The ABC is suffering from a profound identity crisis. It is uncertain about its place in a crowded media landscape, unnerved by its critics and unsure of its future.
Last night I chaired a forum for the Centre for Independent Studies on the purpose of public broadcasting. The question was not, ‘is the ABC is doing a good job?’ but ‘what job do we expect the ABC to do?’
For evidence of the institution’s profound cultural confusion, let us consider Peppa Pig, imported from the UK, broadcast on the ABC’s pre-school digital channel and downloaded 19 million times last year from ABC iview.
In Britain Peppa is a proud and independent pig, broadcasting on the free-to-air commercial Channel Five without a penny of public money. She is the face of a highly successful independent British production house - Entertainment One – that earns well over a billion pounds a year from her worldwide.
In Australia. she’s a bludger, living on welfare doled out by a government-funded institution that its managing director aspires to make “the baby sitter of choice for every parent in Australia.”
Is this really what the ABC was put on earth to do? Where’s the public purpose in using public money to fatten up this cheeky little grunter?
Is it the role of the ABC – or indeed any other public institution – to promote an anthropomorphic celebrity while flogging its ephemeral merchandise through the back door? (The Peppa Pig Quilt Cover, price $39.99, will be arriving in ABC Shops in June.)
In these fiscally restrained times, shouldn’t this particular little piggy be going to market?
Footnote: The ABC still capable of quality broadcasting. Highlights of last night’s discussion with Paul Kelly, Andrew West and Brendan O’Neill were recorded by Radio National for future transmission.