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Beating The Drum on On Line Opinion

By Graham Young - posted Monday, 25 July 2016


The ABC was established to tackle market failure. Unfortunately it has run far beyond that, and in some cases is responsible for some failures in the market.

An example of that is the ABC's online op-ed page, The Drum, which has just been "closed".

I'm never happy to see a publication die, but this was one that should never have been started, doing damage to On Line Opinion, amongst other online publishers.

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It was arguably a breach of the ABC's charter, in that it was rarely balanced, because it is hard to be balanced with opinion.

There is also no obvious market gap that The Drum needed to fill. It published analysis and opinion. Well, the Internet is full of opinion, because it is cheap, and everyone has one. There are a number of very good blogs out there, as well as boutique publications like us and Crikey, and all of the mainstream media, who provide high quality opinion every day of the week.

Likewise there is a lot of good analysis out there.

The ABC has a charter. It is a broadcaster, and it has a special responsibility to rural and regional Australians, and to provide services where it is not viable for commercial broadcasters to provide those services.

When it comes to regional services, ABC radio does a pretty good job, with regional news services and local radio stations, including frequently the only remaining news talkback programs. The same can't be said of its television services. Once upon a time each state capital had its own version of the 7:30 report. Now it is all centralised in Sydney and concentrates on Canberra.

The ABC used to be a source of reliable overseas news, in a globalised world arguably more important than ever before. Nowadays there are very few overseas correspondents, often with the one person apparently covering a whole continent.

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These services haven't been cut because ABC funding has been cut, but rather funds have been diverted to other areas. With the rise of the Internet, the ABC has morphed into a major online publisher, alongside its role as a broadcaster. But, apart from posting transcripts of broadcast programs online, there is no obvious need for this.

But newspapers everywhere are struggling, with a major reason being the haemorrhaging of revenues because of free content online.

In Australia the ABC makes this problem larger because not only does it give content away for free, but it has a brand that is superior to that of any blog and most alternative news services, and it cross-promotes via its broadcast platforms.

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About the Author

Graham Young is chief editor and the publisher of On Line Opinion. He is executive director of the Australian Institute for Progress, an Australian think tank based in Brisbane, and the publisher of On Line Opinion.

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