Only a flesh wound

Chris Berg and I had an op-ed in the Daily Telegraph last week on the ABC. It doesn’t seem to be online but I’m reproducing it below.

~*~

Judging by the howls of outrage echoing through twitter it seems that the Turnbull government has destroyed our democracy, if not Australian civilisation itself. But no. The Turnbull government has frozen ABC operational funding for three years. That translates to a ‘funding cut’ of some $83 million.

Not $83 million per year, mind you. Over three years.

Not quite a rounding error, but hardly a crisis.

The ABC only has itself to blame. In the pre-budget period it went well out of its way to annoy the government. The prime minister – a former communications minister – is something of a fan. Yet the ABC chose to publish a highly opinionated and factually challenged analysis by the ABC’s Chief Economics Correspondent of the government’s centrepiece economic policy. Then there was the small matter of pooh-poohing the current communications ministers’ complaint about a conservative politician being pointlessly abused in a comedy skit.

These hostilities have not come cheap.

There may well be a market for ‘edgy’ humour, but the ABC’s efforts tend to boorishness. Reproducing flawed ALP and Greens talking points on company tax cuts as being ‘independent’ and ‘trust worthy’ is arguably a greater problem. These are not minor lapses in editorial policy – the ABC is politically biased and incapable of self-regulation.

Rather than viewing the ABC as a ‘trusted’ news source we should recognise it as being a political actor in its own right. Not just any sort of political actor. Journalists, as David Marr has suggested, are usually ‘vaguely soft-left’ and sceptical of authority.

The ABC, however, is not so vague and not so soft. A 2013 survey of journalists revealed that 41.3% of ABC journalists intended to vote Greens at the 2013 election. That compares with 19.8% of journalists at both Fairfax and News and just 8.7% of the electorate.

ABC journalists are well to the left of journalists in general, and nearly five times more likely to vote Greens than the general public.

To be fair – there is nothing wrong with voting Greens or being left-wing. Journalists are citizens too. But the ABC claims to be a bulwark of our democracy. While nearly 80% of Australians claim to believe that the ABC is balanced and even-handed there is a huge drop off in actual audience numbers. There are three to four times as many Australians who claim to trust the ABC than who actually watch the ABC. Sure 86% of Australians value to ABCs service to the community, but that probably reflects its status as an emergency broadcaster.

Generally there is no reason why political opinion should cloud professional performance. Coalition voting journalists are a minority even at News. Yet none of the mechanisms that crowd out personal preference operate at the ABC. It does not have to please advertisers, it does not have to earn a profit, nor does it not have to explain itself to controlling shareholders.

To claim that the ABC Charter constrains it is laughable. The Charter is written in legislation but it is not law. It doesn’t require anyone to do anything, it contains no penalties for non-compliance, and it has no enforcement mechanism. If only the Tax Act worked on the same principles.

The ABC pleases itself; in practice that means it pleases its staff. To the extent that many ABC journalists are professional in their activities that is a personal preference and not institutional discipline.

Unsurprisingly the ABC does as it pleases and largely it gets away with doing as it pleases.

Being stripped of a mere $83 million over three years is a very mild rebuke from an otherwise indulgent government. Yet the ABC seems to have chucked a temper tantrum in response. Threats to bully the government into restoring funding indexation should be resisted.

Rather than simply restore indexation after three years the Turnbull government should be looking at innovative market solutions to commercialise and professionalise the ABC. Expecting value for money from the ABC is not an attack on its independence but rather a minimum expectation of any government program that costs the taxpayer $1 billion per annum.

Chris Berg and Sinclair Davidson are in the School of Economics, Finance and Marketing at RMIT University and senior research fellows at the Institute of Public Affairs. Their book Against public broadcasting: Why we should privatise the ABC and how to do it, will be published by Connor Court later this month.

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34 Responses to Only a flesh wound

  1. Ƶĩppʯ (ȊꞪꞨV)

    To be fair – there is nothing wrong with voting GreensDipshit or being left-wing prick

    so much fixing

  2. A Lurker

    The ABC, however, is not so vague and not so soft. A 2013 survey of journalists revealed that 41.3% of ABC journalists intended to vote Greens at the 2013 election.

