I had the opportunity to debate the Managing Director of the ABC, Mark Scott, on the role of public broadcasting during the weekend. The topic of my presentation was ABC: from correcting market failure to causing it. Mark went first.
Scott has taken to using the language of economists to defend the billion dollars or so of taxpayer funds that are handed out to the ABC each year. (This is not counting the dollars for the Australian Network – the ABC is now a shoo-in for the next contract and will therefore being able to continue its contribution to the government peddling soft diplomacy in the region (I am not making this up – check out Scott’s past speech on this topic).)
Now I guess that back in 1932 there might have been some market failure with thin capital markets. And if national radio coveragewas an aim, then … But note that there was an incipient radio network funded privately at that time which is essentially nationalized to create the ABC.
Forward to the present, according to Scott, there are still market failures, indeed greater market failures notwithstanding the acknowledged proliferation of media outlets which are easily accessible. This seems to be a case of heads the ABC wins, tails the ABC wins (and the taxpayer loses). He refers in particular to quality coverage of news and current affairs (stop laughing) and quality drama (Crownies, Angry Boys? … again stop laughing) as two examples of correcting for this growing market failure.
I was amazed when he boasted about ABC News 24 being established without any new resources. This seems like an amazing admission of extreme levels of fat within the organization. Can you imagine a company setting up a new division without making a substantial investment?
Not surprisingly, I decided to give him some examples of egregiously bad journalism coming out the ABC: Deb Cameron suggesting that Gina Rinehart was influencing Channel 7’s programming decisions even though Rinehart is a shareholder of Channel 10; Adam Spencer hanging up on Christopher Monckton having been caught out on a point of fact about a scientific paper; Jeremy Thompson defaming Bjorn Lomborg because
Tony Abbott had mentioned Lomborg. And new there is the case of Wendy Carlisle super-defaming Monckton and making all sorts of appalling errors along the way.
A Scott’s response? Sure, there are occasional lapses of journalistic standards but there are thousands (millions) of hours broadcast and, in any case, people can complain and their complaints will be taken seriously (just stop that laughing, it might cause some physical damage).
So here is the ABC’s complaints-handing rule-book (I know – I decided to road-test it a while back – some little clerk got back to me after nearly two months: COMPLAINT REJECTED.)
- Treat the complainant as dim-wit, using a patronizing tone;
- Refer obliquely to the matter raised but declare that all approaches to journalism are equally valid;
- Assure the complainant that the matter has been thoroughly investigated;
- Tell the complainant that management takes all complaints very seriously;
- Finally, quote the internet address of the Editorial Guidelines.
In the meatime, over at the BBC, there seems to be a more open-minded approach to criticism: the Director-General has conceded that the organization has been guilty of “massive left-wing bias”, as well as egregiously delaying any consideration of the topics of immigration and Euroscepticism. On these topics, the BBC staff just didn’t get it.
(I have a piece coming out on The Drum along the above line :))