It’s not often that media industry mag Mediaweek causes this much controversy, but an interview with Margaret Pomeranz has drawn the interest of both the Daily Telegraph’s Tim Blair and the Financial Review’s Joe Aston for a quote in which Pomeranz says the cost of going to Cannes is too prohibitive were it not for taxpayer funding.

Asked what she missed most about being on a public broadcaster, she nominated her annual trip to the Cannes Film Festival. The former host of At the Movies, now on Foxtel’s Stage & Screen, told Mediaweek:

“Cannes is really expensive. How I afforded it when we were at SBS, I’ll never know. A crew over there is US$1000, accommodation is through the roof. It’s too expensive unless you have the taxpayers’ money.”

“Anything is affordable if somebody else is paying,” mused the Daily Tele’s Tim Blair, on a post titled “Thanks for all the good times, suckers”.

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The ABC’s trips to Cannes have been the subject of controversy for a few years now. It does cost a lot of money, but the ABC argues that the content it sells to global broadcasters by showing up and pitching its wares is worth many times what it spends to send people there ($150,000 for 10 people in 2015).

Commercial broadcasters send far fewer executives, a point Nine’s Hugh Marks raised at a Senate Committee hearing last month. Aston wrote that Pomeranz’s comment was “tacit confirmation” of Marks’ point (even though Marks was talking about sending executives, while the attendance of At the Movies was an investment in content).

In Pomeranz’s defence, isn’t one purpose of the ABC to use taxpayer funding to do things not seen as cost-effective at the commercial broadcasters? Much of the ABC’s content — hell, the whole of Radio National and most of its regional division — fits this remit. So did At The Movies, Australia’s only dedicated movie show for much of its existence. It built a dedicated and loyal audience (300,000 to 400,000 watched it on TV every week and nearly double that on other platforms, Pomeranz told Mediaweek) through extensive and nuanced coverage of the film industry not provided by the commercial sector (Now that At the Movies has been axed, Foxtel has moved in, something it probably wouldn’t have done while At The Movies survived. But most Australian households don’t have a Foxtel subscription).

Cannes is the biggest and most important film festival in the world — didn’t Australia gain from having one show able to send its experienced film critics to preview what was on offer? And yes, it’s not something commercial broadcasters would pay for. But so what?

As a Crikey subscriber and someone who began working as a journalist in 1957, I am passionate about the importance of independent media like Crikey. I met a lot of Australians from many walks of life during my career and did my best to share their stories honestly and fairly with their fellow citizens.

And I never forgot how important it is to hold politicians to account. Crikey does that – something that is more important now than ever before in Australia.

North Stradbroke Island, QLD

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