“I think there’s a little bit of tilting at windmills going on.” So said ABC Managing Director Mark Scott to Crikey this morning in response to the letter from former ABC staff elected directors protesting against any suggestion of the ABC taking advertising on its websites.

The former staff elected directors wrote the letter concerned that a Board decision on the matter might be “imminent”, but Scott said this morning that the matter was not before the board, nor had management developed anything to take to the Board. “Not even drafts.”

Yet Scott would not rule out advertising on the ABC’s web sites in the future.

The reality is that at present the ABC has no clear policy on taking advertising online. Until there is one, ABC watchers are going to be anxious and with good reason.

The background is that changes to legislation would be needed for the ABC to take advertising on radio or television, but the law is silent about the web. Thus the decision on web based ads lies within the discretion of the ABC Board.

Scott provoked the latest wave of concern in an ABC AM interview in which he ruled out ads on radio and television, but left the question of web advertising hanging.

ABC insiders believe that Scott and the Board are unlikely to take advertising on “core” news and current events web pages, but that there may be more ventures such as the Countdown site, which is set up by the ABC’s commercial arm, and takes advertising. It is an uncomfortable hybrid.

Scott has made it clear he will explore new ways of raising revenue for the ABC, but I understand his focus and the focus of ABC Enterprises at present is on commercialising the archive – charging the public for downloads and podcasts of ABC content.

This is quite different from taking advertising. It is commercialisation, but places the ABC at the behest of its audience, which is where it should be, rather than at the behest of big advertisers.

Until the ABC has clear policy position on web based advertising – preferably ruling it out – this question will recur.

If Scott and the Board do not intend to allow advertising on the ABC’s core websites, they should publicly rule it out.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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