Tag Archives: BBC

The ABC should work with commercial media outlets, not compete with them

The Conversation

Brian McNair, Queensland University of Technology

As the ABC’s managing director Mark Scott approaches the end of his decade-long tenure, Media Watch this week provided a platform for him to highlight his achievements and fire off a couple of parting shots.

It’s not ideal to see the ABC CEO using an ABC program to defend the ABC, but presenter Paul Barry did a reasonable job of representing the other side. “Too rich, too powerful, and biased” was the gist of it.

Before responding, Scott emphasised two key achievements: the launch of ABC News 24, and the move online. iView in particular, he said, had led the Australian media market in streaming technology.

Both services came from within existing budgets, paid for by savings and cuts elsewhere in the corporation. They were contentious at the time, but are now key planks in a sustainable digital future for the ABC.

Of course, these achievements are precisely the cause of criticism from The Australian and others who have accused Scott and the ABC of “imperialistic expansion” laying at least some of the blame for Fairfax’ troubles at their door.

Echoing the UK Conservative Chancellor’s attack on the BBC’s “imperial ambition”, the opponents of public service media in Australia dispute the ABC’s right – Scott would say duty – to be more than a market failure broadcaster.

Scott responded by pointing out that in the US, where there is no public service broadcasting to speak of (just PBS, supported by philanthropic donations), the death of newspapers has gone farther and faster than in Australia.

On claims of left-wing bias, and Tony Abbott’s famous “whose side are you on?” attack after the Zaky Mallah affair, Scott said:

We do a different style of journalism to the journalism that I think increasingly you see in News Limited papers and increasingly you see with different columnists as well. You know, a lot of that criticism comes from right wing commentators and they wonder, where are the strong right wing commentators on the ABC?

We don’t do that kind of journalism. We don’t ask questions about our journalists’ voting pattern and where their ideologies are. We look at the journalism that they put to air, and we have strong editorial standards that demand fairness, balance and impartiality, and we hold them to that test.

On occasion ABC journalists fail, Scott admitted, but what news organisation doesn’t? And as the Malaysian government of Najib Razak struggles to deal with the fallout from the latest Four Corners expose of alleged high level corruption and murder, we see once more what public service journalism is all about.

Scott’s other purpose on Media Watch was to argue for the continuation of current funding from the Turnbull government. Otherwise, he said, ten per cent of the news budget was at risk and job cuts would follow.

I’ve argued before that Scott leaves an ABC that is strong and confident, as well as popular with the majority of the Australian people. He’s overseen a tough digital transition and negotiated the Abbott years with skill.

In the interests of securing its place in the broader Australian media ecology, though, it may be time for the ABC to consider innovative approaches to supporting commercial media that are genuinely struggling with disruptive technologies, such as the local press.

The BBC, which has faced similar challenges to the ABC and is currently in Charter Review, provides an interesting example of what public-private media cooperation could look like.

As part of the 99-page dossier The Future of the BBC, the BBC has outlined a plan to support local news organisations. Citing declining numbers of regional reporters as “not good for our democracy, our government institutions and our citizens”, it proposes several solutions.

They range from a shared data journalism centre, to sharing BBC audio and video clips with local and regional news organisations.

The BBC has also suggested they invest funds in a Local Accountability Reporting Service. This would support 100 public service reporters to cover councils, courts and public services across Britain, with their work available to every news organisation.

While this service would be funded and administered by the BBC, any news agency or local paper could compete for the contract to cover their local area.

There are plenty of issues associated with these plans, and so far the BBC has been light on the details. There’s considerable complications around rights and attribution, and not every local media group in the UK supports it.

But it seems like an excellent way of embedding public service media in the cultural life of the country, helping to fill a gap in the public sphere that the commercial press are increasingly unable to.

Could something of the kind work in Australia’s dispersed regional and local communities? If the ABC is not the cause of the commercial media’s problems, especially in the local journalism sphere, that doesn’t mean it can’t do more to be part of the solution.

The ConversationBrian McNair, Professor of Journalism, Media and Communication, Queensland University of Technology

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.


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Andrew Neil’s message to Paris attackers

Andrew Ferguson Neil (born 21 May 1949) is a Scottish journalist and broadcaster, who was editor of The Sunday Times for 11 years, and currently presents live political programmes, Sunday Politics and This Week on BBC One and Daily Politics on BBC Two.


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The ABC’s ‘me too’ strategy puts it on track for redundancy

The Conversation

By Stephen King, Monash University

Is the ABC trying to make itself redundant? Because that appears to be its strategy. Here’s why.

The ABC is expensive. In 2013 it was allocated more than A$1 billion of taxpayer funds. The ABC claims, however, that its real funding since 1985-86 has dropped by about one quarter. And the current federal government has cut further – A$120 million in the May budget and a further A$207 million over four years.

