Contributed by members of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA)
Yesterday afternoon (Sunday 15 July), two thousand people came to a public meeting organised by the Friends of the ABC at Melbourne Town Hall. They came to voice their opposition to the defunding of the public broadcaster and the threat of its privatisation.
The level of passion that compelled so many to take part, is best summed up in a series of polls over the last few years, which show the public broadcaster is trusted more than any other institution in Australia. The ABC is trusted far more than any other media (80 percent), and its services to the community are valued (80 percent again).
The meeting was chaired by Professor Peter Greste, whose freedom from Egyptian detention for reporting on events there, was won through an international campaign. A range of celebrities spoke to the audience, in person, or through video or written message. The Greens and Labor expressed support and objectives of the Friends of the ABC.
While many do have their criticisms of the ABC, few would deny that it at least does provide some capacity for other points of view, plays a keys role in the promotion of Australian culture and the training of talent, and its role in providing communications and information in times of great need.
These are precisely the reasons why there are those who have taken on the mission to get rid of it. And the defenders understand this clearly. This was shown at the Town Hall, where special attention was given to the Institute for Public Affairs (API), which has been at the head of the drive against the ABC, to Rupert Murdoch, who seeks to complete his hold over Australian media.
A relentless war is being waged on the back of arguing that government should not be involved in media and that public funding gets in the way of market competition. Neither argument hold water. The control of the government on what the ABC broadcasts is limited. Otherwise governments would have silenced it long ago. Although there ids control over the budget, there is considerable difficulty getting over the problem that it is a statutory body with a separate board and management. Even if some control is conceded, it remains that that Australia suffers one of the most heavily monopolised private media sector in the world. This is far from being a competitive market.
Another fallacy is, that privately owned media is much more likely to be balanced and objective. The truth is that the larger part of it, under the control of Murdoch’s News Corp, is not really media in the usual sense of the term, but a political mouthpiece, with a specific interpretation of the world, and is not balanced and objective.
These facts were raised repeatedly at the meeting.
The most important matter raised, was that ensuring greater diversity of opinion is essential for the safeguarding and extension of democratic rights, and that it is precisely the ideologues of organisations like the IPA, Murdoch, the political leaders they influence, and their association with the big end of town that seek to diminish these rights.
Closely associated with democratic rights, is the matter of democratisation of the media. According to the enemies of the ABC, this about an inquiry into the ABC. What there should be, is an inquiry into the private media monopolies, to investigate their political connections, donations to political parties, manipulation of political processes, pressure from the owners on journalists to comply with the owners’ view of the world, and their role in the censorship and distortion of information.
The aim should be to outlaw these activities and open the private media to the voices of the community, by means that provide for the broadest possible degree of participation.
The following resolution was carried unanimously at the meeting.
The ABC Friends Resolution
This meeting of Friends and supporters of the ABC demand the following.
- A clear commitment from all political parties and individual politicians that the ABC will not be sold off or privatised.
- That additional funding will be provided to allow the ABC to meet its Charter requirements to service the needs of all Australians.
- That the independence of the ABC Board and Management, as set down by the ABC Act of 1983, be adhered to.
- That the ABC resumes its important role as Australia’s voice into Asia and the Pacific, with sufficient funding to ensure in-depth reporting into the region, as well as coverage back to Australians, of international news events.
- That our ABC aims to set “the gold standard for quality, ethical, specialist and diverse broadcasting internationally, so as to inform, entertain and stimulate our robust Australian democratic way of life.”