Lacking imagination: Privatising the ABC

This exchange was on Q & A last night (emphasis added):

GREGORY CORE: Is the Coalition considering the sale and/or the privatisation of the ABC in their fiscal review or in the foreseeable future?

TONY JONES: Joe Hockey?

JOE HOCKEY: There was a striking resemblance to you there actually. No, we’re not. The ABC is not for sale. It doesn’t make a profit does it, Tony? It is a cost centre, so it is not worth anything for sale. So, no, it is not for sale.

TONY JONES: Okay.

JOE HOCKEY: I can guarantee that.

TONY JONES: They did it in New Zealand, so it’s a legitimate question.

JOE HOCKEY: No. Well, they must have ads running in New Zealand.

TONY JONES: They do.

JOE HOCKEY: But we love our ABC. Believe it or not Tony, we love our ABC.

TONY JONES: Well, while you are on the subject – while you are on the subject, is the ABC immune from cuts? Because the Howard government, when they first came in, cut the ABC 10 and then 2% in two years?

JOE HOCKEY: Well, the Government has cut the ABC as well, by the way.

TONY JONES: That’s not right.

JOE HOCKEY: I’d just say to you is there any waste in the ABC at all, Tony?

TONY JONES: Say that again?

JOE HOCKEY: Is there any waste?

TONY JONES: If you are looking for waste, don’t look here.

JOE HOCKEY: We will have to look at Leigh Sales’ remuneration then, not yours.

TONY JONES: Certainly not. Certainly not. We’ll just get a quick response from Chris Bowen on this before we move on.

CHRIS BOWEN: Look, I accept that Joe is not going to privatise the ABC. I accept that that’s his position and he will honour that. I do think the ABC, though, has a fair bit to worry about when it comes to funding. As you said, it is what they cut in the Howard Government. We have not cut ABC funding, contrary to your assertion. I think the ABC and the SBS are both very important national institutions and they shouldn’t have their funding cut and you won’t promise not to.

TONY JONES: Well, a quick response to that, Joe Hockey?

JOE HOCKEY: Well, if there is waste, we will cut it.

TONY JONES: All right. We have got time for one last question.

Talk about a back-handed compliment – the ABC isn’t worth anything, so it’s not for sale. Well, yes, I suppose there is logic in that statement. An Abbott government, however, could make an effort at commercialising the ABC.

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69 Responses to Lacking imagination: Privatising the ABC

  1. jimmy

    The commercal network owners would (rightly) go batshit if the ABC accepted advertising and continued with anything like its currrent funding model.

  2. Toiling Mass

    Maybe they are planning to spend the first term cleaning it up and making it worth something – like outsourcing the complaints management process to reflect community standards more, and tying funding to performance.

    Then they can sell it when they can demonstrate it has value.

  3. Ant

    Somehow, you get the feeling that Snowcone Leftie likes the idea of his organisation being worthless.

    Pity Hockey’s comments about not calling in the septic tank cleaners to give this cesspit of Leftist manure a thorough flushing.

    Still, his “if there’s waste, we will cut it” leaves a little wriggle room for the Coalition to swing the cleaver. If they’ve got the guts.

    They could start by asking: “Is Q&A a waste of time and money?”

    Answer: “Yes, let’s cut it!”

    Unfortunately, the alternative is much more likely: Keep sucking up to the ABC in the hope that if the Libs are nice to them people like Snowcone Tone will love them just a little bit.

    Can you imagine what Labor would do to the ABC if it was full of Rupert Murdoch types?

  4. wreckage

    That was a brilliant put-down from Hockey. Good to see him showing his teeth.

  5. Jack Spratt

    It is a cost centre….

    Pretty damning.

  6. Jim Rose

    would you get a $1 for the ABC after accounting for the scrap value of its equipment?

  7. Why should any government own a media corporation? The very idea is a threat to democracy.

  8. james

    Can you imagine what would happen if the ABC was forced to run ads? Forget privatizing it that is sadly a pipe dream but the uproar from even ads would be delicious.

  9. kae

    The ABC is not for sale.

    The ALP already bought it.

  10. Lucie

    Exactly, Kae. It’s already a sell-out to Labor.

    We should be able to countenance privatising the news/current affairs services because we don’t all vote Labor and we don’t all want our taxes going to support their propaganda machine. Full stop.

