ABC: A CASE FOR PRIVATISATION May 3, 2013Posted by wmmbb in Australian Politics.
Political leaders are not required to state there intentions or their beliefs, but more than willing to accept mandates. This is especially true of the the current leaders in Australia, and it seems more than likely that Tony Abbott will become prime minister with a hidden agenda, including it is supposed the privatisation of the ABC.
In this sense he is in marked contrast with John Howard, who was throughout his career a conviction politician. In retrospect, it seems to me, that while he successfully ran against the government and its’ perceived failings, and it worked, but collectively the voters knew what they were getting.
I suppose now the 24 hour news cycle is well established, and as is the bane of the new information technology in general, overload and partial information is soon forgotten, or at least there is a constant source for a story that can fill space and capture attention. The Boston Bombing probably fitted the bill, more than any other recent story, especially in the US. So perhaps politicians are required, or feel obliged to fit the requirements of the news and information environment.
Perhaps, it was my selection of videos, of media interviews with Tony Abbott, but the constant factor seems to evasion of those positions he believes and the reasons for holding to them. Abortion law is one, and his position on climate change another. It is reasonable to allow, and indeed insist that those, for whatever reasons, desire to assume the responsibility of political leadership should state their philosophical positions because they do have policy implications. One imagines,for example, that a Abbott-led government will not promote climate change mitigation policies -rather the opposite. He at least is on the record as arguing in relationship to the abortion pill that as Health Minister he would have listened to departmental and scientific advice.
Here Tony Abbott responds to questions about gay marriage on the ABC’s Q&A:
So what is the philosophical basis for the belief, one way or another?
This discussion took place on ABC TV, and perhaps nowhere else with the exception of SBS. Commercial television is primarily about the marketization of products and profit, not the public good. However, does change the interviewing. This 60 Minutes interview too might be stigmatized as having a left wing, or a liberal bias:
Tony Abbott might have said, “my views have developed”. The question is, What are they how? What is their basis?
Tom Switzer, with all the right wing credentials, including membership of the Institute of Public Affairs writes confidentially in Quadrant about his perceptions while calling for privatization of the ABC. He argues:
Let me stress from the outset that I think the ABC is a great and important Australian institution, and many of its staff members—from Leigh Sales and Chris Uhlmann on ABC1 to Sandy Aloisi and Glen Bartholomew on News Radio to Scott Bevan and Kumi Taguchi on ABC News 24—are highly professional and intelligent members of the Fourth Estate. I rather like Mark Scott, the managing director, who has expanded ABC services to vastly more people than at any time in the corporation’s eight decades. I am also a regular contributor to its television and radio programs, and I am proud of my association with them.
But one can make these observations, and still believe the ABC should be privatised. Why? Well, because a soft-Left “group-think” clouds its editorial content, which alienates large segments of the Australian public. Group-think, taken together with expansion into the internet and digital broadcasting, makes the case for a taxpayer-funded broadcaster highly questionable.
Of course, the ABC is not calculatedly partisan, nor do its masters deliberately pull the strings in any one direction. Nonetheless, there is little doubt that an entrenched Left-liberal bias—or perhaps mindset is a better word—seriously undermines the ABC’s claim to be an impartial provider of news and current affairs. If the ABC were sold off, no one would have grounds for complaining that it is impossible to watch the ABC for a whole evening without once shouting at the screen. After all, the broadcaster would no longer be bound by its charter to be even-handed.
. . . On every issue of political controversy, the ABC’s mental default position is essentially left of centre: opposition to labour-market deregulation, anti-terror laws and tough border protection; support for a republic, multiculturalism and same-sex marriage; an obsession with gender issues, Aboriginal rights and catastrophic manmade global warming; and a deep suspicion of Tony Abbott, neo-conservatives, economic rationalists, climate sceptics and the “Christian Right”. These people won’t get the soft interview.
Obviously, Tony Abbott could learn a few things about how to do equivocation, which presumably is much easier in print than in a visual medium. It is presumed that all right thinking people share such assumptions and presumptions that the ABC is impregnated with group-think, and by implication it is the strategic object for the class war. At this point we get to a point, where policy becomes devoid of democratic politics. Perhaps, it is contingent on Tony Abbott, as the presumed standard bearer of middle of the road, conservative common sense to be the primary, most outspoken exponent. If true, why doesn’t he?
Incidentally, Tom Switzer has particular scorn for Q&A. He writes:
No program sets the terms of the debate better than Q&A. On topics such as refugees, gay marriage and climate change, its coverage is loaded. Its choice of guests is always unbalanced. Its host Tony Jones is incorrigibly biased. It employs double standards in treating conservatives far more roughly than the other guests. Much of its questioning rests on a series of leftist ideological assumptions. Even Labor ministers are not immune: when Tony Burke once defended his Catholic faith on a panel discussion on religion featuring Richard Dawkins, he was immediately given the pariah treatment. All of this, moreover, is before a studio audience which treats anyone who strays from the progressive consensus with shock and distaste.
Where there is a problem, there is a solution, at least in the ideal – and non-democratic world – inhabited by Tom Switzer:
Friends of the ABC say that the public broadcaster provides a range of programs that would not be found elsewhere, or would be unaffordable otherwise. The free market, as Mozart and most dead poets show, is not always a good judge of quality. They also argue that many viewers and listeners feel at home with the public broadcaster and that its programs are appreciated by a large slice of the (economically up-scale) public.
