Quentin Dempster discusses potential risks of the ABC entering into precedent-setting commercial relationships with online providers. Will it, he asks, make it easier for any hostile future federal government to demand more commerciality, not less, and soften up the ABC for partial or whole privatisation?
ABC Should not take ad dollars from Google or Facebook
By Quentin Dempster/ 6 March 2021
The ABC is now a leader in the Australian online news industry, but there is an obvious risk of compromise to the ABC Charter from this precedent-setting commercial relationship.
Defunded by the Federal Government from the 2014 Budget, with the consequential destructive loss of original Australian programs and experienced program makers, plus the imposition of a vicious “indexation pause” from the 2018 Budget, the ABC has been significantly weakened in the range of quality content it can offer audiences. While many will be grateful for any respite from Google revenue, ABC Alumni, representing former ABC production staff and program makers, believes that this source of the revenue, ad spend, carries unacceptable risk.
The ABC has indicated its intention to apply any revenue earned from Google to regional services. The current Communications Minister, Paul Fletcher, has indicated the Federal Government would not withdraw any Google revenue from the ABC.
Noted. But the precedent set by the ABC entering into a contract to share Google’s ad revenue will set the ABC on a commercial path and make it easier for any hostile future federal government to demand more commerciality, not less. ABC commercial deals for revenue in the evolving digital economy will only soften up the ABC for privatisation, an objective pushed by those fundamentally hostile to a public broadcaster or “cybercaster”.
The ABC has been placed in these compromises before. The 2000 Telstra content deal negotiated by then Managing Director Brian Johns would have given the ABC a substantial commercial revenue stream (then A$67m p.a.). Fortunately, it was rejected by the ABC Board as giving Telstra too much leverage over ABC content.
In 1995, an ABC subsidiary company AIM Pay TV entered into a commercial partnership with Fairfax Media and Cox Communications US to establish a pay TV news service. The ABC was forced to abandon this venture when its potential domestic cable carriers (Foxtel and Optus) withdrew.
ABC Alumni believes the ABC’s future viability must come from adequate untied funding from Australia’s consolidated revenue as a public good, with no commercial agendas. It is important that our private sector media companies prosper in the digital economy and it is hoped that the revenue sharing code delivers recurrent funding to complement the ABC’s original content creation.
Australia’s public broadcasting/cybercasting system, through both the ABC and SBS, each with legislated obligations to provide comprehensive services and original Australian-made content, is a major contributor to media diversity in this country and should not be put at any risk in the current disruptive media industry environment.