Two former ABC employees, Fergus Pitt and Quentin Dempster, have written a report on political interference and harassment of the ABC. It provides a reasonably detailed account of what the national broadcaster has been experiencing in the political context of the last 9 years. The report begins by describing the current plight of our public broadcaster. While the ABC receives about A$1b per year from a Federal Government which spends about A$530b per year, public money also goes to private organisations such as A$9b per year in various forms to the fossil fuel industry. It would appear that private coal/gas/oil interests deserve 9 times more public money than does the public broadcaster with the highest trust rating in Australia. The ABC has lost A$783m in funding over the last 9 years, yet its services and viewer/listener numbers have grown. It is worth noting that for all these services (television, radio, online), the ABC costs each Australian resident A$41/year, while a digital-only subscription to the Murdoch owned Australian newspaper (with advertising) would cost you A$520/year.
An important role for a public broadcaster is to be critical of the government of the day, just as it should be providing information and analysis for all that falls within the public domain. No government will consistently operate in a perfect manner (we are only human, with all the foibles that entails), plus decision making will produce better outcomes when more positions (information) are taken into consideration. In conclusion, public scrutiny, through the professional staff of a broadcaster such as the ABC, can only be good for overall governance, and democracy in general. But, governments do consist of humans, and criticism will often be met with annoyance, or even anger. A positive response by a government of the day might be to accept that criticism and move on, while a negative response might involve a long-term strategy of trying to control or denigrate the public broadcaster. This negative reaction can take the form of reduced funding, threats to privatize, appointment of government supporters to the ABC board, initiate partisan reviews with insufficient justification, and other direct or indirect pressure on journalists and editors. Evidence for each of these is provided in this report by Pitt and Dempster.
Recommendations are provided, which include the removal of ABC funding and governance appointments from the government of the day. Just as our judicial system is independent of political and commercial interests, so to should be our public provider of information and analysis. For more details on this report, please click on - Insidious and Intentional: Political Interference and Harassment of the ABC – and then scroll down to the report. You will see that this report is being promoted through a GetUp site, but on reading it the evidence is all in the public domain. You may not agree with everything you read in this report. Nonetheless, it is important that you consider public issues from multiple perspectives if you are to arrive at a reasonably grounded set of facts.
For ongoing analysis of and commentary on the ABC, you might want to visit the ABC Alumni site with its growing set of short videos.