  11. mct

    would you get a $1 for the ABC after accounting for the scrap value of its equipment?

    Jim, you would get a very much better number than that. They have a lot of state of the art stuff which – as I have mentioned here before – is mainly used to cut private operators out of the market in various niches.

    As a “leeching concern” is is probably worth next to nothing, but fattened for sale and broken up by someone with half a clue it is quite possible, I believe, to maintain the bits which add value to ‘da country’ and sell or communitise the rest at a substantial profit.

    Hockey did exceptionally well… he gave the general idea that clearly something had to be done without giving the luvvies anything to actually squeal about in specific.

  12. Badjack

    The Coalition could ensure it is managed and run in the same way a private corporation is managed and run.

  13. wreckage

    I think they just fairly openly threatened to cut the guts out of it. Keep the kids programs and the all-day radio news channel.

  14. Samuel J

    The ABC is not for sale.

    The ALP already bought it.

    No, the taxpayers bought it for the ALP

  15. Samuel J

    I wish Hockey had disclosed Tony Jones’ taxpayer remuneration. He is one of the highest paid public servants, yet doesn’t get held to account to deliver apolitical comment.

  16. kae

    Details, details, Samuel J.

  17. Pedro the Ignorant

    That was a brilliant put-down from Hockey. Good to see him showing his teeth.

    -from wreckage.

    Hear, hear. Several lefty heads could be heard exploding in the background.

  18. Norma

    Suggestion: When in Government, ask the ABC what it costs them to produce Q&A, Insiders, 7.30, and Lateline. Then reduce their funding by this amount. And quietly warn them not to insert opinion in NEWS.

  19. wreckage

    It also sets the tone the Coalition can then take with the rest of the debate. Having “Well we can’t sell it because it’s a net loser and hence has a market value of less than nothing” as the standard reply really buggers the entire argument from the left by summarily destroying the unspoken argument, and the real emotional grounds of the whole fight, which is: “the ABC is a shining jewel, a wonder of the modern age, and the L/NP are bastards for even thinking about selling it just to turn a quick buck”.

    Abbott missed a golden opportunity IMO when, in the leader’s debate, he didn’t say “of COURSE 40% of people processed off-shore got to stay! It’s not about stopping genuine asylum seekers! It’s about stopping the boats!”. Thus attacking the subtext, and really buggering up the “ALP are less evil” subtext. Nice to see they were prepared to attack the subtext when it came to the ABC.

    Howard was the master of this, and kept the ALP cheersquad among the journos wrongfooted for over a decade. I don’t know whether they just don’t get that someone else can manipulate the subtext, or they really don’t understand that there is a subtext; they certainly act like the latter when called on it.

  20. Johno

    The Coalition may cut back a bit on the ABC’s funding, but big deal. The ABC will still have enough resources to push the Greens agenda and oppose the Coalition.

    They must sell it. There is no justification for State owned media in a liberal democratic society.

  21. Norma

    Go read Bunyip on this subject. Hilarious. Does Bunyip read the Cat? He posted it at 7.29.

  22. wreckage

    There is no justification for State owned media in a liberal democratic society.

    I can hardly imagine the Coalition getting away with proposing “A state-owned, uniform, national Youth Radio Station.”

    Yet when it’s the nation’s socialists*, all comparisons to the Hitlerjugend are stillborn.

    *hot subtext action

  23. blogstrop

    Bunyip reads the Cat, and we of course read him. He even comments here from time to time.
    But he needs no prompting from us in order to vivisect any hapless hoplite from the leftist hordes.

  24. Boambee John

    At the very least, the ABC’s on-line and 24 hour news networks should be changed to “access by subscription” (with the ABC budget reduced to offset the revenue). These are specialist branches that appeal to only a limited audience, which should pay for them.

  25. wal1957

    The ALPBC is not a viable commerial entity, neither is SBS. Television viewing audiences are shrinking, and the fight for viewers, and thus profits is number one priority.
    The ALPBC automatically fails in the numbers regard because they have a bias to ‘the left’. Therefore, most right leaning voters will not entertain watching the ALPBC, and thus the ALPBC has washed its’ hands of 40% of the population.
    The ALPBC do have some very good shows, but when it comes to current affairs…Insiders, 7.30 etc, it is an automatic turn off! Balanced reporting is what I want, and it is certainly what we should expect from the publicly funded ‘our ABC’. Unfortunately, any complaints of bias, and I am labelled a “right wing nut-job”!

