What should happen is that if Mark Scott wants the ABC to be a public broadcaster, let it be funded by the public by donations. It does not, this day and age, taxpayer money should not be paid to a company that ends up being a competitor to commercial companies that are doing it tough.
- Miranda Devine, Sky News, 25th June 2015¹
The real irony is that Miranda Devine is herself, an object lesson in why the ABC needs to exist and why its continued existence is so very important.
Let's for a minute enter the world of Miranda. This is a world which public broadcasting is paid for mostly by donations. Such a world almost exists and it has a name: The United States of America.
America likes to pride itself as a bastion of the triumph of capitalism but it should also be held up as an example of what happens when capitalism is allowed to rule unfettered and unhinged. America is a nation where more than 100 million people live in technical poverty, where at least 30 million people still have no access to healthcare in spite of Obamacare and where public broadcasting is often ineffectual and dolefully inadequate. That’s where unfettered and unhinged capitalism can take you. Actions have consequences.
Those consequences either mean that the public broadcasting in America by The Public Broadcasting Service continually cries poor and that regularly scheduled programming is often interrupted with spots that try to canvass for more donations. Despite this, PBS like the ABC, consistently rates as the most trusted source of news in the United States, which annoys six bells out of the rest of the broadcasting landscape.
One of the jobs of the media as part of the marketplace of ideas, should be to hold up those ideas through the mechanism of journalism (either through print, radio, television or the internet) to public scrutiny, so that those ideas may be evaluated and tested. Ideas form the bricks from which ideologies are built and it is in townships of ideologies that policies and political parties live. The enactment of policy by political parties in parliaments is what determines laws and it is laws which govern how society operates; often with some pretty fundamental implications.
What happens when public broadcasting is so anaemic that it is either ineffectual at transmitting ideas or holding ideas to account? The answer is that those people who have the means and can afford to shout loudest into the marketplace, win.
I suppose that you could argue that from an absolutely capitalist perspective, that this is in fact a perfectly efficient position to arrive at. Those ideas which didn't have the force of money behind them, must wither and die and it it is efficient for them to do so. What happens though if those ideas lead to negative social consequences? If slavery, exploitation, sexism, racism, poverty, hardship and violence arises as a result of the operation or inoperation of law, then is that the sort of society which we want to live in? (Actually given the front page of the Daily Telegraph yesterday, the answer to that question according to the Daily Telegraph might very well be 'yes'.)
If ideas be the stuff from which ideologies are built and where political parties live, then shouldn't they be held up to public scrutiny; especially if we're forced to live under the laws which they will eventually spawn?
In the United States of America, no such television program like Q and A exists; nor is it likely to ever exist. The commercial free to air networks are would never produce such a program because there would never be a profit in it; not while acres of cooking shows, talent shows, comedy programs and drama can fill up broadcast schedules and keep Rockefeller's Concerto for the Wall Street Piano playing, with its famous crescendo of 'Ka-Ching, Ka-Ching'.
If we turn spotlight to our own island nation, which of the commercial television networks would bother to host a program like Q and A? Better yet, apart from the odd grab on breakfast television, where would the people who go into politics to become our elected officials, to argue about the enactment of laws, go to give voice to those ideas? They will go to those places that can most afford to pay.
This is why Miranda Devine becomes an object lesson. I personally think that her idea of making the ABC live entirely on donations is repugnant and has all the appeal of what happens when you get a whiff of a three day dead cat, it stinks. Even the medium through which her statements were made perfectly illustrates why it is a bad idea. Sky News is a pay-TV channel; which means that it is only accessible to those who can afford to pay.
The United States Declaration of Independence says that in order to secure the rights of Life, Liberty and Happiness, that:
Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.
- United States Declaration of Independence, 4th Jul 1776.
Think about that phrase "the consent of the governed". How can you give your consent to those who want to govern you, unless you first hear what they have to say? How do you hear what they have to say, if you cannot afford to pay to do so? Should the rule of law of a nation be determined by those with the greatest capacity and means to pay? Why is it just and fair?
The comments which triggered this storm in the first place, are in the cold light of examination, perfectly legitimate concerns.
What would have happened if Zaky Mallah's case had been decided by the Minister himself and not the courts? If someone is being accused of something as serious as terrorism or fighting for a foreign power, they why shouldn’t they have the right to have their case heard through a court process?
Quite apart from the fact that we've publicly seen one media organisation yell as loudly as it could in the pursuit of attacking an eighty year old enemy in the name of sheer cussedness, we've had an idea drowned out and we’ve had one of the fundamental ideas of open democracy stamped upon until it bled.
How do you hold up ideas to the subject of scrutiny and have them heard if monied interests have the power and means to drown out all other voices? That’s the world that Miranda Devine is advocating. I don’t want to live in such a place.
¹This quote on Sky News was via ABC1's Media Watch. Sky News is tucked up behind a pay wall.: http://www.abc.net.au/mediawatch/transcripts/s4264050.htm