Australia’s commercial television networks are in trouble. Not simply because of the Coronavirus but because they failed to develop effective strategies to counter the arrival of Netflix and other ‘streaming’ platforms – something anticipated long before it happened.
Last week the federal government threw the struggling networks a financial lifeline. It includes subsidies and deferred or waived fees and it reflects savage advertising revenue declines. Sadly for the viewing public however, local drama, children’s and documentary content quotas have been suspended.
As nearly everybody now understands, the changes that have occurred in public policy in the last few weeks are without precedent, at least since the Second World War. They tell us in the most straightforward possible way that only government finance and organisation can support the people in a national emergency.
They tell us that the extreme free market, small government model propounded by a ‘think tank’ like the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) doesn’t work when it matters most.
They show us that independent institutions with a public purpose like the ABC and CSIRO truly are part of the bedrock of Australian society. And they remind us, as we endlessly discuss issues of public health, that good government policy just cannot be based on the perverse denial of scientific understanding.
The ABC earns around $100 million a year from its commercial activities (mainly ABC shops). Its annual operating budget is more than a billion dollars. The organisation would not exist without the triennial funding provided by taxpayers. You can’t privatise a business that doesn’t make a profit.
Ironically, while the ABC-haters with their ideological objections to public broadcasting would like to see it privatised, there would be little or no appetite from the commercial television sector for starters.
The campaign run by some of our security agencies and people close to them about the alleged Chinese threat is getting great support from some journalists. The latest is Andrew Greene, the security and defence reporter at the ABC who breathtakingly reported last week that “A Chinese vessel, believed to be a spy ship, docked next to HMAS Adelaide in Fiji”. Good god!
Faced with an important editorial decision, the ABC‘s managing director Michelle Guthrie went to dinner instead.
In my opinion the incident highlighted a lack of understanding of her responsibilities as editor-in-chief, not to mention those of the organisation’s most senior executive. The ABC needs to be exemplary when it comes to news management.