PRESS RELEASE 12th Feb 06 41

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Attn: Media Desk

Hard Right Wants Advertising On Our ABC

WA Friends of the ABC condemns Michael Duffy’s view that the ABC should
carry paid advertising (“Go back to the drawing board, Aunty”, SMH,
11th of February). It seems to be part of a softening-up process by the
Howard Government, in the context of the recent KPMG Review and the
Triennial Funding Submission, to force paid advertising onto the ABC.

Paid advertising won’t help. How can it? Aunty sensibly needs an extra
$83 million each year. The TV advertising market is flat, SBS was
working hard to get additional $5 million over 2005, the commercials
won’t want a competitor, sponsorship would affect the type of programme
to be broadcast, and going for paid advertising would drive away the
ABC’s audience.

Further, the Palmer Inquiry into abuses of commercial practices within
the ABC in the 1990s revealed that editorial guidelines on their own
won’t protect ABC programming and editorial content from damaging
commercial influences.

However, we welcome his frankness in other matters. Ideally, as The Editor-in-chief of The Australian has written:

“DELIVERING basic services such as education, health and justice to the
community efficiently and effectively is the raison d’etre of
government. Australians are entitled to expect their governments,
lavishly cashed up with GST revenue and – at least until very recently
– reaping the rewards of a long-running housing boom, to direct all
their efforts towards boosting their performance on these fundamentals.”

Michael Duffy’s view that “…. as public services have been run down in
other areas, such as health and education, a two-tier system has
emerged where the rich turn to superior private services while the
masses are stuck with the shoddy public ones” endorses the widely-held
view that the Howard Government is not interested in maintaining
efficient and effective public services.

By agreeing that ” … reduced ABC budgets have brought most local
program-making to a halt”, Michael endorses another view of the WA
Friends that the ABC’s funding is now too low for it to meet its
Charter requirements. Much better government funding really is the only

It is of course absurd for Mr Duffy to criticise as “middle-class
welfare” an institution that attracts 86% of adult listeners and
viewers sometime during a typical week, despite lack of funds.
Notwithstanding their supposed dislike of middle-class welfare, the
Liberal Party was happy enough to pocket $17.9 million in public
funding for the 2004 Federal election. Australian Council of Social
Service president Andrew McCallum has observed that the Federal
Government is wasting $11 billion on a range of concessions and tax
breaks on schemes like the seniors’ concessions allowance and childcare
and private health insurance rebates that primarily benefit people that
are well-off – i.e. middle-class welfare.

In fairness, it should be acknowledged that cuts made by the Howard
Government in its first year were later restored, so while proper
funding is the responsibility of the government of today, the ABC’s
difficult financial position also arises from consistent cuts by the
Hawke and Keating Labor governments.

One market failure of the 2000s is probably worse than it was in the
1930s – an unhealthy focus on cutting costs and maximising income. Cost
cutting limits the capacity of journalists to investigate and report,
and favours the use of syndicated material. Maximising income tends to
promote the mix of editorial content with advertisements or product
promotion-so-called ‘advertorial’ – particularly prevalent in print and
television magazine content. It also means excluding poorer consumers –
they don’t have money. All too often, the result is news written for a
twelve-year-old, while with radio or TV good programmes may be dropped
because they rate well only with the over-40s.

For Michael Duffy to talk about commercials as an important source of
information also demonstrates how alien are the values of the Hard
Right that he represents, from the “educated middle class around
Australia”. Many studies clearly show that much promotional material is
misleading, yet the attitudes of doctors (exceptionally well-educated,
albeit in one discipline) are much more influenced by promotion than
they realise. Has Michael forgotten the billions spent on the drama
over the Y2K bug that wasn’t?

A contrary – non-secular – position is that of the (Catholic) Pontifical Council for Social Communications:

We disagree with the assertion that advertising simply mirrors the
attitudes and values of the surrounding culture. …. Advertisers are
selective about the values and attitudes to be fostered and encouraged,
promoting some while ignoring others. This selectivity gives the lie to
the notion that advertising does no more than reflect the surrounding
culture. For example, the absence from advertising of certain racial
and ethnic groups in some multi-racial or multi-ethnic societies can
help to create problems of image and identity, especially among those
neglected, and the almost inevitable impression in commercial
advertising that an abundance of possessions leads to happiness and
fulfillment can be both misleading and frustrating.

A lack of paid advertising makes the ABC very popular for several reasons:

Ä Product placement – in which advertiser’s products and service is
represented in a positive way (e.g. toy-linked TV series aimed at
exploiting children) – is now being very actively pushed, which must
affect not just the advertising going with such programming, but the
choice of programmes as well. Such advertising has got to be subtle and
manipulative to be effective.

Ä advertising too often works by making people unhappy, anxious and
unsatisfied, in order to present a glamorised product in an unrealistic
setting as being the answer to a ‘problem’ that the advertising itself
may have sought to create.

Advertising poses particular problems for children, in that

Ä the child has to be able to recognise that the seller will engage in
trickery, exaggeration, and manipulation in order to sell, with little
regard to the impact on the child.

Ä they are induced by the advertising to pressure their parents into
spending money that the family may not be able to afford, on products
that may be of little benefit or may even be harmful.

Ä advertising of fatty, salty, sugary and fast foods often causes children a range of health problems.

Michael’s flattering views of commercial television seem not to be
shared by the audiences themselves. A Newspoll survey of June last year
showed that 80% of Australians surveyed perceived the quality of
programming on ABC Television as being good – up from 75% since 1998.
With more funding it would certainly be better – but Michael can hardly
afford to endorse an inconvenient conclusion.

For further information contact the President, Roger Raven,

on 08 9370 1785 or 0422 176 935