I see that the Australian Broadcasting Corporation Act 1983 contains a provision which more or less instructs the ABC to provide equal time to the government and the opposition when we have entered into an election period. The present question is whether we are in an election period of not. But why debate this question. We should make this a permanent obligation on any publicly financed media outlet in Australia, and not just during an official election period.
I think this provision for equal time provides the answer to the problem that has beset right-side parties in dealing with the ABC almost since its start. The ABC is not, however, a privately owned broadcaster, it is a publicly owned, taxpayer-funded organisation. It is we the people who are the owners and we the people have a diverse array of views that it ought to be the obligation of publicly funded media organisations to reflect.
An incoming Coalition Government must therefore make this provision for equal time not just a necessity during an official election period however defined but a permanent provision that must be adopted at all times and in all circumstances by any broadcaster financed more than 50% by public monies. No such provision should ever be applied to privately financed organisations who so far as political content is concerned must be left free to say whatever they please.
It may not appeal to an incoming Coalition government to provide such a forum to Labor, but truth to tell, they have it anyway. Such an amendment to the Act that covers the ABC, SBS and Radio Australia would not only appear fair and reasonable but would be. The ABC and SBS could have its Leigh Sales and George Negus to its heart’s content but they would also have to balance this with a fair dose of Andrew Bolt and Alan Jones.
And I don’t mean this as a bit of whimsy. This ought to become hard and fast Coalition policy. Not only will it be seen widely as fair and balanced, but it will actually be a major step towards protecting our democracy. There really will be open debate on all issues that is fostered by our public broadcaster.
A Government such as the one we are now blessed with, which has actively sought to reduce the media’s ability to report and criticise, can have nothing to say about a provision that will insist that all sides of every policy issue are heard and debated in the public forum.
It should also be a component of this Act that the ABC, SBS and Radio Australia demonstrate in their Annual Reports exactly how it has complied with this provision, by showing that equal time has been devoted to presenting both sides of every major political question.
You can find a similar article of mine at Quadrant Online.