Michelle Guthrie hit back – strongly according to some media sources – against ABC critics in a speech today.
For those who prefer an abacus-type approach to this debate, I have some fresh information. How do you put a price on the value of the ABC? In pursuit of that answer, the ABC has commissioned Deloitte Access Economics to do some research. Their report is still being compiled and will be released next month. The early findings are interesting. They show that the ABC contributed more than $1 billion to the Australian economy in the last financial year – on a par with the public investment in the organisation. Far from being a drain on the public purse, the audience, community and economic value stemming from ABC activity is a real and tangible benefit.
The takeaway message?
… the ABC contributed more than $1 billion to the Australian economy in the last financial year …
Sounds good, except … as Michelle Guthrie acknowledges that’s just about how much the ABC receives from taxpayers.
Then there are deadweight losses of taxation – if the ABC gets $1 billion to spend and generates $1 billion of economic activity then the ABC is losing the value of the deadweight losses.
I suspect Ms Guthrie thought this information would bolster her case. But no. That is even before we consider any crowding out effects.
Then she cited some statistics.
And the facts show Australians overwhelmingly value the outcome of this foresight: 82% of Australians look to the ABC as their trusted source of information; 78% cite the ABC as an important contributor to our national identity; and critically, 77% of Australians think a healthy ABC is essential for Australia’s future.
That regard is a precious commodity at a time when trust in our institutions is so rare.
Chris Berg and I collected some statistics from various issues of the ABC annual report.
This is how Chris and I interpret that table:
The ABC’s satisfaction indicators are very impressive. A selection of those indicators are shown in table 1. Eighty-six per cent of Australians value the ABC. Seventy-seven per cent think it is balanced and even handed. Seventy-eight per cent think ABC television provides quality programming.
This rosy picture is complicated by the fact that the ABC television only had a 17.6 per cent share of the primetime 5-city metro market in 2015-16. Indeed, there is a huge gap between the number of people who claim to value the ABC, and those people who actually consume its services. It is also noteworthy that more people in the metro areas consume ABC radio than primetime television and the percentage of people who believe that the ABC provides quality radio programming is much lower (63 per cent) than those who believe the ABC provides quality television programming (78 per cent). It appears that the more people know about the ABC the less they value it.
This kind of result is not necessarily surprising – it is very likely that Australians have been socialised into believing that the ABC provides a quality service as opposed to having actually experienced that quality through their own viewing or listening.
It is true that the ABC has higher market share in regional areas than it does in metropolitan areas – yet even there the gap between what people say about the ABC and their actual consumption of ABC services is large. Unfortunately the ABC do not appear to publish market share data for their regional radio services. It is one thing to be assured by politicians that the ABC provides valuable services to the community but it would be even more reassuring to see the actual data supporting that claim.
Michelle Guthrie very kindly referred to Chris and me in her speech – and our book. So if you haven’t already done so, please order your copy – it has caused a lot of trouble for the ABC.
Update: Almost forgot this statistic:
Deloitte calculates that the ABC is helping to sustain more than 6000 full-time equivalent jobs across the economy.
So that is ($1,000,000,000/6000) $166,666.67 per job.