Those who wonder whether there is still a place for public broadcasting in the era of media plenty should read the guest page for the ABC Newcastle Radio station in the wake of the floods and storms.

The guest book is overflowing with comments such as “Thank you very much for keeping us safe” and “Myself, neighbours, family and friends all in the Mt Hutton region owe you all so much gratitude for keeping us sane. It was the only contact most of us had with the outside world.”

It’s worth scanning the whole thing to get a feeling for why the ABC is important – and also why localism is more than ever important in the new media age.

No other media organisation combines such local reach and depth of journalistic talent. No other outlet could provide such in depth round the clock coverage – involving considerable self sacrifice by the staff concerned – for the simple reason that it wouldn’t pay, and advertisers hardly want to insert their cheerful, aspirational messages into the middle of disaster coverage.

Yet the possibility of advertising on the ABC is in the news again thanks to an article written by the staff elected director in exile, as he calls himself, Quentin Dempster. To be published in the Walkley magazine this Friday, Dempster’s article claims the ABC Board has had legal advice on whether advertising in “cybercasts” would be legal.

Dempster also lays out the possibilities for a properly funded ABC in the digital broadcasting age:

The ABC could have an ABC Education division with a free-to-air English
and other languages channel, a technical and further education channel,
a dedicated Australian-made children’s channel and other nation-building
services which exploit this extraordinary and exciting technology.

As reported in Crikey previously, the ABC was disappointed that funding for a new digital-only children’s television channel wasn’t include in the budget. Discussions continue.

My betting is that if it happens at all, it will be announced in nice time for a pre-election boost.

After all, despite the culture wars, the Government knows that everyone loves the ABC – particularly in those all important regions.