John Patkin’s spirited defence of the ABC

Opinion from John Patkin

The funding cuts and job losses at the ABC are an attack on public broadcasting and freedom of speech.

The Australian government should immediately increase the ABC’s budget to ensure the organisation continues in its role of the nation’s psyche.

One of the hallmarks of public broadcasting is ensuring that a variety of opinions are heard, questioned, and contextualised. This broad spectrum of views often receives criticism from fans of privately funded commercial radio that attracts listeners through polarizing shock-jocks. 

Despite the noise made by its critics, the ABC has a loyal fan base and so it is incorrect to state the people hate the organisation and label it as a burden to the nation’s taxpayers. The irony is the ABC protects the haters. Its longer commercial-free newscasts and in-depth programs provide people of different backgrounds more time than an edited sound bite to express their views.

The ABC is central in promoting the rights and narratives of Australia’s armed forces personnel. From embedded journalists to dedicated timeslots that discuss the needs of veterans. Regional radio supports the farming industry and acts as a coordinator for emergencies such as bushfires.

In the cities, ABC radio recognises the traditional owners of the land, discusses issues with the wider population, and looks for the marginalized in hopes of giving them a voice. The ABC reaches across the land to the nation’s youth, sports fans, and music lovers.

Public broadcasting is aligned with social justice but not exclusively. Its well-publicized and transparent policies ensure the ABC provides safe and open forums to discuss the needs of society without judgment. Its highly sort after impartiality sits in contrast to the attention-seeking hedonistic hosts of commercial talk radio. Its news reporting and online content set the standard for usability and functionality. 
Beyond the radio dial, the ABC is the backbone of the modern arts in Australia. If hundreds of actors began with stints on Play School and comedic productions, just think about the thousands of writers, producers, designers, and equipment operators that have passed through the ABC and contributed to the wider industry. There are also the ABC stalwarts that remain and contribute to popular and award-winning content.

The ABC could do some things better. The recently released plan to downsize the Sydney operation makes sense. Let us hope the bean counters wait for a partial recovery as flipping ABC real estate now may not be fiscally prudent. Consciously cutting back on travel is a logical mirror of its own strength of reaching the nation wirelessly. With better financial management and increased funding, the organisation can create more stability and build on its intellectual capital with more permanent full-time roles and scrapping part-time and temporary contracts. Long-term job security has a positive impact on the wider economy. 

The indispensable role of the ABC should not be trivialized or cliched. A simple scan of the news reveals what happens when authoritarian governments like China attack public broadcasters as is the case of RTHK in Hong Kong which is being squeezed into obscurity. That is why an attack on the ABC is an attack on Australia and democracy.

How the government treats the ABC serves as a template for developing democracies and weakening its place in Australia provides excuses for repressive regimes to muzzle the media. 

Some of us do not drive on every road in the country, borrow from libraries or use the local community centre but it is good to know they are there and there is a democratic process in place that allows us to discuss how they are funded and managed. Like it or not, the ABC charter aims to make the lives all Australians better, even for its detractors.



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