Case against the ABC lacking in substance

First we had the book by Chris Berg and Sinclair Davidson, research fellows with the Institute of Public Affairs, Against Public Broadcasting: why we should privatise the ABC and how to do it, telling us that the ABC must be sold off.

The IPA and its authors believe that the market would do a much better job, that tax payers would be relieved of a heavy burden and that a vehicle for the dissemination of left-wing views would be shut down.

Then, we have the Liberals’ National Council,  in mid-June, voting 2-1 for the sale of the ABC.

It is difficult to be reassured by Ministers Fifield, Morrison and co that the ABC is in safe hands. All will be okay. This is the crew that promised “there will be no cuts to the ABC or SBS”.

Berg and Davidson and, indeed the delegates at the Liberal Council, fail to understand the extraordinary importance of public broadcasting and its rich contribution to the quality of life of Australian citizens.

The European Commissioner for Human Rights said in a paper published last year: “Well-funded and strong public service media are a good indicator that a democracy is healthy”. 

A European Broadcasting Union (EBU) report found that countries that have popular, well-funded public service broadcasters encounter less right-wing extremism and corruption.

Commercial media certainly are not constrained by the aims set out in the ABC’s Charter: “to provide within Australia innovative and comprehensive services of a high standard… broadcasting programs that contribute to a sense of national identity and inform and entertain, and reflect the cultural diversity of the Australian community”.

Commercial media are not required to, “encourage and promote the musical, dramatic and other performing arts in Australia”.

Commercial media are not subjected to the extraordinary scrutiny that is the lot of the ABC: the presentation of Annual Reports to the federal parliament; the marathon of Senate Estimates and seemingly endless reviews. Berg and Davidson’s claim that the ABC has somehow escaped serious scrutiny is laughable.

The ABC receives around $1 billion annual funding.  Is this really an excessive amount? The ABC currently costs 11 cents per head per day.

The federal government clearly considers the cost of the ABC excessive.

The latest round of cuts announced in the Morrison budget provide for a further $84 million to be cut on top of the $254 million cut by then Prime Minister Tony Abbott in 2014.   

Rather than less funding, the ABC requires at the least restoration of its funding to 2013 levels to allow it to operate according to its Charter.

The IPA assert that the ABC is a den of left-wing journalists and that this spills over into a bias against conservative parties and interests.

To their credit, Berg and Davidson acknowledge that “direct and uncontested evidence for bias in the ABC is hard to come by”.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) examines complaints about television and radio content.

It has conducted more than 200 investigations into the ABC since 2012 and has found only two matters which it has considered breaches of impartiality. 

The case for the sale of the ABC lacks foundation.

The case that it should be well-funded, that it should be valued and supported is very strong.

And, it is truly encouraging that so many Australians so obviously agree.

Emeritus Professor Ed Davis AM is President of the NSW ABC Friends.