Free news costs plenty

ABC takes moral high ground — and $1 bil­lion from tax­pay­ers

Sunday Territorian - - OPINION - David Pen­berthy david.pen­berthy@news.com.au

I AM not sure if there is a hell or not. If there is, I am pretty sure it in­volves be­ing locked in a room for all eter­nity with all the light beer you can drink, Sa­man­tha Fox’s 1986 dance hit

Touch Me play­ing on a loop in the back­ground and, worst of all, the only peo­ple for com­pany the au­di­ence from the ABC pro­gram Q& A.

The Gon­ski ed­u­ca­tion model is deeply flawed.

David Hicks isn’t a ter­ror­ist, he’s a free­dom fighter who stood up to the mil­i­taryin­dus­trial com­plex.

I thought Ge­orge Bran­dis made some ex­cel­lent points.

Touch me, touch me, I want to feel your body. Another light beer, sir? One of the pleas­ant things about this coun­try is the high level of dis­en­gage­ment which most peo­ple have from the po­lit­i­cal process. As a gen­eral rule, na­tions which have a pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with pol­i­tics are dys­func­tional places which have been wrecked by pol­i­tics.

TheQ& Acrowd rep­re­sents that mi­nor­ity of Aus­tralians who are ide­o­log­i­cal ob­ses­sives, the sort of folks whose first in­stinct upon hear­ing that hun­dreds of homes are sur­rounded by bush­fires is not to shake their head in sym­pa­thy or make a dona­tion, but to take to so­cial me­dia ar­gu­ing about whether cli­mate change is real.

And rather than be­ing a fo­rum where peo­ple take an open mind and re­flect on new ideas, the show op­er­ates more as the purest form of vaude­ville, whereby the patho­log­i­cally left-wing and right-wing can un­think­ingly boo the peo­ple they in­stinc­tively hate and cheer the peo­ple they blindly sup­port.

It is the te­dious din­ner party from whence there is no es­cape. And if you want to see world’s- best- prac­tice geeks in full flight, jump on Twit­ter early Mon­day evening. Only one hour to #qanda! Yippee! I am­go­ing to smash that So­phie Mirabella. Kill me now. It is, of course, just my opin­ion that this show sucks both mas­sively and com­pre­hen­sively. Oth­ers re­gard it as a breath of fresh air, a ground- break­ing piece of tele­vi­sion. More power to their arms.

There are a few ex­cel­lent shows on the ABC. There are some for­get­table shows. There are also a few ex­cru- ciat­ing ones. The de­gree to which we are ex­cru­ci­ated will ob­vi­ously vary from viewer to viewer. You can take all this as a com­ment.

But the fun­da­men­tal dif­fer­ence be­tween com­mer­cial me­dia and pub­lic me­dia is that com­mer­cial me­dia is all about cus­tomer choice. You de­cide whether you want to pay for com­mer­cial me­dia by sub­scrib­ing or tun­ing in.

Whether you like it or not, you pay au­to­mat­i­cally for the ABC. The money is sim­ply re­moved from your salary ev­ery week. It’s an ex­cel­lent busi­ness model as it is de­void of rigour. And, as is al­most al­ways the case with pub­lic ex­pen­di­ture, it gets higher ev­ery year. T hose of us on the wrong side of 40 can still re­mem­ber those ads for the ABC that re­as­sured tax­pay­ers that the na­tional broad­caster cost each of us just 8¢ a day. Even al­low­ing for in­fla­tion, the cost of fund­ing Aunty is now well be­yond that.

It has now emerged that for the first time in our his­tory the ABC is get­ting more than $1 bil­lion from tax­pay­ers.

In the past four years gov­ern­ment fund­ing has risen by more than $165 mil­lion, or 20 per cent, to a record $ 1024 mil­lion. Whichever way you slice it, that is a whole lot of dough, and well be­yond the 8¢ of yes­ter­year.

And the in­ter­nal run­ning of the or­gan­i­sa­tion con­firms the be­lief that the eas­i­est type of money to spend is some­one else’s money.

In 2009 there were 138 ABC ex­ec­u­tive staff on salaries of more than $150,000.

Fast for­ward just four years to the 2012-2013 fi­nan­cial year and that num­ber had jumped to 231.

Not only had the num­ber al­most dou­bled, but the amount of money spent on highly-paid out­side con­sul­tants jumped to a whop­ping $27 mil­lion.

It doesn’t ex­actly scream fis­cal rec­ti­tude. The thing which irks me about the ABC is not the ques­tion of bias, but the unchecked ex­pen­di­ture of pub­lic money.

As some­one who quite de­lib­er­ately has only ever worked in com­mer­cial me­dia — and for news or­gan­i­sa­tions which now rightly charge online sub­scrip­tions to cover the vast cost of pro­duc­ing con­tent — it strikes me as hys­ter­i­cal that the ABC has con­vinced it­self that it’s a free news or­gan­i­sa­tion.

A good mate of mine at work re­cently drew the short straw and agreed to a se­ries of in­ter­views on the ABC where he valiantly tried to ex­plain our com­pany’s de­ci­sion to charge a small weekly amount for full ac­cess to online con­tent.

I was driv­ing home and caught the end of his in­ter­view, af­ter which the ra­dio host said: ‘‘We of course at the ABC will al­ways be free’’, be­fore throw­ing the lines open to peo­ple who prob­a­bly send ques­tions in to Q&A who were in pas­sion­ate agree­ment with one another.

Free? It’s free all right. It’s free if you ig­nore the bil­lion­plus dol­lars it bludges off the tax­payer, with an ex­ec­u­tive salary bill that has grown unchecked in record time.

Nice work if you can get it, as the song says, and in Aus­tralia it seems that you can get it all the time.

And whether you like the pro­grams or not, the na­tional broad­caster should at least stop pre­tend­ing that they don’t cost a cent to make, and thank us for un­der­writ­ing their en­tire ex­is­tence.

The usual crowd for the Tony Jones-hosted Q&A rep­re­sents that mi­nor­ity of Aus­tralians who are ide­o­log­i­cal ob­ses­sives

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