Messages from a save the ABC rally in 2014. (Image: AAP/Dean Lewins)

This piece is part of a Crikey Deep Dive series: "What is the ABC For?". We're trying to unravel and distill some of the crucial questions the ABC should be asking itself in this post-Guthrie/Milne era.

The ABC has never been more important in its 90 year history. The slow death of the traditional commercial media that we're now so familiar with means we're now ever more reliant on the public broadcasters for quality journalism, as funding for that dries up and commercial outlets lose their appetite for risk. Serious current affairs has almost entirely vanished from commercial television; round after round of redundancies have taken hundreds of journalists out of Fairfax and News Corp papers. Quality journalism is crucial to a functioning democracy, and bit by bit the burden of providing that has shifted toward the ABC, first in regional communities, and increasingly in national affairs.

This shift hasn't been accompanied by additional funding -- the ABC has had to sack hundreds of its own staff in order to meet huge funding cuts by the current government over the last five years. And while its role has grown more crucial, it has grown more contested as well, with its dying commercial rivals lashing out at any competition it provides and the Coalition abandoning its support for public broadcasting in favour of, within the Liberal Party, a policy of privatisation and a practice of funding cuts and incessant war.