Unlike many of you reading this, I find myself supportive of the concept of a public broadcaster. To my mind, the notion of a taxpayer-funded and politically impartial institution objectively reporting on important issues and exploring a range of perspectives is, at least in theory, a positive one. I also believe that there are many forms of journalism, specifically complex long-running investigations and in-depth foreign coverage that are simply not profitable for private enterprises to conduct but have a great societal benefit; and therefore should be undertaken using taxpayer funds.
However, even I, somewhat idealistic as I may be on this issue, have my doubts about ‘our’ ABC, and how well it meets this ideal for a public broadcaster. While it is true that the ABC does produce one of the better news channels on TV — even if it grossly over–represents progressive viewpoints — and that the organisation does conduct some good investigations and foreign reporting, much of the ABC’s output is downright useless, and nothing short of a bonfire of public money.
The prime example of this issue is ABC Life, which publishes articles on food, travel, work, relationships and the like. The site feels like Auntie’s digital answer to glossy supermarket magazines, and is aimed primarily at teenage and young adult readers.
The first and most obvious question raised by this venture is why on God’s good Earth did anybody at the ABC believe that such an undertaking was necessary and requiring of public money? It’s not as if the internet, or even traditional print media, is short of the kind of ‘lifestyle’ dross that the site provides. If there is one thing you can rely on in today’s journalistic climate, it’s that the private sector can produce copious articles on food and travel. If the ABC has a purpose, then it’s in meeting a public need for unprofitable quality reporting, not in discussing the latest fashion trends and giving the reader a new recipe idea. ABC Life runs off our funds in direct competition with advertising-starved commercial media, traditional and digital, in what appears to be a complete breach of the broadcaster’s charter.
This criticism would not necessarily be warranted if the articles that appeared on the site were of a distinguishably higher quality than what you could get elsewhere. However, this is demonstrably not the case. On the evening I went onto the site to research this article, I was met with the following headlines: “I find calling myself fat empowering but society can’t cope”, “What you need to know before getting lip fillers“, and “Why cheerleading is the sport we didn’t know we needed”.
In other words, ABC Life is saturated with totally vapid garbage that is devoid of any serious worth for the reader. The fact that these three headlines were all found on the website’s homepage on a day chosen totally at random, alongside some that were only marginally less farcical, speaks volumes about what kind of hyper-moronic trash is published on the site. ABC Life is similar in content to the likes of Junkee and Buzzfeed, adding nothing new to the media landscape; all while being bankrolled by you, the taxpayer.
But at least it’s popular, right? At least the teens and 20 somethings can’t wait to hear the latest journalistic insight into “what you need to know when the map app stops working on your road trip” (a real article by the way). Wrong. As someone new to their 20s, and therefore ostensibly the target demographic, I asked many of my similarly aged friends what they thought of ABC Life. Not one had even heard of the site, despite it being online for nearly two years, let alone read anything memorable on it. On Facebook, its published articles are lucky to get 20 likes, while on Twitter double digits are as rare as a French budget surplus.
In short, arguments about the necessity of the ABC as an institution aside, ABC Life has got to go. Its vapid content adds nothing of value, in the way of quality reporting or analysis, to the Australian media landscape, and the site is virtually unread by those who it’s meant to appeal and provide insight to.
Illustration: ACB Life.
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