• Hannah Phillips

The Case for Privatising the ABC

Michelle Guthrie made a mistake when she tried to defend the ABC on economic grounds.

In a speech to the Melbourne Press Club she asserted that it had been established, in a not yet released report by Deloitte’s, that the ABC provided social and economic benefits equal to what it cost, about $1 billion a year.

This is a very facile piece of analysis: if what you are arguing for is the value of the ABC’s assets to the economy as a whole then you have to consider that value when those assets are deployed in another way.

For example, if the spectrum utilised by the ABC was instead used for communications it could have substantial impact on productivity which would result in benefits many times greater than the ABC currently generates.

The motion at the Liberal Council meeting that called for the privatisation of the ABC was moved by the President of the NSW Young Liberals, Harry Stutchbury, who knows a thing or two about the media.

His father, Michael Stutchbury, is the editor-in-chief of ‘The Australian Financial Review’ and is a regular on ABC’s ‘Insiders’ programme.

His stepmother, Ticky Fullerton, is the host of the business programme on ‘Sky News’ and before that hosted the business programme on the ABC.

Harry Stutchbury justified the motion in an article published in the ‘Fairfax Media’ on Monday.

He argued that the service provided by the ABC was redundant in this age of technology driven media.

“The technological advancements of the past few decades have made the barriers to producing and distributing media content lower than ever before. Online publishing services are essentially free and TV and radio production costs have plummeted, making it possible for amateurs to produce television quality content at reasonable prices,” he wrote.

“This has resulted in a staggering increase in the variety of news media available to consumers. YouTube frequenters will know that there are high-quality news and panel shows that focus on almost any topic imaginable, no matter how niche.

“The truth is that the ABC was designed for a bygone era, founded in the context of an underdeveloped media market, before TV, before radio matured and before the internet.”

In these circumstances the public might prefer that the spectrum that is occupied by the ABC be used for the transmission of the wide range of material currently available on the web and for the other assets of the ABC to be used by the private sector.

However this is all academic because the government has no intention of privatising the ABC even if it continues to use that valuable spectrum for reruns of Midsomer Murders and other surplus second hand British drama.

John McDonnell

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