Features Australia

The ABC’s democracy deficit

Free societies do not need a state-owned broadcaster

19 September 2020

9:00 AM

19 September 2020

9:00 AM

‘The fires. The virus. The crisis,’ intones the ad in the weekly rural paper. ‘Imagine them without the ABC.’

One can, easily. I know people who haven’t watched or listened to the ABC since long before the catastrophic events pressed into service for this advertisement, which goes on to urge us to ‘fight’ for ‘your’ ABC. One advantage of doing ‘without the ABC’ during the last lot of ‘fires’, I was told, was freedom from the annoyance of hearing every ten minutes that these perennial and natural conflagrations were a uniquely terrible punishment for our sins in causing global warming.

The ‘Friends of the ABC’ in Victoria paid for the ad, not the ABC itself from the exiguous $897 million the taxpayer bestowed on it last year. The Friends – one pictures them as elderly bossy females with spectacles on chains, followed around tamely by meek little men with wispy pointed beards – think that’s not enough. ‘No more cuts,’ they demand. Everyone else will have to put up with lots of cuts for years to come, thanks to the China virus, so why shouldn’t the ABC? Besides what does the taxpayer get in return for the $897 million? Apparently a majority of Australians never switches on the ABC.

Connoisseurs of irony might be amused that this advertisement appears in a paper mainly read by farmers, a category the ABC disapproves of for its ‘salination’ of the land and failure to practise the kind of ‘sustainable’ agriculture that current ABC pin-up Bruce Pascoe (‘the Cornish Koori’) dreams that the Aborigines went in for. The ABC doesn’t care who it offends as long as they’re white and preferably male, but for Aborigines it reserves an extravagant respect, witness all those ‘warnings’ that images of the dead are about to be shown when there’s never a warning to Christians that a ‘comedian’ is about to spout torrents of blasphemy.

According to the Friends, ABC funding has ‘halved from 8 cents a day in 1987 to 4 cents today’ – you wish it were just four cents a day but they probably mean four cents per taxpayer a day. And this – you can imagine the gasps of genteel horror as the Friends sat round composing the ad – ‘just when emergency broadcasting has increased.’ In other words, these people think the ABC should be given more money to try to whip up more panic about natural disasters, the kind of disasters our forebears just dealt with without going apocalyptic.

Besides, even if the ABC is right in saying bushfires are more disastrous than they used to be, that’s less to do with climate than with mad Green-decreed environmental policies and too many people wanting to ‘tree-change’ to flammable bushlands. As for ‘the virus’, with or without the ABC you’d still have government incompetence, politicised medical mismanagement and – worthy of a special mention – the utter shambles of Daniel Andrews’ attempts at maintaining a quarantine. ‘State of Disaster’ should be emblazoned on Victoria’s number plates.

And what is ‘the crisis’ Victoria’s ABC Friends invoke? That their state, alone in the nation, is now a temporary dictatorship ruled by Il Duce Dan without a parliament? Has the ABC shown any concern about that?

Those hundreds of millions a year are money down the drain. The ABC’s real funding should be 0 cents a day. But the principal argument against the ABC is not what it costs, not its incompetence – its clunking news scripts written by people who don’t know how to write spoken English (just listen), its leaden dramas, its vulgar unfunny ‘comedy’, etc. – but the fact that it is there at all. It is undemocratic. In a democratic society the ABC should not exist.

Social activists seeking examples of ‘privilege’ need look no further than the ABC, which gives a small elite with no particular entitlement other than having found its way as by mitosis into the ABC the right to express its views at public expense without the responsibility of justifying them. These people do not have to answer to government or anyone else, only – in theory though when was the last time? – to a vaguely worded charter. They do not have to answer to advertisers. They can say what they like and the funds will still come rolling in.

No conservative should support the existence of a government broadcaster. Government broadcasters and newspapers are for one-party states like China, where governments want to control what people think. Free societies do not need a state instrumentality dealing in ideas.

The free circulation of ideas is indispensable to a democratic civilisation but the ABC too often limits itself to those that are congenial to the Green Left. Others, such as that there might be something to be said for President Trump or, during its anti-Pell crusade, that the cardinal was possibly innocent, it suppresses. Its views are those of a self-perpetuating oligarchy disdainful of, when not actually hostile to, the beliefs and assumptions of most of the people who pay its salaries. Wrapped in its cocoon of self-righteousness, the ABC is so impervious to what its core constituency – the Australian public – thinks, as to have been unable even to imagine that voters would favour the Liberals in the last election. But ABC bias is not the point. If it transmitted right-wing ideas all day or – pigs might fly – was neutral, it ought not to exist as a privileged island of irresponsibility in an ocean of media answerable in various ways to the public.

It is now clear that no Australian government, not even a supposedly conservative one, has the slightest intention of doing anything about the ABC. Politicians are too fond of appearing on it – they and ABC interviewers exist in an unhealthy symbiosis, each feeling themselves important by association with the other – when conservative politicians should refuse to go on any ABC programme, as Jeff Kennett once did in Victoria. They won’t though.

Ordinary citizens who think the ABC an unnecessary drain on public funds should deny it our eyes and our ears. The consequent evaporation of much of its audience would demonstrate the irrelevance of the ABC and show that far from being essential, it is peripheral to the dissemination of news or entertainment. We might then see how long the ‘national broadcaster’ can still claim to be national. With that fig leaf fallen, perhaps the political will could be found to dismantle, sell or otherwise dispose of this costly relic of a bygone era when serious broadcasting was thought too important not to be in the hands of the state.

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