The ABC has responded with cutbacks in “niche” areas such as women’s sport and rural services and a renewed focus on internet-based services.

But with much traditional media “doing it tough”, should we care about the ABC? Or is it simply redundant?

Why do we have the ABC?

How is the ABC different from the commercial free-to-air broadcasters?

Under its Charter, the ABC focuses on the “Australian story”. It shows:

… programs that contribute to a sense of national identity and inform and entertain, and reflect the cultural diversity of, the Australian community.

But the commercial networks have similar obligations. The three primary commercial channels are each required to broadcast an annual minimum of 55% Australian content between the hours of 6am and midnight. In practice they exceed this requirement.

Arguably the commercial networks tell the Australian story better than the ABC. In 2013, all of the top 20 programs on commercial television were Australian reality TV, sport or drama. Australian drama occupied five of the top 10 most-watched series.

The problem with the ABC is not that it is unique. Its problem is that it is not unique enough.

Is digital media the way forward for the ABC?

The ABC’s managing director, Mark Scott, suggests the ABC’s future is digital internet-based communication.

Competition in the media space is intensifying and audiences are asserting their power. The ABC needs to meet the surging audience demand for online and mobile services while, at the same time, securing and strengthening our grip in the traditional content areas. We must be the home of the Australian story and content across all platforms.

This strategy is both misinformed and misguided.

It is misinformed because, for most Australians, free-to-air television is still the dominant source of news and entertainment. Australians are spending less time in front of the television and more time in front of other screens, such as laptops and mobiles. But the shift is slow. In 2013, Australians watched an average of 96 hours of broadcast television each month, compared to just over five hours per month viewing video on a PC or laptop and a little over two hours on their mobiles and tablets.

The strategy is misguided because any unique role of the ABC is eliminated on the internet. The ABC cannot uniquely tell the Australian story because thousands of Australians tell their story online every day, using blogs and social media. The ABC cannot differentiate itself as a source of quality news when it has thousands of internet competitors, including The New York Times and the BBC.

If the ABC wants to make itself irrelevant and have increased pressure on its funding then it should concentrate on its digital strategy.

Using the BBC as a model

What is the alternative?

The UK provides a good example of how to make public broadcasting work. The BBC is one of the world’s most respected broadcasters. And it is government-owned. It thrives because the UK television industry has been reformed.

The BBC might appear to have a lot more competition than the ABC. In Australia, the government-owned ABC and SBS face off against three commercial broadcasters. In contrast, the UK, has around 60 channels, ranging from full-service commercial networks to highly specialised niche channels.

However, the BBC has a unique position. Competitive reform in the UK allowed new entry and innovation in free-to-air television. It also focused the public service obligations, such as content requirements, on the BBC. Rather than being a “me too” network, the BBC has a mandate that is distinct from the commercial broadcasters.

In contrast, free-to-air television in Australia has a commercial oligopoly that, with government assistance, prevents new competition despite there being plenty of spectrum available. The commercial networks claim that they need “protection” so they can meet their public service obligations, like Australian content.

Fine! Remove most of the obligations and open up free-to-air television for new entry. Focus the obligations on the ABC and make the ABC truly unique. This would benefit viewers through increased choice and provide an ongoing rationale for the ABC.


Sensible reform of free-to-air television will help the ABC. But its funding will remain directly tied to government budgets.

In contrast, the BBC’s funding is largely independent of government budget decisions. The UK has a “television licence” system with the majority of the licence revenue dedicated to funding the public broadcaster. While the government formally sets the fee, it does so after discussions with the BBC. And the BBC collects the licence revenue.

Australia used to have a similar system. Between 1956 and 1974, the ABC was largely funded by television licences. The Whitlam government abolished the licence in 1974, leaving the ABC exposed to the whims of government funding.

It is not clear that a dedicated ABC tax, whether applied as a television licence or funded in some other way, would be politically acceptable in Australia. But without independent funding, the ABC will face more cuts from all sides of politics in the future.

The future of the ABC

To have a future, the ABC needs to abandon its “me too” strategy. It needs to be unique. If it focuses on the internet, then it guarantees it will lose its uniqueness and its rationale.

Rather than cutting back its unique services, the ABC needs to emphasise its uniqueness.

The ABC needs to push for competitive reform of Australia’s free-to-air television broadcasting system so it can differentiate itself and its obligations.

The commercial broadcasters will oppose reform. These broadcasters do not like sharing various public service obligations with the ABC. But they like competition even less. Real reform of free-to-air broadcasting will open up the spectrum to competition and create a lasting role for the ABC.

This article is based on work in progress by the Monash Business Policy Forum looking at media reform in Australia.

The ConversationThis article was originally published on The Conversation. (Republished with permission). Read the original article.

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