As the Media Bargaining Code issue heats up, a group of ABC Alumni have warned of the potential risk to the national broadcaster’s independence if it receives money directly from Google or other digital media companies.
The ABC has rejected that claim and says any monies that flow through from the implementation of the Media Code will be handled by the ABC’s Commercial Division at arms length from programs and content.
The Media Bargaining Code, which has passed its third reading stage in the House of Representatives and is now before the Senate, has brought Google to the table to negotiate deals with Channel 7, Nine Entertainment and News Limited, while Facebook, on the other hand, has taken their bat and ball and gone home, blocking all Australian news content on its platform.
A statement issued to media and stakeholders by ABCAlumni and signed by Quentin Dempster says:
Although the ABC is now a media industry leader in Australia’s online news industry there is an obvious risk of compromise to the ABC Charter from this precedent-setting commercial relationship.
Defunded by the Federal Government from the 2014 Budget, with the consequential destructive loss of original Australian programs and experienced program makers, plus the imposition of a vicious “indexation pause” from the 2018 Budget, the ABC has been significantly weakened in the range of quality content it can offer audiences.
While many will be grateful for any respite revenue from Google, ABCAlumni, representing former ABC production staff and program makers, believes that this source of the revenue, ad spend, carries unacceptable risk.
The ABC has indicated its intention to apply any revenue earned from Google to regional services. The current Communications Minister, Paul Fletcher, has indicated the federal government would not withdraw any Google revenue from the ABC.
Noted. But the precedent set by the ABC entering into a contract to share Google’s ad revenue will set the ABC on a commercial path and make it easier for any hostile federal government in future to demand more commerciality, not less. ABC commercial deals for revenue in the evolving digital economy will only soften up the ABC for privatisation, an objective pushed by those fundamentally hostile to a public broadcaster or “cybercaster”.
The ABC has been placed in these compromises before. The 2000 Telstra content deal negotiated by then Managing Director Brian Johns would have given the ABC a substantial commercial revenue stream (then A$67m p.a.). Fortunately, it was rejected by the ABC Board as giving Telstra too much leverage over ABC content.
In 1995 an ABC subsidiary company AIM Pay TV entered into a commercial partnership with Fairfax Media and Cox Communications US to establish a payTV news service. The ABC was forced to abandon this venture when its potential domestic cable carriers (Foxtel and Optus) withdrew.
ABCAlumni believes the ABC’s future viability must come from adequate untied funding from Australia’s consolidated revenue as a public good, with no commercial agendas. It is important that our private sector media companies prosper in the digital economy and it is hoped that the revenue sharing code delivers recurrent funding to complement the ABC’s original content creation. Australia’s public broadcasting/cybercasting system through both the ABC and SBS, each with legislated obligations to provide comprehensive services and original Australian-made content, is a major contributor to media diversity in this country and should not be put at any risk in the current disruptive media industry environment.
In response to the Alumni’s comments, an ABC Spokesperson has told radioinfo:
As the ABC has said publicly on several occasions, we are committed to reinvesting any additional revenue from negotiations under the proposed Mandatory Bargaining Code directly into regional services. Where digital platforms are deriving value from the use of ABC news content, the ABC and taxpayers have a legitimate interest in ensuring that a portion of that value is reinvested into ABC journalism.
This is consistent with both the ABC’s Five-Year Plan to invest more into services for regional Australia and the underlying objective of the Bill which is to support public interest journalism.
The ABC has entered into commercial arrangements to generate revenue for more than forty years through its ABC Commercial division. All commercial agreements fall within the appropriate guard rails to ensure the independence and editorial responsibilities of the ABC are maintained. ABC Commercial contributes all its profits to content producers at the ABC and receives no taxpayer funding.
The legislation is being debated in the Senate. See our related report.
Audio from Senator Hume as she presents the biol to the Senate Chamber.
The debate continues.