The current behaviour of the ABC’s management and staff is a perfect demonstration of just how removed the national broadcaster has become from mainstream Australia.
By complaining the way it has about the Coalition government’s failure to index increases in its funding over the next three years, the ABC has succeeded in making the case for its eventual privatisation more powerfully than could ever have been made by its critics.
Australia is in a recession, nearly a million Australians have already lost their jobs because of the coronavirus pandemic, and a third of sole traders report they have lost more than 75 per cent of their income. Yet the headlines at the ABC are dominated by the news the broadcaster must absorb government ‘cuts’ of $84 million over the next three years. These ‘cuts’ equate to approximately 2.5 per cent of the ABC’s budget over that time.
In the current economic environment any business, anywhere, would kill to be guaranteed to get 97.5 per cent of its pre-coronavirus revenue. In any case, the ‘cuts’ are not actual reductions in funding. Government funding of the ABC is continuing to increase – all that’s happening is that ABC funding is not increasing to keep up with inflation, which anyway is at a record low of less than 2 per cent.
The issue of its political bias is one of the problems with the ABC. Another problem is the justification for a government owning and funding one of the largest media organisations in the country that operates four television stations, four radio networks, and 65 metropolitan and regional radio stations.
It’s too late now but the ABC would have got far more sympathy if instead of acting like just another part of the country’s privileged elite who believe they are entitled to carry on largely unaffected by what’s happening in the real world, ABC management had said something like ‘The community is hurting and the ABC is part of the community – and we all have to share the sacrifices that need to be made.’
If ABC management didn’t want to put itself in the shoes of ordinary Australians, then at least it could have considered its brethren in other media organisations. One hundred and fifty newsrooms have shut across the country. Prime Minister Scott Morrison was right when he said “if you are a journalist today, the safest place for you to be is actually the ABC because your revenue is guaranteed in that [organisation] by the government”.
What that guarantee has created at the ABC is a sense of entitlement and perhaps even an unconscious bias. Perhaps only someone working at the ABC, who was its chief economics correspondent no less, could do what Emma Alberici did so infamously when at the height of the coronavirus pandemic crisis she tweeted “Stop talking about the economy”. Only someone removed from the economy could say such a thing. And only journalists removed from the real lives of ordinary Australians could be as surprised as they were when the Coalition won the last federal election.
It’s funny that for someone so intent on avoiding any involvement whatsoever in ‘the culture wars’, that it’s actually Morrison who, deliberately or not, has allowed the ABC to put itself one step closer towards privatisation. All that it’s taken for the ABC to demonstrate everything about itself that its critics claim is for the Coalition to not index the ABC’s funding.
Eventually too, mainstream Australians are going to realise there’s a reason the ALP, the Greens and GetUp! campaign so strongly for more money to the ABC. One of Labor leader Anthony Albanese’s promises made during the campaign for the Eden-Monaro byelection on Saturday is that a future Labor government would reverse the Coalition’s ‘cuts’ to the ABC. Albanese said: “This Saturday, the people of Eden-Monaro have the chance to send the government a message. Don’t cut ABC jobs, regional news or emergency broadcasting.”
When so many people have lost their job or know someone who has, it might be that his appeal to protect jobs at the ABC reveals Albanese and the Labor Party to be just as out of touch with ordinary Australians as is the ABC itself.