    The remainder are likely to vote Labor or Left-Liberal.
    Any Conservatives (if they even exist) at the ABC would therefore necessarily need to keep their heads down below the parapet.
    The ABC is not a Safe Space for those of the political Right.

  3. Baldrick

    With TheirABC costing taxpayers $3.5 million every single day, $83 million is chump change for the champagne socialists, equating to $75,000 per day over 3 years.

  4. Mak Siccar

    Zĩppʯ (ȊꞪꞨV)

    #2710973, posted on May 15, 2018 at 5:54 am
    To be fair – there is nothing wrong with voting GreensDipshit or being left-wing prick

    To be fair – there is nothing illegal with voting GanGreensDipshit or being a left-wing prick

    FIFY

    Otherwise, an excellent article.

  5. Goanna

    Is that the truth?

    Or did you hear on the ABC.

  6. Herodotus

    Defunding or commercialising the ABC would have much greater flow-on savings than just the billion bucks per annum.
    This rogue organisation costs the nation in lost exports, costs the nation in stupid climate change measures, costs the nation in useless and expensive renewable energy and the destruction of manufacturing such as aluminium smeltering.
    Their support for various schemes including an unaffordable NDIS can be added to the bill that their activism encourages.
    It is quite wrong to say there’s no harm in voting left/green as a member of the out of control ABC.
    A news and entertainment organisation with such nationwide reach and such a fixed set of attitudes that they serve up in the daily spin will have an effect on voting patterns. We’ve seen what those voting patterns lead to.

  7. Spring is coming

    Sell it off

  8. herodotus

    They also boosted the money-burning NBN and anything else that the ALP did.

  9. Bruce of Newcastle

    As the ABC is funded by all taxpayers it is actually disproportionally paid for by right-aligned voters, since many left-aligned voters pay no income tax.

    It would be fair therefore that the ABC at very least kept a centrist editorial line, as was the case in the fifties and sixties.

    Why should right-aligned voters have to pay for something which they don’t want, which incessantly criticises them and mocks them and fails to provide anything for them, except far-leftist propaganda?

    The media has a vast supply of leftist outlets. Fairfax, the Guardian Australia, The Saturday Paper, the New Daily, SBS to name just a few. The Right has very few sources. So why should the ABC not step into this vacuum and provide a balance?

    Either the ABC must return to an unbiased centrist platform or the budget halved.

  10. Rockdoctor

    The Rural service that keeps being touted as a reason for the ABC has been neglected & I suspect pillaged to fluff out Ultimo that it is unrecognisable to what I would have listened to 10 years ago. It needs to go but can’t see anyone that will do it…

  11. Egor

    Not nearly enough Aboriginals in ABC management and as flagship program presenters.

  12. Biota

    Haven’t watched ABC TV or listened to radio current affairs/opinion for years now, and my blood pressure is much better for it.

  13. Entropy

    Rockdoctor
    #2711014, posted on May 15, 2018 at 7:45 am
    The Rural service that keeps being touted as a reason for the ABC has been neglected & I suspect pillaged to fluff out Ultimo that it is unrecognisable to what I would have listened to 10 years ago. It needs to go but can’t see anyone that will do it…

    Quite so.
    Land clearing of any sort: green line
    GBR: green line
    Animal welfare: green line
    Cottage industry hippie development: green line and only development that is good.
    Mining and agriculture coexistence: green line
    Any Mining at all: green line
    Energy: green line
    Non profitable farmers: parasitic green line

    And the service has become more and more centralised. It used to have seperate abc Rural country hours on a regional basis, and in the morning. Now it is all at state level with a spot of regional cover. And the ABC Rural website is a shadow of its former self and many of the articles are mainline ABC anyway.
    You would be better off separating regional services from the ABC and run totally separately if you weren’t prepared to just put it out of its misery. Ah yes, euthanasia: green line.
    All ABC Rural is now is a pathetically lame stereotyped city view of what its denizens think country living should be, and rural types are treated in a patronising fashion like they are retarded pets. The journos are all the B team of ABC studios, which is saying something. Good for ‘colour’ stories and nought else.

    ABC Rural probably only still exists in the eyes of Ultimo as a bargaining chip.

