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Behind The Australian’s attack on the ABC today lies the desperation of a rentseeker eager for a government handout.
As Crikey noted back in August, News Corporation’s enthusiastic support for Tony Abbott’s election comes with a quid pro quo: the company’s long list of media “reforms” that will serve its interests. And one of the key reforms is reducing the capacity of the ABC to compete with News Corp outlets.
News executives have long argued that public broadcasting is a direct threat to them — as James Murdoch, before he became perhaps phone-hacking’s most high-profile victim, complained about the BBC in Britain. And it is: the ABC will always provide Australians with a free, high-quality news service while companies like News Corp and Fairfax shift their operations behind a paywall. Moreover, the ABC consistently scores far higher as a trusted news source for Australians than anyone else in the media, and especially News Corp’s outlets, which are rated amongst the least-trusted.
This is as it should be: the ABC is funded by taxpayers, who are entitled to expect they will get a better product than that produced by the commercial sector. And it is by no means the case that the ABC’s news coverage is perfect — but it has a transparent, independent statutory complaints process for its TV and radio services, something no newspaper or online media outlet can claim.
The true motivation for The Australian’s assault on the ABC — made on the day that one of the most significant phone-hacking trials, that of one-time Rupert Murdoch favourite Rebekah Brooks, begins in London — is an attempt to undermine a rival outlet, one that Australians trust and rely on far more than they ever will for News Corp’s products. News Corp newspapers are dying — some, like its tabloids, dying slowly; others, like The Australian, which loses tens of millions of dollars a year, dying more quickly. And they’re desperate for anything that will make life easier for them.
That’s the context in which the decisions of the Abbott government in relation to the national broadcasters must be considered. Any reductions in funding will confirm that the government indeed feels bound to return News Corp’s many favours by undermining its competition. And that debt will be one that all Australians end up paying.