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The knives are out for the ABC

By Darce Cassidy - posted Thursday, 18 March 2010

In recent weeks both the Murdoch and the Fairfax/Rural Press media interests have made strident attacks on the ABC.

In January the chief executive of Sky News, Angelos Frangopoulos, issued a media release claiming that ABC’s new 24-hour TV news would be a “needless duplication” of services already provided. He was referring to the fact that the ABC service would be in competition with his company, and would offer viewers a choice. Sky News is part-owned by the Murdoch family.

He went on to argue that the ABC Charter restricted the ABC to providing “services that commercial broadcasters are unable or unwilling to provide”. This is a highly creative reading of the ABC Act. The Act not only positively requires the ABC to provide news services, but also stipulates that the ABC is to provide “innovative and comprehensive programs” (emphasis added). The use of the word “comprehensive” makes it crystal clear that the ABC is not intended to provide a service restricted to the scraps thrown away by the commercial media.


Also entering the fray from the Murdoch stable was veteran Murdoch executive Malcolm Colless. He wrote in The Australian last January that the ABC’s planned 24-hour TV news was “a taxpayer-funded declaration of war on commercial media outlets”.

This echoed James Murdoch’s earlier speech in Edinburgh where he said that the BBC is “unaccountable”. This implied that the BBC should be more tightly regulated, a claim that appeared to contradict Murdoch’s assertion later in the same speech that there was too much regulation of the commercial media in the UK.

Murdoch, whose media interests span several continents, went on to claim that the scale and scope of the BBC’s interests was “chilling”.

Interviewed by Karen Kissane of The Age, Greg Baxter, corporate affairs spokesman for News Limited in Australia said that “I remember us can’t ever arguing about (ABC) funding. They have been part of the landscape for 70 years."

Baxter may be too young to remember, but Murdoch press attacks on the ABC go back for more than 70 years.

In the first volume of his highly regarded history of the ABC, K.S. Inglis writes that Sir Keith Murdoch’s efforts to hobble the infant ABC radio news service go back as far as 1935.


Murdoch had interests in eleven of the sixty-five B class (radio) stations operating by 1935, and his tough line towards the ABC was plainly intended to protect both his newspapers and his radio stations …

Sir Keith Murdoch did not like the signs of independence in ABC News. Papers under his control began to call for a reduction in the ABC’s revenue from licence fees to stop it competing improperly with private enterprise.

By 1940 Murdoch had a partial victory. The Menzies government decided on a massive cut to the ABC budget, reducing the ABC’s share of the licence fee from twelve shillings to ten.

The Murdoch media were soon joined by the Fairfax/Rural Press group, whose chief executive Brian McCarthy took a slightly different tack, saying that the ABC’s Open Project could undermine the “excellent service” provided to rural communities by his company, and force the closure of some of his newspapers.

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About the Author

Darce Cassidy is Secretary of Save Our SBS. His background is in broadcasting and journalism, having worked for the ABC (Four Corners, AM and PM, in various radio management roles), the SBS (Training), and the National Ethnic and Multicultural Broadcasters Council.

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