catchy monkey…

  2. Same with the BBC in regard to it being seen as left Wing when the exact opposite is true regarding its economic commentary which is facile and neoliberal and asks NO questions. Interviews with politicians are as anodyne as possible-one might as well be watching the old Tass News agency or reading Pravda-in fact the latter might well have been more truthful because they didn’t create the illusion it was the truth.

    I ditched my T.V and put my £145 licence fee towards my heating bills-far more useful!

  3. They’ve already privatised the BBC they just haven’t told the voters.

    That’s what BBC studios was all about. Everything has been slashed to the bone and most of the production staff are now freelance.The BBC now compete for work in a free market.

    BBC studios always meant it was going to be privatised and now that it is merging with BBC Worldwide which is privatised that’s the last step.

    After BBC studios what happend was. The licence Fee used to promise 25% of comissions was done by the BBC the rest was put out to the private sector wich was bad enough compared to before BBC studios was introduced.

    Now there is no promise at all and all of the licence fee for comissions can be used outside with private companies. Production will be non exisitent and it will be like Channel 4 where it as all done by private production companies. ( Ex BBC staff)

    The licence fee is being shared between private companies It’s been cut up and sliced up and privatised and nobody is talking about. All the BBC staff know what’s happening but the media are not reporting it.

    Word on the street is that Channel 4 are going to have their main office in Glasgow.

    With the new Scottish Channel coming up on BBC Scotland they are claping down on what private production companies they are going to use. As in use Scottish private productions companies for it.

    At the moment a lot of the stuff coming out of BBC Scotland is done by England. The staff from England come up to BBC Scotland Mon – Fri make programmes and call it a BBC Scotland production.

    There’s not enough money being put in for the new channel anyways. What does get put in will be done by private Scottish production companies.

    What with the BBC being privatised and channel 4 moving to Glasgow and the new Scottish channel there is not enough Scottish private production companies to carry out of the work.

    Why are BBC licence fee payers allowing this to happen ? The BBC are eventually not going to be producing anything. It’s all going to be done out of house free market style.

    My wife is BBC staff but hasn’t worked in the BBC for nealry a year. She’s been outsourced to these private companies for profit. The BBC now offer their in house services for profit. Whereever she goes it is all ex BBC staff who were paid off who are now workin for these private companies.

    How it was sold to everybody was it was cost cutting excercise when it has been nothing of the sort it has been privatisation. The poachers became Gamekeepers.

    That’s how they will privatise it in Australia just watch who they put in charge. The model how to do it is already here. They just won’t tell you they are doing it.

  4. There is a quick solution. We need to crowd-fund a few transmitters and start re-broadcasting China Radio International. Then the young branch of whoever is funded by Koch brothers will suddenly discover that foreign infiltration is evil and double up the spending on ABC. As in the article from Sydney Morning Herald about the Chinese supposedly taking over Cambodia:
    ‘We asked a Ministry of Land official we met in the park why approval had been given for so many Chinese-owned and built projects. “The government gave the Europeans and Americans 15 years to develop here and all they brought was backpackers and marijuana,” he replied.’
    A little bit of free market competition is always good for the consumers.

  5. Much the same attitude exists on the right in Canada with (dis)respect to the CBC. Conservatives both provincial and federal rail against the perceived left-wing bias of the CBC all the time. Their usual proposal is to cut CBC funding, though, rather than outright privatization.

  6. As voters we would just have to be brain washed to vote in the LNP! Maybe Labor is not worthy either, but they at least are not so rabidly reactionary. I think the “conservatives” are not yet awake to the smell their policies are creating and the public is waking up. If only we could get Labor to understand at least that the government can never go broke, it would be a good start. Probably they would have to leave talking about it until after the election.

  7. If ABC is anything at all like the CBC in Canada, any left sounding messaging is reserved for late night radio programs. This is likely what conservatives and ‘Liberals’ are on about, though even this too at times is subtly subverting left positions. The daytime television and online media and comment board moderation is well and truly neoliberal, fascist in character even, with a smattering of patronage to the left to help folks swallow the corporatist-globalist pill.

    Today, I’m tempted, given present circumstances, to say we’re better off without a national broadcaster altogether, though not for money reasons of course!

  8. Alas, the spending figure for TVNZ looks very low too and the dismal commercial content on offer full of ads means that I haven’t watched it for at least 12 years. It is an example of what happens if you run a state broadcaster along commercial lines. It’s a joke as a public broadcaster. Such a shame as when I was a child it was so much better – especially in terms of news and current affairs. Long form interviews for example. Now such programmes are all gone.

    Radio NZ on the other hand is a national treasure and I listen to it constantly. Along with the Concert Programme. Add free and very good journalism. Also during the earthquakes/tsunami warnigns it was very useful I have to say!

  9. It’s symptomatic of what the right wing tactics of this day and age are – if anything calls them on their bullshit, it must be left-wing radicals. No exceptions.

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