January 31, 2014

Horse 1607 - The ABC And Mr Abbott's Axe

Well I think that you'll have to take - we all have to take the rough with the smooth, and over the years I've copped a fair bit of criticism from News Limited papers as well as some support.
- Tony Abbott, speaking to AM. ABC Local Radio, 5th Aug 2013.

Oh how times have changed. Maybe once upon a time Tony might have taken the rough with the smooth but now that he's top dog, there's going to be no more smooth to be given.
To a man with a hammer, every problem looks like a nail and to Tony Abbott, a man who earnt two Blues for boxing while at Oxford, every problem looks like something that needs to be punched.
The target for Abbott's punches is that of the ABC; perhaps as a way of thanks to The Australian newspaper and News Corp who employed him as a journalist before becoming John Hewson's press secretary at the recommendation of John Howard.
Now that Mr Abbott has made it all the way to the office of the Prime Minister, he has
laid aside his pair of boxing gloves; he has found an axe instead.

The ABC’s Asia Network could face the axe in the May budget amid reports that the federal government is looking closely at the public broadcaster on concerns that it paints an overly negative view of Australia.
Federal cabinet has discussed the option of dropping the ABC’s contract to broadcast Australian news and entertainment in the region, with a government solicitor providing advice on the ramifications of stripping the ABC of its 10-year contract, the Australian newspaper reports.
Cabinet ministers believe the ABC’s coverage of Australia in the region is overly negative and fails to promote the nation as originally intended in the Australia Network’s charter by using the “soft diplomacy” of Australian news and cultural programs, the newspaper added.
- Australian Financial Review, 30th Jan 2014.

I so many things wrong with this report that it isn't funny.

The original report that the ABC’s Asia Network could be facing the axe, was first leaked to the Australian newspaper; and who being a News Corp Australia masthead, certainly wouldn't have a conflict of interest there, would they? As the Australian itself says:

After disclosures of "inappropriate" approaches from ABC executives to Labor cabinet ministers, political in-fighting within cabinet to give the ABC preference and a scathing Auditor-General's report into the flawed decision, the government was forced to pay more than $2m in damages to Sky News.
Ministers had expressed concern that the ABC could use the Australia Network funds for its domestic operations. Cabinet did not fight the claim from Sky News, which is one-third owned by BSkyB, which is 39 per cent owned by 21st Century Fox. Fox is the entertainment unit that last year was spun off from News Corporation, publisher of The Australian.
- The Australian, 30th Jan 2014

What really riles me is that News Corp, who lost the contract to run the Australia Network, has a dummy spit, vomits bile all over the front pages of every daily newspaper that it has in the country and then has the Prime Minister attack the ABC for them. Tony Abbott looks like very well trained lap dog, good boy - roll over.

It then takes the current cabinet minister, Malcolm Turnbull, to state the obvious:
"What's the alternative... the editor-in-chief (of the ABC) becomes the prime minister?
Politicians, whether prime ministers or communications ministers will often be unhappy with the ABC... but you can't tell them what to write."

Well I'm afraid that it seems that you can actually tell them what to right. You can hold the ABC to ransom by threatening to defund it if it misbehaves.

Better yet, if you have enough money like News Corp does, you actually can buy the mind of the Prime Minster and get him to write Dorothy Dixer puff pieces on the front page of every daily newspaper in the country for you, just like he did on January 10:

Tony Abbott often likes to play the bias card when it comes to the ABC but if pressed to appear on 7.30 and face proper questioning from Leigh Sales, would he do it? No. When asked to appear on QandA and face questioning from the public, would he do it? No. How about appearing on programs like Sky News's Australian Agenda, would he do that? Absolutely.

At the same time, he's decided to "get tough" by calling an enquiry into union corruption but completely ignores the fact that his mates from the Business Council of Australia and the Instiutute of Public Affairs are now being given cushy advisory jobs.

How about the fact that mysteriously the former chairman of Gunns, John Gay, will not be forced to pay back the $1 million that he made from insider trading? Is that corruption?
How about that Gina Rinehart's Hancock Prospecting was more than two years late in lodging end of year reports? Is that corruption?

I bet that corruption amongst employer groups and within chambers of commerce is just as rife as amongst the unions but will Mr Abbott call for an enquiry on that? There's as much chance of that as Frosty the Snowman being made captain of Sheol and Hades United.

If you want to speak about corruption, why not look into the people who walk through the offices of The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet? If the ABC is defunded and loses its $223 million Australia Network Asian broadcasting service, then who benefits most out of that? Would the space be taken up by Sky News? Would they be given federal funding to run it in place of the ABC?

Mister Turnbull's question of "What's the alternative, the editor-in-chief of the ABC becomes the prime minister?" would be better framed as "What's the alternative, a paid mouthpiece of News Corp becomes the prime minister?" because we're currently living that alternative; he IS the Prime Minister and he's got an axe.

Mister Turnbull though might yet be the saviour of the ABC. He has ordered a review of spending and wants a study into the efficiency of the ABC and SBS made.

Only a day after defending the ABC's independence amid criticism from the PM, Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull ordered a "study of the efficiency" of the $1.4 billion worth of annual expense for public broadcasters, the ABC and SBS.
- The Daily Telegraph, 31st Jan 2014

I note that under the Terms of reference for the study, one of the outcomes is to:
develop an 'ideal cost-base' for the national broadcasters and compare this with current cost base.

Actually such a study was done by KPMG back in 2006 under the Howard Government (who was also facing criticism) and Crikey had links to that:
After comparing the ABC to Australian commercial broadcasters and public broadcasters overseas, KPMG concluded “The ABC provides a high volume of outputs and quality relative to the level of funding it receives… the ABC appears to be a broadly efficient organisation.”
- Crikey, 21st Nov 2006

Actually if you compare the ABC's budget to that of say the BBC, DW or NHK, an 'ideal cost-base' under the terms of reference SHOULD be nearer $4.8bn and Crikey's conclusion that the ABC was efficient but underfunded is something of an understatement. The ABC is currently grossly underfunded.

When the then Minister for Communications, Helen Coonan, received the results of that report, she promptly introduced changes to the the cross-media and foreign ownership laws and more importantly  relaxed restrictions against cross-media ownership and control by a single company. Suffice to say that for her services to her friends at Publishing and Broadcasting Limited, after she "retired" from the Senate in 2011 (or rather was bought off), she found herself in a motor accident with a rainbow and was appointed as a non-executive director of James Packer's Crown Limited.

But I digress. Mr Abbott in cutting the budgets of the ABC (which will be the outcome of the report, we already know that it is), is merely doing a favour to his former employers at News Corp. They've been calling for the end of the ABC and SBS for years.
My only hope I suppose is that the electorate fires this government in 2016 before any real damage can be done. Otherwise the axe will be swung in a very different direction...

Here comes a Candle to light you to Bed.
Here comes a Chopper to Chop off your Head.
Chip chop chip chop - the Last Man's Dead.

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