ABC vs. Private Media

/opinion/

When reflecting on a childhood growing up in Australia, a defining element is the shows we watched on the ABC as kids.  We learned how to tell the time with Jemima and Big Bear on Playschool while eating Weet-bix before school; it was definitely dinnertime when the news replaced the catchy Arthur theme song in the evenings. Yes, reminiscing childhood shows is fun, but many young Australians in particular seem to forget that the ABC is so much more than just a channel that provides educational shows for kids. The ABC is actually integral to the healthy functioning of democracy in Australia.

If your place of residence is not located beneath a rock, you’ll undoubtedly have heard of the latest budget scandal regarding Australia’s public broadcasting network. For the sake of the rock-dwellers I’ll set the scene. After pre-election promises that there would be, to quote Tony Abbott, ‘no cuts to the ABC or SBS’, Communications Minister Malcolm Turnball recently detailed a $254 million funding cut to the ABC over the next five years. There were riots; proverbial pitchforks flew and figurative buildings burned. Twitter ensured that Abbott’s duplicity earned him a roasting at the stake.

Deception aside, it is important that Australians fully understand the true role of the ABC and how such budget reductions will impact on society as a whole.

The ABC, in theory, is like the Garden of Eden. Not that the journalists run around with only a leaf to cover their privates; all staff are fully clothed. Instead, the ABC is a mystical land tarnished neither by the corruptive influences of advertising nor the potentially tyrannical reign of the government. The sweet nectar of democracy pumps through the very veins of the Australian Broadcasting Service as it stands as a pillar of purity in the face of the sacrilegious, private media landscape.

It is for this reason that the ABC is vital to a healthy democracy and why budget cuts could prove more costly than they save. Along with the predicted loss of ten per cent of staff over the next five years (there goes up to 500 jobs…), the quality of news is likely to be affected, with the closure of bureaus in Bangkok, New Delhi, Tokyo and New Zealand set to take place in the not-so-distant future. This means less quality, international correspondent news. Regional areas will suffer as well, with the cut of local editions of the 7.30 current affairs program in favour of a state-wide program. This means less quality, local news.

While these outcomes are not at all desirable, they are not even the scariest part. What's next? In years to come, will we see the narrowing of diversity of media content or perhaps eventually privatisation? 

While there is definitely merit in limiting government spending and some truth to Hockey’s statement that Australia needs to be ‘a nation of lifters and not leaners’, quality, unbiased reporting will not happen on its own if left to private broadcasting. In fact, we may have a nation filled with more ‘lifters’ if more Australians were politically switched on and paid attention to the hard facts of public reporting, rather than the sensationalism produced by most private news media outlets.

Media content plays an integral role in shaping national culture, which is why objectivity in reporting and diversity in content is important. Objectivity and diversity are the points of difference that the ABC brings to the proverbial table; points of difference which are necessary to the healthy functioning of democracy.