But if the ABC has value not only for the prime television and radio spectrum it occupies but also its quality programs, why would the marketplace let this valuable franchise die? If it were a commercially viable entity, how would privatisation lead to a diminishing of the quality of its product? Selling off the ABC may eliminate much of the leftist content, but that would merely mean the Phillip Adamses and Julian Morrows and Media Watch-style programs of the ABC could take their chances in the private sector.
ABC defenders also believe that rural areas should have at least some access to ABC programs; and that privatisation would hurt regional Australia’s links with the media. However imperfect and irritating the ABC is, the argument goes, if we destroy the Australian public broadcaster we diminish rural and regional Australia.
But although there was truth to this argument during much of the corporation’s eighty-year history, the broadcasting landscape has changed utterly in recent times. As Pete du Pont, a former Republican governor of Delaware, has argued in the Wall Street Journal:
Cable and satellite have provided a buffet of interesting news, cultural and educational offerings for years. And the internet—with its ubiquitous availability in homes, schools, and libraries, and on cell phones, iPads and Kindles—provides far more information than public broadcasting ever could.
Or as the columnist George Will has suggested in the Washington Post, public broadcasting is “another middle-class—actually, upper-middle-class entitlement”. “If you doubt the entitlement mentality” of the public broadcaster lobby, he asserts, “hear its indignant rhetoric equating any questioning of their subsidy with censorship”. The lobby “consists disproportionately of people with financial and educational means to provide their own entertainment, but who have the political competence to bend political power to their private advantage”.
Du Pont and Will make these points in the context of fully privatising the US public broadcaster. The logic applies to the Australian state-run broadcaster.
Last December Tony Abbott told the Australian Financial Review: “There is still this left-of-centre ethos in the ABC and I hope that Mark Scott continues to address it.” Alas, the ABC’s institutional leftism is incurable. And privatisation is unlikely to define Coalition communications policy, especially under Malcolm Turnbull, whose base of support is more likely to be an inner-city Q&A studio audience than the centre-Right mainstream of the Liberal Party.
Under an Abbott government, budget cuts will most certainly be on the legislative agenda if only to save tax dollars. But privatisation—or at least rationalisation—of the public broadcaster remains a sound policy option. If the ABC is sold off and capital is returned to the federal budgets, its journalists would be free to air all the ideologically-tainted content they like. Some programs would not sell, and others would continue to aggravate many Australians. But at least taxpayers would not be forced to pay for it.
If nothing else, Tom Switzer provides an insight into a world view – and one that presumes to set the political agenda. Why is it not sufficient to provide a critique? Meanwhile Tony Abbott, and perhaps Julia Gillard, continue to excruciatingly equivocate, or confidently express what they imagine are unquestionable platitudes. It is the failure of media in general, and perhaps the ABC in particular, to open the public debate by disclosing the hidden agendas of political discourse that is the failure and the democratic problem that requires addressing.
So what am I missing?
In response to the first comments, here is Tony Abbott with Leigh Sales:
Maybe, it is politically expedient for Tony Abbott to keep quiet about his policies. “We are abolishing the carbon tax” – why?
In one fell swoop I was able to balance the Federal Budget and create a surplus. Easy. No problems. Hint:withdraw exemption of sales tax to sale of family home.
ABC News reports Opposition media spokesman Malcolm Turnbull:
Meanwhile, Mr Turnbull has told the forum the nation’s public broadcasters cannot expect to be exempt from any government-wide funding cuts a Coalition government may make.
Late last year Opposition Leader Tony Abbott was critical of what he described as a “left-of-centre ethos” within the ABC.
Mr Turnbull says the ABC and SBS do a great job but cannot expect to be immune if the Coalition needs to take any broad austerity measures.
“There is certainly not any plan or any policy to target the ABC or SBS for any funding cuts of the kind that have been canvassed by Labor,” he siad.
“But if there is a broader austerity of some kind across the board then all departments may have to bear some of the pain.
“The ABC and SBS are doing an outstanding job, I know we all, all of us, Stephen and I, everyone in politics, complains that they’re not always as generous and flattering about us as we’d like them to be, nonetheless they are more important than ever.”
- Barry Tucker, The Puzzle at the Heart of ABC Bias (Truth in News Media)
Speaking in 2010, ABC Managing Director Mark Scott referred to this telling observation:
In support of this claim, Scott uses a rather telling quotation from the editor of another news organisation that does not rely on advertising or public funding, the trust-funded UK Guardian. More recently, The Guardian’s finances have come under some pressure.
There is and will rightly continue to be, debate around the role of public broadcasters in this new media landscape. My view was summarised elegantly by Alan Rusbridger, the Editor of The Guardian in his Cudlipp lecture last month [January 2010]. Rusbridger stated that it would be utterly wrong to hobble the one model that is able to successfully produce distinguished and serious journalism – publicly funded broadcasters – in order to sustain a failed business model.
And he points out that with no public service broadcaster to speak of in the United States, newspapers are still in desperate trouble.
- It’s on again: Abbott v Sales (smh.com.au)
- Stopping the boats is bipartisan may be another issue not taken up by the mass media, including the ABC. Mark Bahnisch, O’Connor’s Evidence Free Policy: Leadership does Matter (Lavatus Prodeo)