A plan for the ABC

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Many IPA members have had suggestions about the future of the ABC. Here’s a valuable contribution from IPA member Stephen Blacketer from South Australia:

Well, I’ve finally done it. After being refused access to speak on air on the ABC I got angry enough to put finger to keyboard and write down my plan for reform of the ABC. The ABC uses its vast communications network and influence to steer political, cultural and economic debate to the left of politics. It certainly does not respect the charter that it should operate under.

Reform of the ABC is well overdue and effective reform is eminently possible. Reform of the ABC is vital for the wellbeing of Australia.

A little bit of background to today’s events will help set the scene. I called the ABC’s Adelaide 891 Breakfast to discuss the role of the ABC. They hit the dump button when I was about to mention the name of former Prime Minister Gillard in connection with the Australian Workers’ Union.

I use the above example as a lead in to the need for root and branch reform of the ABC. Like most Australians I am a great supporter of what the ABC should be, namely: strong, independent, balanced and fearless. It’s just that the ABC in its current form is not.

It is a public institution captured by supporters the far left of Australian politics, who have it doing their bidding. The ABC does this through omission, tone of coverage, choice of topic, choice of guest/interview subject etc. Bias within the ABC is preventing even handed editorial treatment of both sides of politics, and this bias is not recognized by the ABC.

Malcolm Turnbull is wrong. Reform of the ABC can be achieved without making it the personal news outlet of the Prime Minister.

So here is my plan:

  1. Split off the symphony orchestras into Symphonies Australia. Let each state part fund their symphony orchestra. Close or sell classic FM. There are plenty of classical music stations available on the internet.
  2. Strip the ABC of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s Australia Channel, and Radio Australia responsibilities and give them to the successful tenderer from the last tender process. Run competitive tenders every 5 years.
  3. Create two new organizations, ABC TV and ABC Radio. Split the responsibilities of the current ABC between the two new organizations to create two competing news outlets. Make all jobs at the new organizations contestable. Once the new organizations are operational, close the existing monolith.
  4. Headquarter ABC TV in Perth and ABC Radio in Brisbane, Adelaide or Darwin to represent a broader spectrum of Australia’s population. Voting behaviour in inner city Melbourne and Sydney electorates is consistently and significantly more left leaning than the general Australian population. The new organizations might have a different view of Australia if they were domiciled amongst it.
  5. Sell off Triple J. I can’t think of a reason to have a government funded contemporary music station. There are plenty of them in the market. No market failure here.
  6. Limit ABC Radio to two networks, the local regional / metro radio stations (such as 891) and one national station (merge Radio National, News Radio and Radio Australia)
  7. Sell off SBS if you can get anything for it, otherwise close it down. The internet allows access to vast amounts of news, entertainment and information in any language, making the SBS raison d’etre redundant.
  8. Limit ABC TV to two TV Channels, having four (eight if you include SBS) simply increases the budget required and means that they must create or buy more content and compete with commercial channels.
  9. Limit each of the new entity’s web sites to the display of content played on their respective channels. I.e. they can’t become government funded online content competitors to private news sources such as News Ltd, Fairfax, Macquarie, The Guardian etc.
  10. Close down all of the opinion sites such as The Drum. There are plenty of opinion sites on the web. We don’t need government funded opinion sites.
  11. Every year make both ABC Radio and ABC TV submit a list of their on-air presenters, producer, senior journalist, management staff and board to Federal Parliament. Unless the list can get the approval of a 75% majority of a joint sitting of parliament, then the organization stops broadcasting until a more balanced management / presentation line-up can be agreed. With a 75% majority required, neither side of parliament would be able to stack the organization in their favour. With failure to present an agreeable balance causing suspension of service ABC TV and ABC Radio would have a strong incentive to find a compromise.
  12. Finally, there are all of the commercial enterprises: ABC Brand & Merchandise Licensing; ABC Books; ABC DVD; ABC Music; ABC Magazines; ABC Digital; ABC Shops, ABC Shop Online and ABC Centres; ABC Content Sales; ABC Costumes; ABC Music Publishing; and ABC Resource Hire. Mostly these are market distorting government funded competitors to private businesses. They should be either sold off or shut down.

So, what does this plan achieve? It takes a vast, monolithic, market distorting and partisan media organization and splits it into two focused, competing and independent but balanced news gathering and dissemination organizations.

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