Campaign begins to keep ABC public

GetUp! organised a protest against cuts to ABC funding in 2013. Photo GetUp!

ABC Friends National has called for nation-wide rallies in July to protest the continual funding cuts to the ABC, the ongoing conservative attacks on the independence of the ABC and the recent Liberal Party Federal Council motion supporting privatisation of the national public media organisation.

The Liberal Party’s peak body voted by a margin of more than 2:1 on June 16 for "the full privatisation of the ABC, except for services into regional areas that are not commercially viable".

Despite denials by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and other senior federal ministers that the government has any plans to sell off the ABC, community outrage has been growing over the Liberal Party motion, which was initiated by the right-wing faction-dominated Young Liberals.

ABC Friends National called on Liberal Party voters to reject any sell-off of the ABC as being both anti-Australian and anti-democratic.

ABC Friends National president Margaret Reynolds said: "Australian public broadcasting has an 80-year history and is supported by more than 80% of the community. It is not a plaything of the extremists who have dismissed public opinion in pursuit of their preoccupation with private profits.

"ABC Friends National has for some time been warning of threats to the ABC, and now the proof is there in the resolution of the Liberal Party's governing body this weekend."

ABC Friends National spokesperson Ranald Macdonald wrote on June 18: "It is interesting that after 125 pages in their IPA [right-wing think tank Institute of Public Affairs] sponsored book Against Public Broadcasting (just released) promoting selling off the ABC, the authors come to their conclusion that 'the single biggest impediment to privatising the ABC is public opinion’."

ABC Friends National vice-president Peter Monie said he was shocked no party members — including not one federal minister — spoke against the privatisation motion at the Federal Liberal Council meeting.

The federal government's 2018 budget includes a freeze on the ABC's annual funding indexation for three years from July next year, cutting a further $84 million from its income. The ABC has suffered $254 million in funding cuts since 2017, which has resulted in the loss of more than 1000 jobs.

Monie said the Australian public is already angered by the cuts and the motion could seriously hurt Liberals at the next federal election. "We're upset this is just further staging in what seems to be an unrelenting attack on the ABC," he added.

On June 19, ABC managing director Michelle Guthrie strongly criticised the push to privatise the ABC, declaring to the Melbourne Press Club that the wider public views the ABC as a "priceless asset" that should not be sold, no matter how much a commercial buyer might be prepared to pay.

"[Australians] regard the ABC as one of the great national institutions [and] deeply resent it being used as a punching bag by narrow political, commercial or ideological interests," Guthrie said.

"Inherent in the drive against the independent public broadcaster is a belief that it can be pushed and prodded into different shapes to suit the prevailing climate. It can't. Nor should it be."

The rationale for privatisation "completely ignores the public value of the ABC, both in direct dollar terms but also as far as the wider public good remit," Guthrie said. She cited a forthcoming report showing that the ABC contributed $1 billion to the national economy last year — about a third of which fed into the broader media landscape.

[The rallies to Save the ABC will start with a Sydney protest on July 8, followed by Brisbane on July 13 and Melbourne on July 15. For more information, visit the ABC Friends Facebook page, which includes details of a crowdfunding appeal to support the campaign.]

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