ABC chairman rebukes commercial outlets: “the sniping of commercial foes and partisans”

Justin Milne speech at American Chamber of Commerce business briefing. 

Speaking yesterday at an American Chamber of Commerce business briefing in Sydney hosted by PricewaterhouseCoopers, ABC chairman Justin Milne has warned that failure to invest in the ABC’s digital future means the broadcaster will ‘wither away and cease to exist.’

In a speech titled An ABC Fit for the Future, Milne put forward the case for a bigger ABC expansion into the digital sphere, dismissing commercial outlets (including News Corp and Fairfax) which question why the ABC should receive public money to provide digital news services they already offer as “the sniping of commercial foes and partisans”.

“Of course, when you unpack this argument – even a little – it is revealed as simplistic, facile and entirely self-serving. 

“Let’s be clear: if the ABC were barred from serving audiences on digital platforms, it would wither away and cease to exist,” Milne said. 

Milne noted the decline of global audiences for linear broadcast services as people turn more and more toward on-demand services, saying “Within a generation, a majority of Australians will no longer use broadcast platforms at all.”

“As we enter a digital age, Australia must decide whether it wants an ABC fit for the future, and if so, what investments the nation is willing to make to achieve that,” he said.

In an impassioned defence of the broadcaster, Milne told business leaders “Australians must decided whether it wants an ABC in the future.”

“Some would argue an enlightened private sector dominated by owners in the United States will find a way of marrying commercial and Australian national interest, and produce local content about the arts, sciences, religion [and] music. What could possibly go wrong?”

Milne’s address comes as retired economist Robert Kerr finalises a review into whether the public broadcasters (including SBS) comply with the principles of ‘competitive neutrality,’  ensuring they do not enjoy an unfair advantage over commercial rivals on account of being publicly funded.

Milne, who is a director on six boards and the chairman of three, has in the past been a managing director of Telstra and the CEO of Microsoft Network.


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