The ABC – Never More Important
The ABC is a national treasure. Roy Morgan opinion surveys find it is the most trusted media organisation; daylight second. Its stocks have risen even higher over the past six months. The ABC stood tall during the appalling bush fires. Its emergency broadcasts brought crucial information to those in dire need and saved lives. ABC journalists were applauded for their courageous reports from the front line and, in the aftermath, Four Corners presented a gripping account of the fires with important lessons from this grim experience.
The Coronavirus has disrupted almost every facet of life across Australia. Again, Australians have turned to the ABC to make sense of what is happening and what it means for them. The ABC has responded with forensic reporting on COVID-19, its impact here and around the world and the implications. At the same time, it has maintained its normal fare of news, information, education and entertainment across its TV, radio and online services.
But the ABC is in crisis. While established by an act of federal parliament as an independent body, it is reliant on government funding and this has been steadily reduced. Over the past thirty years, it has lost 30 per cent of its funding. The last six years have been particularly tough with major cuts made to ABC funding in the 2014 and 2018 budgets. A workforce of around 5,000 is now around 4,000 and many programs have been cut back or lost.
The Institute of Public Affairs, the major think-tank on the right of Australian politics, continues to campaign hard for the ABC to be privatised. Two years ago, it launched a book, Against Public Broadcasting, which argued that the ABC was an anachronism. It lamented that governments would lack the will to sell it off. It acknowledged that the ABC was deeply loved. However, in June 2018 the National Council of the Liberal Party supported a motion to privatise the ABC. Then prime minister Malcolm Turnbull and successive communications ministers Mitch Fifield and Paul Fletcher have said that the ABC will not be sold. The National Council motion has not been rescinded.
Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp has been relentless in its opposition to the ABC. It attacks the ABC, seeing it as full of lefty journalists. At the same time it begrudges the ABC its audiences. News Corp wants people reading The Daily Telegraph or The Australian and watching Sky or Foxtel.
A further threat to the ABC, and indeed all media, has been the attack on media freedom to report and hold power to account. Last year’s Australian Federal Police raids on the ABC and News Corp were deeply troubling; journalists have since been at risk of prosecution for doing their jobs.
Many Australians are aghast at reports of President Trump’s extraordinary record of making statements that are demonstrably untrue. The Washington Post recorded an eye-watering 16,241 false or misleading claims in his first three years in office. This is truly an era of fake news. If citizens are not aware of what is happening or are misinformed, then democracy cannot function. It is in this context that the role of the ABC is so critical. It must be properly funded and independent so that it can keep Australians informed and hold power to account. The ABC has never been more important.
Ed is President of ABC Friends NSW & ACT. He has lived in the Eastern Suburbs for the past forty years. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.