    As for emergency services, just require all commercial providers to provide it whenever. Why should people have to tune into a radio station they never otherwise listen to anyway? In an emergency they shouldn’t have to.
    .

  14. H B Bear

    The staff co-op continues to enjoy the full support of both branches of the UniParty.

    Enjoy you democracy comrades.

  15. candy

    I don’t think the ABC executives are unhappy about it. In fact it was probably agreed on nicely between Mr Turnbull (Friend of the ABC) and Ms Guthrie ages ago.

    It’s just a bit of pretend outrage, that’s all. Bill Shorten was correct the other day when he said Malcolm Turnbull is greatly supported by the ABC and before the knifing they gave him excellent time on Q&A etc to help him. Birds of a feather. As I say, urbane, wealthy, progressive minded, like minded individuals.

    It’s just pretend hurty feelings by ABC.

  16. Ron Wilmshurst

    There was a time when I enjoyed the midday news on ABC TV. Then it was a 30 minute program of news. Now it runs for a full 60 minutes and includes lots of political comment, often just padding. Yesterday after a brief intro we had a news “conference” from Bill Shorten, which was still going without interruption when I switched off 15 minutes later. If that was news, I’ll look elsewhere for mine in future.

  17. Dr Fred Lenin

    I agree with comrade marrs opinion that the comrades at alpbc are soft left., so was Narx,Ulyanov,Stalin Mao Polpot ,Castro etc. etc. makes you wonder what you must do to be moderate left, let alone hard left you know like Abbot is hard right . Float it and sbs on the ASX ,pay the employees entitlements super and pensions in shares in the new company lease them the premises and equipment at commercial rates ,and say. “Go for it Comrades you are the best journos in the world ,make a fortune”( them we will tax the shit out of you like they do with Real workers).

  18. cui bono

    ‘Drop that knife or Peppa da Pig gets it!’

  19. areff

    Take $84 million out of the three-year budget and all you do is rattle the wasps’ nest. Then they fly out in a rage and sting you, which is what is going on right this minute (Media Watch last night).

    So go the ABC on nepotism and production contracts going to mates. How come, after The Chaser ridicules cancer kids and sundry nobs say action will be taken, the production company gets fresh contracts and Chas Lick-a-dildo gets to opine on US politics?

    The ABC iceberg: the most obvious corruption is above the surface, but it’s only 10% of an organisation ballasted as deep as you want to go with institutional corruption.

    Start digging into the cronyism and jobs for mates (Julia Baird) and pretty soon the 80% of the population who allegedly respect the ABC will by 80% demanding reform.

  20. Over-Boots

    The solution is to devolve the ABC budget to the adult population by way of tokens. The transmission of ABC programs would be via Foxtel and the like paid for by the current ABC cost.
    Those then wishing to continue watching the ABC would subscribe using their devolved token.
    After a year the sum of the devolved tokens used to watch the ABC would be the ABC’s budget!
    Needs further work but this has been done in the past with government bodies such as the federal Attorney General and Queensland Crown Law

  21. stevem

    I saw an article in the Guardian yesterday (know your enemy) that claimed Australia’s CO2 emissions had risen by 1.5% last year. On reading the article I realised that we has actually reduced our emissions, although the article went to pains to avoid mentioning it. The purported increase was due to increased exports of natural gas.
    It’s a very strange accounting system that counts our petroleum exports as an Australian emission and our petroleum imports as an Australian emission. When figures are so blatantly manipulated they cannot be accepted with a grain of salt but must be rejected entirely.

  22. Leo G

    These are not minor lapses in editorial policy – the ABC is politically biased and incapable of self-regulation.

    Why is the ABC not required to fully comply with the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act?

  23. EvilElvis

    Either the ABC must return to an unbiased centrist platform or the budget halved.

    Option A is well and truly dead, Bruce. Halve the budget, $500 million next financial year, all redundancies and payouts to come from that figure. Apparently Googles G and other department heads think they run businesses with clients, they can manage the transition. $250 million budget the following year. Any whinging, bullshit carry on or industrial action it goes down another 10%, per cock up.

  24. RobK

    It’s just pretend hurty feelings by ABC.
    Now they have paid their token contribution to budget repair, ready to ratchet it up come any upswing, claiming three years of attrition.

