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As Australian as ABC!

Marius Webb. Photo: Christine Webb.

BY MARIUS WEBB

With the Turnbull government once again threatening to starve the ABC of funding it is an opportunity to re-run Marius Webb’s article on why the broadcaster is an essential asset for all Australians.

Author Bio: Marius Webb worked at ABC Radio, played a pivotal role in the establishment of double j and triple j and was the first staff-elected Board Member.

The ABC as we know it, has been under siege now for so long that it is starting to not just show very advanced signs of wear and tear, but to give all the indications of impending mortality.

While very few of us at the moment seem inclined to approve the doings of President Trump, we should at least be grateful that he has made a great deal of fuss about “Fake News”. His crude and wilful attacks on all kinds of media have sharpened the perception of what we perceive as ‘good’ and ‘reliable’ sources of news. Trump’s technique is to blatantly exaggerate and assert one ‘truth’ or ‘fact’ as opposed to another. And it’s gradually degenerating into a shambles.

In Australia, the ABC has caved into pressure from the PM and his financial cronies, and pulled a financial piece by Emma Alberici on the grounds that some of the ‘facts’ in her report are ‘wrong’. This is appalling, if only because it means the ABC is gradually ceding its independence to the government of the day.

We can go down the Trump path and accuse everyone we disagree with of being wrong. Or we can be sensible and agree to disagree. This has always been the Australian way but it is starting to go out of favour. The ABC is at the fulcrum of this debate but it has been so debased by the Liberal Party – remember Tony “no cuts to the ABC” Abbott – and so weakly defended by the ALP, that it is but a shadow of its former self.

Without the ABC there is only advertising and its many related parasitic industries. Public relations, media consultancies, and spin doctors in all their forms are highly skilled and dedicated, because they are paid so well, to tell only one side of the story. Our culture is absolutely saturated with information that is not objective. Think tanks now dominate the arena of public political debate but are generally invisible to the public. Mostly funded by the right side of politics they are not a good symptom of a healthy democracy. The Trump effect.

It used to be the case that Australia, for its relevant population size, enjoyed one of the best media systems in the world. There was a healthy balance between the commercial media and the ABC, unlike Britain where the BBC was dominant, or the US, where there were only commercial media. The ABC tried to make programs for everyone. Play School, Blue Hills and Monday Conference. The commercial stations were only interested in audience demographics. Graham Kennedy, Number 96 and 60 Minutes.

But things have changed. Technical innovation has meant that the media choices now available are immense and all the established operators are struggling to keep up. If we were to lose one or two of our commercial TV networks it is unlikely to matter much in the scheme of things as they will be promptly replaced by some new form of delivery.

If we lose the ABC however, it would be much the same as an incoming government deciding to close the National Gallery, or turn the Opera House into a Cruise Ship Terminal. The ABC is absolutely crucial to our culture simply because its remit is to serve the interests of all Australians, not commercial interests.

Weakened financially, shaking at the knees politically, and desperately scratching its head creatively, the ABC is a shadow of its former self but is still worth saving because it still has the capacity to provide us with a marvellous mirror on our inner sense of being Australian.

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