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The ABC sells itself short

By Glenys Stradijot - posted Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Some ABC viewers were taken aback a few months ago at an indication of commercial advertising on ABC television. As they should be!

But it turned out that what some viewers initially thought to be ads were in fact depictions of commercials. Their satirical nature became clearer as they evolved over several weeks.

Their purpose was to promote The Gruen Transfer, the ABC series which provides an entertaining insight into the development of ads. They look to be the idea of someone who realised that anything that looked like a commercial advertisement would draw the attention of ABC audiences.


Having said that, the public needs to be alert. The ABC is increasingly circumventing the prohibition on advertising on ABC radio and television and continually pushing further the boundaries of its commercial activities.

“Weasel words” claim advertising of ABC shops and products to be “promotion” or “announcements”. In a few instances this year, the ABC has slipped product prices into ABC Shop advertisements. Presumably it is to check if the audience notices and how it responds to this action that further blurs the line between announcements and advertising. This year, a presenter from the popular ABC children's program, Playschool, featured in an ABC 1 advertisement to promote children's products for sale at ABC Shops.

The ABC has also begun to set up websites to carry advertisements, websites like Strong community opposition to advertising on the ABC has resulted in the ABC shying away from placing ads on the broadcaster's main website. Instead, for now, it appears that its strategy is to set up websites in addition to the ABC's main website - websites which carry advertisements and could end up only a click away from the main website.

To date, the new Labor Government has failed to indicate to Friends of the ABC that it will prevent advertising on the ABC's websites. This is despite the ABC Act's legal prohibition on advertising not extending to websites only because online services were not envisaged at the time the Act was drawn up, and notwithstanding Labor's platform adopted shortly before the election. The ALP's platform clearly addresses any website that is identified as being a website of the ABC, when it states: "Labor will also ensure that advertising is not permitted on ABC branded websites."

Recently, though not for the first time, it looks as if the ABC decided, if it can't put advertising on the ABC, it would take the ABC and its content to the advertisers. Calli Weitenberg, of online media outlet, revealed that the ABC had sold ABC Rural online content to the commercial website

It is not only content that the ABC has sold to Weitenberg sardonically commented on "the relaxed appearance of Aunty’s logo around commercials for New Holland Tractors and CSBP Fertilisers on ...". By allowing the ABC logo to be surrounded by products for sale, the ABC is hiring out its insignia to be used for commercial exploitation and abusing the public trust its insignia evokes.


The creeping activities of the ABC's money-making arm are undermining the ABC and the public's trust in its integrity. Strong and unequivocal community opposition to advertising on the ABC is being worn down, as audiences, jaded by the ABC's endless “promotions” and “announcements” (so-called), fail to effectively distinguish them from any other form of advertising.

In the longer term, there is a real and serious risk that the ABC's drive to sell products to audiences and on-sell content to commercial enterprises will end up influencing the very nature of content the ABC broadcasts. It has already occurred in some instances.

The ABC was not established to be a business. It must be properly funded by the federal government so that its independence from commercial influence can be maintained, and so that its focus is returned to what it is meant to do - produce and broadcast quality programming.

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Sign a petition to the ABC board to stop the commercialisation and "dumbing down" of the ABC here.

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About the Author

Glenys Stradijot is the Campaign Manager for Friends of the ABC (Vic) office.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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