Public broadcasting: you either love it or hate it and the Victorian branch of the Liberal Party firmly fall in the second category.
The Victorian Libs this month planned to discuss privatisation of the ABC and SBS at their state conference but the debate was shelved before it took place.
Opposition leader Tony Abbott refused to entertain the idea publicly, saying debating privatisation of the ABC is not on the party’s Federal agenda.
But in the Victorian state branch, there was every chance the motion calling for the review of the ABC and SBS would have succeeded.
Critics of Australia’s public broadcasters often claim they are a drain on the economy, sucking millions of dollars to serve a very limited audience.
Some go further to say Aunty is too left-wing, biased in favour of the ALP and the Greens and a mouthpiece for socialist propaganda.
I’m not an ABC or SBS employee and my connection to the organisation is limited to speaking to a few journalists and some time spent interning there in both metro and regional radio.
At no stage did I see anything less than meticulous adherence to the ABC’s editorial policies with phone calls from higher above ensuring all content was in line with regulations.
Our ABC and SBS are a far cry from North Korean state media or Cuba’s beloved newspaper Granma. We’ve got public broadcasting right in Australia.
The ABC’s coverage of news and current affairs is unmatched in Australia when it comes to accuracy and depth.
The argument in favour of privatisation claims the ABC uses large mounds of taxpayer money to make it harder for commercial media businesses to operate successfully.
It’s true to an extent; the ABC offering its (quality) news content for free on the web is going to hamper the traditional newspapers’ attempts to monetise and paywall their online content.
But the mainstream commercial media faces a greater challenge in remaining viable and productive; the business model has been smashed and that didn’t happen because of public broadcasting.
That the ABC does not need to compete in the ratings war of the commercial media is precisely what allows it to specialise in thoughtful and hard-hitting news content anyway.
Audiences look to public broadcasting for alternative content to what the mainstream media offer.
In my opinion, this is why the government and taxpayer should continue funding the ABC: it is an essential public service, not just a business.
While some might point to latte-sipping inner city snobs as the ones to miss out should public broadcasting be privatised, the biggest losers are actually folk in the country.
The ABC serves regional Australia well and has done for decades. Local radio and rural coverage is critical to these audiences which, manning our country’s farms and mines, do not all exactly enjoy a wealth of options when it comes to media diversity.
Their options are hardly increasing in an age where the cash crisis is biting into commercial media and regional news services are among the first to go.
But it’s more than just journalism. Additionally, the ABC acts as our emergency broadcaster, a not insignificant role given Australia’s proneness to devastating bushfires, cyclones and floods.
Educational programming is a huge part of what the ABC does and very few Australians would not reminisce about coming home from kindergarten or school to watch ABC TV as a youngster.
Privatising our public broadcasters would see the Australian media become even more swamped with Z-grade content from the United States.
Replacing it with a privately funded network would commence a race to the bottom with the established commercial networks and leave Australia devoid of genuine quality, investigative journalism across the broadcast platform.
We shouldn’t put a price on quality. Keep supporting the ABC.