Friday, May 24, 2013

Protecting broadcasting diversity

Tomorrow the Victorian branch of the Liberal Party will be asked to adopt a policy of privatiding Australia's public broadcasters, the ABC and SBS. It should refuse to do so.  Diversity is the hallmark of a healthy media landscape and with it a healthy democracy. But a cursory glance at the existing broadcast media in Australia and most similar countries shows that the only real diversity exists between the commercial and public sectors. The diversity between the commercial broadcasters is cosmetic. With the ABC and SBS in private hands Australian television viewers and radio listeners would be denied programming diversity, serious investigative journalism, independent news reporting, much locally produced content and many niche programs.

The desire to sell off the public broadcasters does not reflect community priorities or interests. Public opinion polls regularly list the ABC as one of the most trusted institutions in Australian public life. It, along with the SBS, is the only source of news that is not controlled by corporate interests such as the Murdoch and Packer families. 

Some advocates of privatization will claim it is necessary to reduce government debt. The is disingenuous. If that was the aim, it would be possible to introduce a license fee of the type collected in many other countries. This would free government from having to fund public broadcasting while maintaining the parliamentary charters that commit public broadcasters to objectivity and national service standards. Commercial broadcasters are not subject to such public interest charters and that cursory surf through the commercial TV stations quickly shows how little value they place on independence or objectivity. 

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