The ABC upholds the same values as public education — and both institutions are facing cuts that threaten their capacity to function as anchors of democracy.
The much-loved public broadcaster, like public education, educates, informs, entertains and enriches our cultural identity and knowledge base and enhances our capacity as citizens to make informed decisions and engage in a lifelong pursuit of learning.
The ABC is facing massive cuts to programming that will erode its capacity to defend the public interest. Without informed and educated citizens Australia’s democracy is under threat.
This is a time when Australia needs fearless, independent, high-quality investigative reporting that questions all political leaders and their agendas, particularly with Australia’s recent military interventions in Iraq and global warnings of cataclysmic climate change and environmental degradation, resource depletion and wildlife extinction rates.
The irony is that the war intervention is a massively expensive budget item — yet there is no debate about cost-cutting there.
There are proposals to cut quality investigative programs such as Lateline and the 7.30 Report as well as a myriad other current affairs and specialist programs in response to the threatened funding reduction.
Classic FM is in danger of being taken off FM transmission with its presenters reduced. ABC radio news bulletins could be cut from ten minutes to five. ABC job losses could be as high as 300.
Before the last election, the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, promised “no cuts to the ABC”. However in the space of a year, the government has gone from “no cuts” to what Minister for Communications Malcolm Turnbull now admits to be “substantial” cuts.
Mr Turnbull commissioned media financial expert Peter Lewis to recommend ways for the ABC and the SBS to save money. According to leaks, the Lewis review into ABC and SBS efficiency suggested charging for content, selling property, increasing advertising revenue and outsourcing production.
The review canvasses outsourcing ABC television production to the private sector, moving SBS into the ABC's headquarters, increasing the amount of advertising on SBS and abandoning digital radio.
It also calls for a review of its network of 60 local radio stations. These cuts would seriously affect regional communities across the country that rely on the ABC as their main source of news and weather information.
The ABC staff's union, the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance, claims that the Lewis review would mean cuts of more than $100 million year-on-year, dramatically exceeding the cuts of $120 million over four years to the broadcaster in the Federal Government’s budget.
The Australian Government’s decision to end funding for the Australia Network is thought to have been made after it was angered by ABC reporting of Australian spying on Indonesia’s former president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, and his inner circle.
The ABC is not a propaganda tool for governments. There are real fears, however, that the government is intervening in the ABC and SBS for political reasons.
Despite his shattered reputation for journalism ethics from the UK phone tapping scandals, media owner Rupert Murdoch continually uses his influence to rally attacks against the ABC through editorials and inflammatory commentaries.
It is timely to remember American author and columnist Joe Bageant’s description of the US media where Americans spend their lives “watching smiley-face media presentations of giant corporations” and where “instead of news we clamour for bread and circuses”.