  26. Adam D

    We will have to look at Leigh Sales’ remuneration then, not yours.

    Found this on crikey:

    A Four Corners reporter, who asked to remain anonymous, told Crikey..
    journalists on Four Corners are paid in the range of $140-160,000 a year, while high-profile presenters such as Annabel Crabb can command over $200,000

    They justify it by saying high-profile presenters on commercial TV get 500k, but there is no way in hell Annabelle Crabb could comand 200k on commercial TV.

  27. Balatro

    Don’t sell ABC or SBS – because nobody will pay for a bloated, self serving bunch of inner city opinionistas running consistently low rating operations in the free to air TV and radio market under the current financial climate. SBS can attract advertising, but I have not seen any figures on its contribution to the operating budget – my guess is nowhere near enough. The ABC would probably only take some of the action from SBS if it accepted advertising.
    No – make them fight for their money, like the commercial operators do. It cannot be beyond technical competence to change over the public broadcasters to something similar to Foxtel. Make the Friends of the ABC BUY a decoder, then subscribe to the services of their choice. The proceeds would be the operating budgets for both. Maybe they could issue shares, and pay a dividend.
    But fail – and the receiver’s shadow darkens the door!
    That would knock a lot of the moral relativity out of them.

  28. Champagne Socialists

    kae, the ABC has been very obstructionist regarding the pay packets of its senior journalists and we don’t know the answer as a result. There are many ways of bringing its denizens to heel without selling it off – not that I have any objection, but it probably isn’t worth the heartburn. First up, Hockey should release this information, mainly because it would reduce the credibility of lefties like Jones. Secondly, he should appoint a few conservative presenters. Third, get rid of Scott the denialist.

  29. JC

    Stop dreaming fellas. At the end of the day, there’s next to zero chance the softcocks in the Libs would sell their ABC. What they will do though is make life hell through changes like having an ombusdman outside the ABC’s ambit and changing the CEO. There will be changes.

    Also, from what I’ve heard, salaries are going public.

  30. .

    Give it away as a corporatised firm gifting shares to citizens who actually own it. Let people sell out. Let’s see what it is really worth!

  31. Karl Kessel

    The ABC should have their funding reduced and get ads put on.

    They wouldn’t be worth that much. The ABC’s ratings are not strong.

    The German State broadcasters have ads, why not the ABC?

    The ABC should also be made more like NPR and PBS in the US. NPR is better radio than the ABC does and it’s far cheaper. It should be the model.

    Australia has some great radio. 3RRR, 3PBS & 3MBS are excellent. ABC radio could be moved to a model like they are.

    Does anyone know the cost breakdown of TV vs radio for the ABC? TV is probably quite a bit more expensive. But that’s where things could be cut. The fact that the ABC pays for entertainment like Dr Who to be broadcast is just insane. There is no market failure there.

  32. Johno

    he should appoint a few conservative presenters.

    Do you really want to give a Minister the power to hire and fire presenters? Would you really want to give the current Comunications Minister, Con job, the power to hire and fire ABC presenters?

    The choice is you hand that power over to the cabal that runs the ABC or you have the Government of the day running the ABC. I don’t like either option. The only way out is to sell it and let the cabal run their own organisation without taxpayer’s money.

  33. Arnost

    Hockey is right – ABC is safe…

    But you can rename ABC2 / 3 whatever and sell that… Or at least sell the license (buyer – do what you will with it). SBS should stay away from opinion and show a few foreign language art house movies in prime time ( and the odd naughty flick too) and fill in the space re running foreign news . ABC1 should go back to what it was 10 years ago – local content and kiddie shows. And no government in any free country should controlled the news. So – at best local (like regional) reporting on local issues like the price of cows or and the local snow is on.

  34. Paul CO

    Apart from the bias what gets my goat is seeing the same news issues separately presented by ABC AND SBS often at same time. It’s ridiculous.

  35. Arnost

    Damn predictive text – “control the news” and “or and when the local show is on”

  36. jimmy

    Murdoch would love to buy the ABC, just like he bought the WSJ and wants to buy the Grey Lady. Hell, he couldn’t care less if it lost money, not even a billion. He’d do it just to see the smirk wiped off so many faces ! Bring on the dirty digger !

