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Public funding for ABC News is no longer defensible

By Alan Austin - posted Thursday, 6 June 2013

Significant moves towards privatising the ABC and SBS were made in May. These included a Victorian Liberal Party state conference motion and persuasive essays by Peter van Onselen and Rebecca Weisser. The case for the sell-off was also bolstered by the ABC itself.

The precise proposals of the Victorian Liberals remain sketchy as debate was deferred until the next conference. If they want to break the corporations into components and divest them separately, there would seem to no longer be any sound argument against flogging off news and current affairs.

Justification certainly remains for retaining Classic-FM, Radio National’s specialist programs, and television that nurtures talent, advances the arts or meets social or cultural needs.


We saw in May, however, that ABC news and current affairs present the same pro-Coalition coverage and non-coverage of national affairs as the corporate news media.

We know in advance that the Murdoch media will attack the federal Government and boost the Tony Abbott-led Opposition in news reportage at almost every opportunity. We are increasingly observing the same at Fairfax since Gina Reinhart bought an influential interest.

It is now clear that ABC news and current affairs offer no alternative.

ABC News headlines relating to Tony Abbott’s budget reply speech in Parliament on May 16th included:

“Abbott's budget reply delivers a perfect political score”
“Abbott 'honest, competent' budget reply”
“Abbott's budget reply has the sweet smell of success”
“Abbott vows to tackle budget emergency”
“Abbott: budget all about lost trust”
“Opposition targets Swan over debt and deficit”

Virtually no discernable difference from the uncritical coverage of that speech by Fairfax and Murdoch. All three news organisations articulated in unison the main speaking points in the Liberal Party’s media release.


To underscore the lock-step, ABC News Radio’s afternoon program reported the speech shortly after it had concluded. For an expert comment the presenter interviewed a Murdoch journalist. The five-minute report on the ABC’s PM that evening could not have been more laudatory of the Opposition leader had it been written by the Liberal Party’s ad agency.

Now, parallel analysis may arguably be reasonable if the speech by the Opposition leader was indeed honest, competent, trustworthy and contained creditable economic analysis.

But the opposite is the case. The speech was soon dismantled systematically by analysts outside the mainstream media.

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About the Author

Alan Austin is an Australian freelance journalist currently based in Nīmes in the South of France. His special interests are overseas development, Indigenous affairs and the interface between the religious communities and secular government. As a freelance writer, Alan has worked for many media outlets over the years and been published in most Australian newspapers. He worked for eight years with ABC Radio and Television’s religious broadcasts unit and seven years with World Vision. His most recent part-time appointment was with the Uniting Church magazine Crosslight.

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