I welcome ABC managing director Mark Scott’s public declaration that the ABC will not be taking advertisements on ABC websites.

Mr Scott declared in a speech in Melbourne yesterday that “if current funding conditions remain we are not looking to fund these activities by placing advertising on radio or television or our abc.net.au websites”.

Current off-site websites operated by ABC Commercial which take advertising, like Countdown.com, remain problematic. The revenue earned would be “pin” money. The damage is that they send the wrong signal to our audiences. Mr Scott and the ABC Board should scrap them.

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Public broadcasters view their audiences as citizens in a democracy to be informed, engaged and challenged through innovative, high-quality and comprehensive programming, not as consumers to be delivered up to advertisers.

That is fundamental to the relationship with audiences which has established the ABC as one of the most trusted institutions in Australia.

Mark Scott seems to be recognising that relationship. I call on him to clear up outstanding problems and alleged breaches of ABC Editorial Policies exposed on Monday’s Media Watch: “product placement” through extended use of bank and finance house logos in business reports, and ABC Radio’s use of commercially produced traffic reports. The integrity of the ABC’s editorial policies appears to be at stake here.

There’s more to do to steer the ABC back to a non-commercial future but Mark Scott now seems to be moving in the right direction.

The commercialisation of the ABC has been a major concern for the public and ABC broadcasters concerned about a hidden agenda initiated by the federal government through the ABC Board.

The Zampatti Board at SBS is destroying support for that public broadcaster by trying to turn SBS television into Australia’s fourth commercial TV channel. Its decision to break into programming with advertising has gone down like a lead balloon. “Stiff and stiffer”, those erectile dysfunction ads confronting viewers by breaking into serious SBS documentaries every 15 minutes reveal the contempt with which the Zampatti board now holds the SBS audience and their charter purpose.

There needs to be a serious reassessment of the future of SBS. The taxpayers of Australia, who have invested tens of millions of dollars each year in SBS, should be consulted.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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