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TV & Radio

Jul 4, 2014

Brown Studies: meet the appointee who wants to sell the ABC

If you thought Albrechtsen was the only ideological appointment to the ABC appointments panel, think again. Co-appointee Neil Brown, a QC and former Liberal Party deputy leader, reckons the ABC should be sold, or, failing that, hobbled so it doesn't compete with the commercial media sector.

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The government has appointed two right-wing culture warriors to a panel that makes recommendations about who’ll sit on the ABC and SBS boards, and luckily for us (though perhaps not for the ABC and SBS), both leave vast bodies of writing on what they think is wrong with public broadcasting in Australia.

Yesterday we brought you Australian columnist (and former ABC board member) Janet Albrechtsen’s greatest hits, and several readers got in touch to ask why we hadn’t done the same to co-appointee Neil Brown, a QC and former Liberal Party deputy leader. Brown’s not as well-known as Albrechtsen, but a bit of digging reveals him to be similarly prolific, if on the relatively lower-profile Spectator Australia, where he has a regular column called “Brown Study”. Here are the former communication minister’s must-read columns, for those who want a taste to his views on public broadcasting.

In the current issue of Spectator, Brown hopes attempts to make the ABC and SBS more “commercial” are rejected. His reasoning is, well, novel:

“What the proposals will do is make both organisations much stronger and pervasive, continue to blur the distinction between private and public enterprise and expand state-owned broadcasting to the prejudice of the private sector.”

Commercial public broadcasters, you see, will expand, octopus-like, until there’s no room left for pure commercial rivals. Indeed, Brown goes through, with distaste, recent expansions to the ABC, like Double J and White Paper (Radio National’s new tablet magazine). Presumably he won’t be recommending any entrepreneurial types to the board, then.

In March,
Brown covered familiar ground, namely the conservative outrage at the ABC’s co-publishing of the Edward Snowden NSA leaks with The Guardian. He wished the government had used it as an excuse to get tough with the ABC, but feared the opportunity was squandered:

“The ABC now knows it can ignore the government with impunity. It has an opinion-making empire to promote its official views, most of its news is opinion, its ‘fact checking’ is the new way of declaring its own approved version of the facts and the role of Media Watch is apparently to intimidate the commercial media. All of this will simply entrench its left-wing mindset and will be arrayed against the government at the next election. It will be a powerful force.”

In February, Brown wrote that the ABC was now so powerful it was impossible for governments to take it on. “The only solution of any practical value today is the one that should already have been adopted: sell it.” A government appointment hasn’t mellowed his views, as his interview in today’s Australian reveals. He told the newspaper:

“I think [the ABC] should be sold … The best thing to do might be to start again.”

But ABC types can take some comfort in the fact that Brown confesses he’s rather a fan of many of the ABC’s programs. As he wrote in May:

“Our criticism of the ABC loses its credibility if we do not praise it on those occasions when praise is deserved. So I have to say that its coverage of Anzac Day was superb.”

Myriam Robin — Media Reporter

Myriam Robin

Media Reporter

Myriam has been Crikey’s media reporter since 2014. Before that, she was a business journalist with sister site SmartCompany, covering economics and corporate strategy.

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