Words | Lily Davis
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) has tided waves of criticism over the years. Now, after months of verbal attacks from various Liberal party members, Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has announced yet another efficiency study.
Dr Susie Khamis, Lecturer of Media and International Studies at Macquarie University, says this issue stems back to the relationship between public and private media broadcasting in Australia.
“At the simplest level, private broadcasting is funded by, and for private capitalist enterprise. It aims to maximise ratings to attract advertisers that buy advertising time…public broadcasting, however, is primarily supported by the public purse (through taxes) and, as such has a very different purpose: to broadcast content that’s in the public interest. For the ABC … this means content that educates the public, entertains the public, and quality content that isn’t generally found on the commercial networks.”
Indeed, the tensions between public and private broadcasting appear to be relevant. On 4 December last year, Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi suggested to Radio National, “we could perhaps cut the ABC budget and allow the commercial media operators to compete.” Turnbull has emphasised that the review is nothing more than a “clarification of costs”, promising that it will not be an attack on the ideology of the network. Worryingly, Prime Minister Tony Abbott has repeatedly expressed concerns over the ABC being un-Australian and opting for negative news. Abbott told Macquarie radio, “you would like the national broadcaster to have a rigorous commitment to truth and at least some basic affection for the home team.”
Whilst we know that the Communications Department are conducting the study, assisted by the former chief financial officer of Seven West Media Limited, Peter Lewis, neither Abbott or Turnbull have posted any media policy on the Liberal Party’s ‘Real Solutions’ website. Any true understanding of what is going on, is therefore impossible. Despite all this, the ABC’s Managing Director, Mark Scott, has welcomed the study.
Unfortunately for those current Macquarie students wishing to use their new tents, the student union was disbanded in 2007. Student welfare is now run by Campus Life, a subsidiary company by the university.
But Dr Khamis thinks the Australian community may not be as forgiving.
“As for viewers, [the ABC’s] importance is highlighted every time Canberra threatens budget cuts, or floats a ‘restructure,’” she commented, “many of us might occasionally query or bemoan what the ABC broadcasts, but surely that’s a sign that we are collectively invested in it; it might just be a fraction of our overall media diet, but it’s such an
important and irreplaceable part.”
Lucy Cook, a media student at Macquarie, is equally concerned about the review. She expressed concerns about her own future in the media industry. “As a media student who wants to go into television, potential funding cuts to the ABC are extremely worrying… the ABC provides a platform for original Australian dramatic content to be produced.”
Cook’s concerns are justified. Mark Scott told a Senate on 25 February, that no part of the ABC would be quarantined from any potential cuts.
The balance of power in the Australian media is already skewed. Between them, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, and Fairfax Media hold the majority of Australia’s private media. And with these potential funding cuts, more power may be simply handed to them.
The results of the efficiency study will be released in April.