Matthew Ricketson – The conspiracy of silence around the ABC and its “media proprietor” – the federal government.
There is an inherent, unavoidable tension built into the relationship between the ABC and the body that funds it – the federal government. The ABC is required by act of parliament to provide a comprehensive, independent news service. Any such service will need to report on the government of the day and inevitably at least some of that reporting and analysis will be critical. In a very real sense the government of the day is the ABC’s “media proprietor” but however much governments and prime ministers might like to behave like media moguls, they can’t.
So ensues a complicated, gnarled, subterranean relationship where both sides harbour resentments but nobody speaks very openly about it. An added twist is that once you examine the history of the relationship between various governments and the ABC since it became a corporation in 1983 it becomes crystal clear that one major party – the Liberal/National Party coalition – has had long periods of hostility toward the ABC while the other – Labor – has had periods of hostility but rarely as intense as the coalition and often the relationship of the ABC with Labor governments has been harmonious and productive. The problem is, no one party acknowledges this reality. Not the coalition parties who are intently plotting to weaken the ABC. Not Labor which does not want to be seen to be unduly favouring the ABC. And certainly not the ABC which needs to be seen to be apolitical, especially in election years. Nor does the media bother to point this out, partly because sections of the media are hostile to the ABC (think News Corp Australia) and partly because other sections don’t seem to want to probe these questions too deeply.
These issues arose during the researching and writing of a book published last month entitled Who Needs the ABC? Why taking it for granted is no longer an option that Matthew Ricketson co-authored with Patrick Mullins.
Professor Matthew Ricketson is Professor of Communication at Deakin University and author, with Patrick Mullins, of Who needs the ABC. Why taking it for granted is no longer an option (Scribe) and of Telling True Stories (Allen & Unwin).
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