I think it’s time that those of us who use
and care about the ABC face the fact that there is no Father Christmas. We need
to drop the cargo cult mentality. For the foreseeable future no government, of
any political colour, is going to give the ABC the money it needs let alone the
money it wants and could use.

Tonight’s budget will be a moment of truth
for those who have run Aunty over recent years. Their philosophy has been to
jump willingly through all the accountability hoops that government desires, to
answer questions at Senate Estimates until the cows come home, not to make
waves with public campaigns or by being seen to be too close to those lefty
“friends” of the ABC, not to embarrass the government, but to lobby behind
closed doors. The theory has been that if all this is done the case for more
funding for the ABC is so inarguable and self evident that more funds should
flow.

The last triennial funding submission was
backed by an independent report by KPMG that confirmed the ABC is under funded
and, in the main, efficiently run. Nevertheless the word is that the ABC might
not get much more funding at all, and what it does get will be tied
to the production of more drama, particularly for the ABC’s digital channel
ABC2.

Such funding is good news of course, and
might make ABC2 and the public broadcaster’s online presence more important
players in the ongoing media shake up. But it also means that all the major
increases in ABC funding in recent years have been tied to governments’ larger
purposes – rural and regional appeasement a few years ago, and now digital technology
uptake.

It is time we turned our minds to bigger
questions, such as what purpose can a public broadcaster serve in an age of
choice and media plenty? What does it do that is unique, a public good, and not
provided by commercial organisations? What could it do that it is not doing
now? And how might it raise more revenue without compromising its independence
and its charter?

We will all have our own lists of ABC
public goods, but some more ideas are provided by the recent We Media
conference
in
which the BBC, Reuters and Britain’s
major newspapers have been major participants. The ABC, thankfully, also
sent some representatives. It’s worth checking out.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
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