  37. Arnost

    Oh yeah – sell all the other SBS channels too – and I’m happy if they show the odd game of wogball…

  38. jimmy

    BTW, people should read Nick Cater’s book “the Lucky Culture” to figure out the malaise at ABC. The chapter points to a culture where there is no editorial control (think 4 corners) and ‘journalists’ do what they like. Even Fairfax has ‘editorial control’ (not the sort I like) in that it has a consisitent lefty bias !

  39. Tel

    Do you really want to give a Minister the power to hire and fire presenters? Would you really want to give the current Comunications Minister, Con job, the power to hire and fire ABC presenters?

    What difference does it make? Pays the piper, calls the tune. Any government funded media will become a government spruiker over time. Might as well formalise it and skip the pretending.

  40. nic

    What would be more fun is to annoy the hell out of them for the next three years. They are going to complain anyway, may as well give them something to really complain about. An ombudsman and accountability is a start

  41. Rabz

    My views on the ALPBC remain unchanged.

    Shut it down.

    Fire them all.

    Liquidate its assets.

    And finally, salt the ground on which it stood.

  42. Gab

    Sell it off to Rupert and Gina.

  43. 132andBush

    I think the hammering the ABC have given the Coalition members in interviews and on shows like Q&A has made them (the Coalition) better and stronger at what they do. It’s showing up plainly how more polished the LNP is compared to the ALP rabble.
    I’d love to see the Libs start to subtly thank the ABC for their boot camp training.

  44. egg_

    What would be more fun is to annoy the hell out of them for the next three years. They are going to complain anyway, may as well give them something to really complain about. An ombudsman and accountability is a start

    Yup, cue Marr whining about imagined silencing of the meeja (Con job red underpants, anyone?)

  45. DMS

    Rabz made me laugh out loud

  46. egg_

    Sell it off to Rupert and Gina.

    Would love to see Aunty’s petals employed by the ‘Mining Gazette, TV Edition’. 😉

    FoxMetal anyone?

  47. JC

    The ombudsman idea isn’t bad as far as it goes, I reckon. There will be complaints aplenty and the office will possibly have to closely research each one. So imagine how the accused will feel, when there is no friendly government to support them and an office possibly looking for blood with every complaint. It will basically render the political reporting operation/opinion unworkable and could mean they get out of it completely. Once that happens it wouldn’t be a hard sell to flog it off. The libs strategy as far as I can tell is to cause it damage through bureaucratic interference laced with fear. Then there’s no heat from basically doing away with it.

  48. JohnA

    mct:

    “As a “leeching concern” is is probably worth next to nothing, but fattened for sale and broken up by someone with half a clue it is quite possible, I believe, to maintain the bits which add value to ‘da country’ and sell or communitise the rest at a substantial profit.”

    Sounds like an asset-stripping operation.

    Cue the howls of confected outrage over to the Left at the very idea that someone could figure out how to make a profit out of the ABC

    he he he!

  49. Cold-Hands

    would you get a $1 for the ABC after accounting for the scrap value of its equipment?

    Real Estate, Jim Rose. The properties at Ultimo and Southbank must be worth squillions. Move their operations (less one studio apiece for tele-interviews via the NBN:P) to Bourke, Wangaratta and Mt Isa and sell off the land.

  50. WhaleHunt Fun

    Joe Hockey did not say they would not close it.
    heh heh

  51. WhaleHunt Fun

    Surely there must be a few teetotallers with saleable kidneys at the ABC?
    Surely one?
    No?
    Bugger.

  52. Gab

    Wonder whatever happened to gillard’s Cash for Kidneys scheme?

  53. Qld Skeptic

    Sorry to mention it here as well but why not hand it over to the states to do as they please? It would be a way out for the federal government. They could slowly cut the funding and bleed it to death that way.

  54. MT Isa Miner

    Cold-Hands

    #966710, posted on August 20, 2013 at 11:23 pm

    would you get a $1 for the ABC after accounting for the scrap value of its equipment?

    Real Estate, Jim Rose. The properties at Ultimo and Southbank must be worth squillions. Move their operations (less one studio apiece for tele-interviews via the NBN:P) to Bourke, Wangaratta and Mt Isa and sell off the land.

