ABC – Why not an election issue?

As the long six-week election campaign draws to a close, ABC friends are left wondering why it is that the fate of our diminished but precious public broadcaster has not become a major election issue.

After all, it is clear to any supporter that the ABC is a shadow of its former self after drastic budget cuts by a hostile Coalition government.

And the return of a Scott Morrison government could lead to the ABC’s complete demise, given the federal Liberal Party policy to privatise it.

But it appears this government’s efforts to keep the ABC out of the headlines this election, even given the latter’s overwhelming public support, has been a success.

Both the Prime Minister and the Communications Minister, Paul Fletcher, moved early to try to neutralise criticism that the government was responsible for severe cutbacks at the ABC, which have seen the cancellation of many services.

In June last year, Scott Morrison began a new “spin cycle” on the ABC, insisting that, in spite of all the evidence, the government had not cut the ABC’s budget.

READ AN ARTICLE ABOUT SCOTT MORRISON’S CLAIMS

Although it was demonstrably untrue, it was enough subterfuge to create confusion around the facts, which were subsequently followed up in an excellent study by two noted Melbourne academics, published in The Conversation.

READ THE CONVERSATION ARTICLE ON ABC FUNDING CUTS

After the ALP announced a new policy of depoliticising ABC finances by enshrining five-year (rather than the current three-year) funding periods, Paul Fletcher issued a press release saying a new three-year funding agreement had been signed, with a total of $90m funding increase for the public broadcaster.

In the release, he said:

Contrary to claims from Labor and the Greens — and some ABC journalists — there has been no funding cut under the Morrison government during the existing three-year funding period, running from July 1, 2019, to June 30, 2022.

As our announcement makes clear, for the next three-year funding period (or ‘triennium’ as it often called) from July 1, 2022, to June 30, 2025, the Morrison government is maintaining our strong record of ABC funding.

Total funding for the ABC over the new triennium will be almost $90m higher than the current triennium.

Again, it was just enough spin to confuse matters and served to undermine the truth of the overall cuts.

READ THE FULL PAUL FLETCHER STATEMENT

Scott Morrison indicated again today that he believed that there had been no cuts to the ABC and that there would be no cuts to the ABC if his government was re-elected. Sadly we find this hard to believe.

Given the concentration of media ownership in Australia, and  with most of those media owners hostile to the ABC, it was always unlikely the ABC funding story would get much of an airing.

As the ABC is hamstrung in reporting on itself, only a handful of largely online peripheral publications have mentioned it in the context of the election.

Even the ABC’s own election policy summaries omitted public broadcasting as policy worth reporting on.

READ THE ABC’S ELECTION POLICIES SUMMARY

The Conversation (one of the few media organisations to recognise the ABC as an election issue) recently published an article entitled: “No-one is talking about ABC funding in this election campaign. Here’s why they should be.”

In it, the four academic authors wrote:

The government’s strategy of anaesthetising the ABC’s funding as an election issue appears to be working because few in the media are talking about it. But they should be.

The ABC is too important a national cultural institution for voters to be denied a clear picture of how it is being treated by the government, and by the Labor opposition. For its part, the opposition has promised to move funding agreements beyond the electoral cycle, to five years, and to reverse the indexation decisions of 2019. As we have noted, though, this will not restore the funding lost over the past nine years. Both major parties should commit to restoring ABC funding.

READ THE FULL ARTICLE