By Corinne Glenn
The ABC has become the latest target of the coalition government's austerity drive. Mark Brook from Friends of the ABC (WA branch) says, "The Howard government claims that the current ABC is elitist; therefore public funding should be cut. However, surveys have found that this is a myth: 50% of radio listeners tune in to the ABC and 83% of television viewers watch the ABC."
Another myth the Coalition has used to justify its proposed funding cuts is that the ABC is bloated and could become more efficient without a change in programming through a funding cut. Brook argues, "The ABC through years of funding cuts from the previous Labour government is now operating on a modest budget. For example, the ABC manages to maintain spending for all its television and radio services $10 million below the spending of commercial station Channel 10, which only provides television broadcasting."
In order to continue broadcasting after the proposed funding cuts have been implemented, the ABC would have to decrease program spending even further, which would mean the axing of many locally made programs. It would also have to decrease regional services which is one area that the ABC is essential for, because broadcasting in regional areas is not of great commercial interest.
Or it would have to seek corporate sponsorship and advertising, a fate suffered by SBS under the Labor government. Brook is opposed to corporate sponsorship of the ABC. "Once a broadcaster must sell itself to corporations, it is unable to broadcast programs with an independent or impartial viewpoint. It must broadcast in the interests of the sponsors."
Prime Minister John Howard has also planned to review legislation restricting cross-media holdings. Vaarunika Dharmapala from the socialist youth organisation Resistance argues, "The increased monopolisation of commercial media combined with ABC funding cuts is a step backward. The review of legislation could mean that both print and television would serve the interests of one corporation. It is just another example of Howard serving commercial interests rather than those of the people. The attacks on the public broadcaster ares similar to those on unions, education, health and welfare.
"By taking to the streets to fight against cuts to education or welfare or the ABC, we are fighting against Howard's overall agenda of putting the needs of big business above those of the people."