  25. Myrddin Seren

    To the extent that many ABC journalists are professional in their activities that is a personal preference and not institutional discipline.

    An acute and stinging observation.

  26. Des Deskperson

    ‘Why is the ABC not required to fully comply with the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act?’

    My understanding is that while the ABC isn’t covered by the PDPA Act, it is obliged to comply with the procurement provisos under that Act – open tender, value for money, efficient, effective, ethical and economic use of public monies – – when it comes to buying uninteresting stuff like cameras. cable and office furniture.

    On the other hand, ‘productions’- the clever, arty stuff – are covered by no such requirement. So far as I can see, some ‘creative ‘ person just pitches an idea at the ABC, and if they like it, they buy it. There seems to be little information available on any evaluation processes involved.

    There is an argument that, if someone comes up with a uniquely brilliant idea, then the ABC ought to be able to accept it without the need for a prolonged procurement process, but the system, at least from what we know about it, has obvious risks in terms of patronage and cronyism and maybe helps explain the insularity of so much of the ABC’s artistic output. As commenter ‘egg’ once put it, ABC types don’t seem to get out and about much.

  27. Dr Faustus

    The ABC vigorously claims The Charter and its professional management as its bulwark against political and cultural bias of any sort.

    Fine. So, rely on it – and follow the SBS path and allow commercial advertising/sponsorship to top up an increasing government funding shortfall.

    Qanda – Brought to you by QANTAS and the Lakemba Mosque;
    Country Hour – proudly supported by Lock the Gate and Friends of the Earth;
    Four Corners – a brief word from our sponsor, the Xinqua Livestock Export and Heavy Machinery Company

    Baked-in, transparent editorial integrity.

  28. Empire 5:5

    To be fair – there is nothing wrong with voting Greens or being left-wing.

    Sure there is. All commies are crooks, no different from the junkie who cases your joint and steals shit while you’re at your work. Same, same.

    https://pics.me.me/in-1967-polish-mercenary-rafal-ganowicz-was-asked-what-it-5160507.png

  29. Jannie

    If its true its not even a flesh wound, just a pinprick in the butt of the beast. The Left will reverse any cuts made by the Libs, and give them a funding increase. Nobody messes with the ABC and gets away with it.

  30. Mother Lode

    Journalists, as David Marr has suggested, are usually ‘vaguely soft-left’ and sceptical of authority.

    No.

    They are opposed to any authority other than their own. The fact they don’t have much is not an avowal of principle – the crave power. They expect everyone to defer to them and, as we have seen since the budget was announced, the ABC (a veritable media nirvana) has taken it upon themselves to declare war on the government for its impudence.

    But it isn’t just the ABC that is thus afflicted with an all-consuming ego. Just a brief perusal of the newspapers, or a flick through the interminable ‘news’ and ‘opinion’ programs on the television is like driving past a succession of roadside billboards each one blindly exhorting and commanding obedience – each one a lone voice in a sea of other lone voices but, taken together, a single message emerges.

    Screw ’em.

  31. Beachcomber

    Herodotus #2710987, posted on May 15, 2018 at 6:37 am
    Defunding or commercialising the ABC would have much greater flow-on savings than just the billion bucks per annum.
    This rogue organisation costs the nation in lost exports, costs the nation in stupid climate change measures, costs the nation in useless and expensive renewable energy and the destruction of manufacturing such as aluminium smeltering.

    +100!
    And you have neglected to mention the Their ABC’s aggressive campaigning for open borders; to import a moslem vote herd to colonise our welfare state.

  32. Squirrel

    The decision of ABC management to give salary increases in excess of the Government’s public sector remuneration policy may also have contributed to this trimming of funding – aside from annoying the Government, it presumably would have pissed off some of the Canberra bean counters who saw those lucky ABC types in Sydney and Melbourne doing better than them.

    The Government’s timidity on this subject is illustrated by their failure to pursue merger between the ABC and the SBS and/or to require the ABC to cover a substantial chunk of its running costs through advertising.

  33. André M

    there is nothing wrong with voting Greens or being left-wing.
    – Sinclair Davidson.

    Anti-liberty Quote?

    And on the eve of his Friedman18 appearance too.
    Do the organisers know they have a mole?

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