    Piss off.

    The Isa already has 4LM radio ( country and local ads ) and a TV channel (If I rememebr correctly re-runs & crap ) and I am pretty sure no opinionated ponces and poncettes are needed at the K-Mart checkouts. And they are definately not worth FIFO money.

  55. Popular Front

    What Mt Isa Miner said.

  56. johno

    Tel @ #966552

    What difference does it make? Pays the piper, calls the tune. Any government funded media will become a government spruiker over time. Might as well formalise it and skip the pretending.

    The ABC and SBS have been able to avoid become the spruiker of the government of the day because they have won the independence/accountability battle. Any attempt by the Minister to hold them to account is trumped by their claim to be independent.

    Making them accountable to the Minister would let the Minister call the tune. Better that they were privatised so the public could call the tune.

  57. Robbo

    I totally agree that the ABC is worth nothing, but it does cost the taxpayers plenty and therefore the question should be does the ABC give good value for the dollars it costs? My answer is a resounding NO. I see it as a sheltered workshop for a lot of talking heads who are unemployable elsewhere in the media world. It has also morphed into a cheer squad for the Labor Party, and their soulmates The Greens, thus betraying their loud claims to being unbiased.
    I would be happy to see this expensive sponge on the taxpayers closed down but if that is not going to happen then we should at least see it earning some money from commercial agreements coupled with cuts to the waste that these sorts of government funded institutions inexorably generate.

  58. Luke

    Actually the ABC may not make money, but it has a massive value to a particualr market – The privately owned media. How much would they be prepared to pay for the ABC? Quite a bit I’d imagine.

  59. Empire Strikes Back

    Actually the ABC may not make money, but it has a massive value to a particualr market – The privately owned media. How much would they be prepared to pay for the ABC? Quite a bit I’d imagine

    Are you sure? Aside from the rural assets that operate in a monopoly/duopoly market, they don’t hold much audience share in the cities. That share will include some high value consumers, but they are of the Bollinger socialist type. Maybe a niche audience for payTV, but I can’t see broadcasters wanting to pay much for the dregs.

    I asked an acquaintance in the media planning game about this recently. The response was “nobody’s getting a hard-on about the existing ABC audience and if we don’t rate it, the broadcasters can’t sell our clients advertising. It does have digital potential, but’s that not where the $ are today”

  60. MACK1

    It can’t be sold or privatised for obvious political reasons. The fix for the dysfunctional culture is the same as in the corporate world – replace the Board and CEO and outsource as much as possible.

  61. Julian McLaren

    I just had a look at the 2012 Financial Statements. They get almost $1 billion from the Government per annum (and they still manage a small loss…I suppose they aren’t meant to make a profit). The way I see it, the Coalition doesn’t have to sell it, just give it away. That will save $1 billion a year. Great result. In fact, I’m sure News Corp wouldn’t mind taking it into their stable.

  62. johno

    The commercial broadcasters support the ABC and SBS staying with the government and for there to be a ban on them accepting advertising. If they had their way, SBS would not be allowed to accept advertising.
    It’s the same reason they support so-called community broadcasters. The government and community broadcasters take up space on the broadcasting spectrum, (which could otherwise be available for competitors if the government chose to allow competition in commercial broadcasting), but the government and community broadcasters don’t compete for advertiser’s dollars.

    If the Coalition actually believed in liberalism, they would remove the laws that prevent new entrants into commercial broadcasting and convert the government and community broadcast licences into commercial licenses, which would allow these broadcasters to accept advertising. They would then sell the government broadcasters.

    But, as we know, the Liberal Party doesn’t believe in liberalism, except as a useful rhetorical device to be deployed when needed.

  63. .

    MACK1 #966865, posted on August 21, 2013 at 9:53 am
    It can’t be sold or privatised for obvious political reasons. The fix for the dysfunctional culture is the same as in the corporate world – replace the Board and CEO and outsource as much as possible.

    Sure they can

    http://ldp.org.au/policies/1146-deregulate-and-privatise

    Privatisation

    The LDP supports the privatisation policies of ALP and Coalition governments over the past 20 years.

    In some of the cases listed in the policy where some public funding is warranted, this should occur by way of vouchers or a similar funding mechanism that empowers consumer choice.

