Tonight, the Managing Director of the ABC, Mark Scott, will deliver the A.N. Smith memorial lecture at the University of Melbourne. This speech will be closely scrutinised by the ABC’s commercial rivals who are developing plans to place sections of their content behind paywalls in the hope of replacing revenue lost due to decreasing advertising rates and diminishing circulation. Both James and Rupert Murdoch have singled out public broadcasters as an impediment to their plans, not surprisingly it’s going to be hard for them to charge for content that organisations like the ABC and BBC are giving away for free.
In yesterday’s Australian, Geoff Elliott and Simon Canning described the situation as “mounting criticism of the public broadcaster’s role in the internet space”. However the only criticism seems to be coming from their own employer, who has a vested commercial interest in seeing public broadcasters reduce their online news services to reduce competition with himself.
The ABC is entirely funded by Australian tax-payers and it is one of our most beloved public institutions. We pay for it specifically so that we can receive news without commercialism distorting our access or the content. Murdoch’s argument that the ABC should stop giving people what they’ve paid for seems like one of the silliest things you’d ever hear a media CEO say, until he moves to his other pet hate, Google.
According to Rupert Murdoch’s world-view, Google and other content aggregators are stealing his content, making money from it, and giving no benefit to his organisation.
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“The aggregators and plagiarists will soon have to pay a price for the co-opting of our content.”
However, at the end of the very article reporting these comments, on a News Ltd owned site, what do you find?
A request to the reader to use the very sites that Murdoch decries to promote the story. That’s some pretty powerful chutzpah in action. It’s the same at other News Limited sites, where links to del.icio.us, digg, StumbleUpon and other “aggregators and plagiarists” follow each story.
Murdoch’s combative strategy seems doomed to failure, if News Limited genuinely believed his rhetoric about search engines and content aggregators they could stop Google and other online businesses from cataloguing their content almost instantly. Their failure to do so hardly adds weight to Murdoch’s argument. Similarly, his unilateral attack on public broadcasters seems unlikely to gain much traction in Australia or the UK, where public broadcasters are seen as an integral part of the media landscape.
Unless Mark Scott announces that the ABC are pulling the plug on their online division tonight, we can expect more attacks from Murdoch aimed in their direction as we approach the date where the paywalls go live.