A couple of months ago, TAFKAS attended a forum held at the UTS school of journalism on the subject of public broadcasting. Conveniently, the the UTS school of journalism sits physically next to the ABC’s head quarters in Ultimo; the ABC and UTS buildings are literally right next door. The forum was held in the, TAFKAS kids you not, the Guthrie Theatre.
Most likely because of geography and content, the audience was full of ABC and SBS staff.
Before the forum commenced, while TAFKAS was fiddling with his telephone, he overheard a particular conversation between some of the ABC staff present. One gentleman, who looked not much older than 30-35 commented to his colleagues that he had just returned from 9 months of leave. Said gentleman also declared to his colleagues that one of his first engagements upon his return was to meet with his manager because, notwithstanding his 9 months of leave, his annual leave balance was still too high necessitating him taking more leave.
Clearly there is no further efficiencies to be had.
But the on the panel were 4 eminent speakers including Cat and former ABC Director Judith Sloan and the ABC’s head of news, Gaven Morris. There were 2 other panels whose names TAFKAS can’t remember; one was a lawyer and the other (TAFKAS thinks) was a member of some government review of media. Essentially a very capable and eminent group.
TAFKAS remembers that Gaven Morris was particularly passionate about public interest journalism (that is, the kind of deep and quality journalism that may not attract commercial advertising). The other thing that Morris and one of the other panelists (not Judith) were passionate about was Australian content in the Australian media.
Given the subject of the forum was the future of public broadcasting, no-one seemed to provide a case for the actual existence of public broadcasting. Not public good. Not market failure. Not media diversity. Not government propaganda. It seemed most interesting that the only justifications presented for public broadcasting did not require the existence of public broadcasting. It is evident that public interest journalism and Australian media content requirements can be delivered through many means other than public broadcasting.
To wit, there has been much written and said on the Cat and other places about the ABC. Its bias. Its inefficiency. Its inner city centricity.
Various reform options have been canvassed including privatising, defunding and just shutting down. Much has been said about both options, especially given our Dear Doom Lord Leader has co-written a book advocating for such. But while TAFKAS would like to see both or either of these options advanced, he does not think that they are politically palatable. At least for the time being.
TAFKAS, in an earlier incarnation, suggested a structural separation of the ABC between content production and content distribution. No one has taken TAFKAS’ structural separation idea on board, so here is another one.
Why not create a giant ABC regulatory and licencing regime that will apply to the ABC. A regime that will include things like:
- A public broadcasting licence regime with special conditions which can be modified administratively;
- A public broadcasting remuneration and accountability regime;
- A public broadcasting efficiency regulator and energy use regulator;
- A Public Broadcasting Content Diversity Commissioner within the Human Rights Commission.
Yes for sure this would be piling crap upon crap. But it would necessitate a significant diversion of ABC management time and resources into compliance and away from the business of producing whatever the ABC produces. And the government should not given them 1 extra cent of resources to do this.
If this regulatory response sounds familiar, it is similar to the regulatory environment most Australian businesses have to navigate – additional overhead for no additional value or social or economic outcomes. If nothing else, it might result in some empathy from the ABC as to the cost and overhead of the regulations they generally advocate on everyone else.
Yes, yes, yes. This is a complete waste of public resources. But that is what contemporary government is about. Taking tax payer resources to make a mess and then rather than go into reverse, keep piling in more tax payer resources to fix the mess the first attempt caused; and on and on.