It is glaringly obvious the ABC enjoys a competitive advantage over commercial media. It is gifted a billion dollars a year of your money and doesn’t need to bother about small matters like raising enough revenue to fund its business or deliver a profit to shareholders.
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But, as Mark Day writes in The Australian, in the world of bureaucratic gobbledygook, this does not mean it has an unfair advantage.
No, it meets the government’s definition of “competitive neutrality”, although how it does this is a bit foggy.
The government’s competitive neutrality inquiry into the national broadcasters — the ABC and SBS — handed down its report yesterday.
A panel found the broadcasters used their “best endeavours” to comply with the principles of competitive neutrality.
In all, the report is much ado about not very much. There should be no surprise in this because it was established as a sop to the “miserable ghosts” of the Senate who were hellbent on taking political advantage when the Coalition government changed media ownership laws last year.
The inquiry rose out of the contention put by a wide cross-section of the media industry that the ABC was taking advantage with its rapid expansion into digital media.
Free-to-air broadcasters and Stan argued that SBS was acting outside its charter with its free streaming services. News Corp Australia (publisher of The Australian) and Fairfax Media (now Nine) claimed the ABC was undermining the commercial base of news media.
Since digital services were added to the ABC charter a decade ago, ABC has taken the view that if it’s in the digital business, it has to be in everything. Therefore, as well as national TV and radio networks, we now have ABC digital sites aimed at kids, parents, health and wellbeing, rural, science, technology and games, fact checking and life in general. As well as podcasts, catch-up TV and 24-hour news.
That may not be deemed unreasonable because the same forces apply to commercial operators who have seen their ability to command mass audiences disrupted, therefore spurring their need to serve myriad niche audiences.
The big difference is that the ABC doesn’t have to justify itself. It has no need to raise revenue. It has no concern for the financial wellbeing of operators — solo or part of a big company — trying to build audiences in the same fields.
Meanwhile, also in The Australian, Richard Ferguson reports, the ABC has fielded more than 2,600 complaints about bias in its news services and current affairs programs in the past year — but its $1.3 million internal complaints unit only upheld one of them.
The revelations come after flagship ABC radio show RN Breakfast was accused of bias for interviewing Greens senators 24 times over the past year, compared with 16 interviews with crossbench senators and only 11 interviews with Labor senators.
Conservative Party leader Cory Bernardi has told Paul Murray Live on Sky News, the lack of action on accusations of bias by the ABC proved there was a need for reform.
To read Mark Day's full article, click here.
To read Richard Ferguson's full article, click here.
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