    We do not believe the main purpose of privatisation is to make money for the government. Rather, its purpose is to improve the efficiency of the economy.

    Therefore the process for moving these entities out of state and federal government ownership would vary and may include privatisation via the share market, transfers to local community groups and the gifting of shares (or their proceeds) to all Australians.

    A public share give-away is an attractive means of transferring public assets directly to Australian adult citizens. It clearly shows the purpose of privatisation is to shift economic control into the hands of individuals, not to raise money for government. The approach is also more equitable and lets all Australians share in the benefits of privatisation.

    While a public give-away would not be viable for all public assets, it should be considered for some organisations. The deciding factor in each case would be the ongoing viability of each operating entity as well as consultation with the key stakeholders.

    Privatising the ABC

    The privatisation of the ABC is a high priority and a perfect candidate for a share give-away to the people. If New Zealand is able to live without a national government-owned broadcaster, then so can Australia

    The ABC today includes TV stations, radio stations, retail outlets, book publishing (over 120 titles each year), magazines, videos and DVDs, contemporary music and logo licensing. Each one of these has commercial competitors and there is absolutely no reason why the government should be involved in any of these industries.

    Many people take a conservative approach and are afraid of change, but privatising the ABC is necessary not just on efficiency grounds but also for equity reasons. More Australians pay for ABC TV and radio than watch or listen to it. Only a minority of Australians, generally well educated with higher incomes, use the ABC. Consequently, continued corporate welfare to the ABC is a subsidy provided by taxpayers to higher income earners.

    The ABC not only loses money (about $800 million per year or $80 per taxpayer) but is also losing the ratings war as it is less popular than commercial alternatives. Those who insist that the ABC is actually “better” are in effect criticising the majority of Australians for preferring the other channels.

    Once privatised, the ABC would stop costing the taxpayer money and become directly answerable to its owners and audiences. This is a benefit to both the taxpayer and the consumer.

    If it really is “our ABC”, then give it to us. And if ownership implies the ability to control your asset, we should be free to choose whether we keep or sell our share in it.

  64. Up The Workers!

    When competent, non-corrupt Government is finally returned to Australia on September 8, that $1.2 billion annual embezzlement of taxpayers’ funding known as the A.L.P.B.C., should be “gifted” along with all its’ sheltered-workshop staff of failed A.L.P. candidates; A.L.P. pollies’ rellos; jobsworths, bum-shiners, propagandists and party hacks, to Fauxfacts.

    Having a $1.2 billion millstone like that hung around their necks, would cause BOTH rotten organizations to finally slip down around the “S”-bend of insolvency and mercifully disappear from view.

    The Liberals could then get on with the job of considering whether a genuinely “independent” national broadcaster is a desirable objective, and if so, whether public funds should be committed to it.

  65. Matelot

    Combine ABC and SBS. Keep advertising and reduce funding each year till zero. Sell it or give it to all Australians through share issue.

  66. Martin C

    Tony Jones is wrong, TVNZ has (unfortunately) not been sold.

  67. Fred Lenin

    The original concept of the abc was good ,suppling information to the public ,a desireable thing.However with the communism of education ,and leftist infiltration of All public bodies,the concept has changed topropaganda for the modestly “educated” left.with modern technology the original concept of information has had its day,the internet has usurped the whole thing,thus newspapers and TV information have a very strong competitor ,which is winningthe race hands dpwn,obfuscating and leftist BS is easily checkedthrough many sources the left are flogging a dead horse. Therefore government media is totally irrelevant and a monstrous waste of Taxpayer Funds ,let the stenographer leftist ” journalists” go on Jobsearch,though I doubt employment cpuld be found for such a buch of self opinionated Tossers ,of both sexesDestroy the wastrel alp and their green maaaates!

  68. As Rabz says; flog it off, lock, stock and barrel. Cut our tax by $1.2B per year, the gift that keeps on giving.

    As usual, the Liberals(sic) won’t change a thing..

  69. one old bruce

    Clever answers by Hockey. Read Bunyip for more. Instead of taking them on their own extortionist terms, make them fight and eat each other in vying to please their new masters. ‘Are you waste, or is Leigh Sales?’ What will you do for us, now we own you? Brilliant.

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