Few issues are as divisive in Australian politics as the ABC. Ideologues on Right and Left are very clear what they think of it – the Left thinks it’s a national treasure that is doing a great job, while the Right thinks it’s an instrument of the political left to transform the Australian way of life, and therefore should be privatised.
Both are wrong. Privatisation of the ABC would be disastrous. It would mean even more inane reality TV shows and even more football in winter. We don’t need either of these. We need a much better ABC, with higher quality programming and more impartiality in its facilitation of public debate.
The calls to ‘Defund the ABC’ are unwise. So are calls to insulate the ABC from the job losses that are occurring across the country. The ABC needs major structural and cultural reform to bring its content and culture into line with its Charter. Only then can we seriously consider whether the ABC needs more or less public funding.
1. The Commonwealth Parliament should reconstitute the Australian Broadcasting Commission as a new entity with a revised Charter to represent diverse Australian voices and opinions, and to build national social and cultural cohesion.
2. A new board and management should be appointed, drawn from civil society, not from corporate sector guns for hire. The new board and management should be selected to comprise expertise in building social and cultural cohesion – technical competence in broadcasting and competence in governance can be accessed easily, the more important expertise needed in ABC governance and management is in building a consensual and inclusive approach to enabling the nation to speak for itself, about itself.
3. The Commission should offer a mix of free and subscription services, comprising existing and new services. Radio stations Classic and Triple J might become subscription services. Sporting broadcasts might become subscription services. New services might be introduced in areas subject to appalling recent neglect, such as Australian history and culture. A designated civil defence channel might be considered to serve natural disaster prevention and response, infectious diseases prevention and response, climate change mitigation and adaption, and national security preparedness.
4. A permanent Citizens Jury should be established, chosen annually by random selection by the Australian Electoral Commission, to adjudicate on bias and breaches of the Charter. Two strikes (two findings of bias or breaches of the Charter) would mean mandatory dismissal for management and staff.
5. Limits on tenure of staff and management (10 years) would be introduced to prevent the problem of staff capture of culture.