We swam like rats on fire… The hypocrisy of Australian commercial media

Chris Kenny doesn’t like the ABC.

Sorry.  I should have warned you that I was about to reveal that world-shattering news.  No doubt you dropped your afternoon coffee in shock.  ‘How could it be so, Mark?’  I can hear you question from the future.  ‘Since when does the commercial media, particularly The Australian, hate the public broadcaster?’

Alas, ’tis true, ’tis true ’tis pity, and pity ’tis ’tis true.

Amid the bluster and bizarre faux-reasoning, runs a theme that taxes are being wasted on indulging the left.

In their first show, in 2004, hosts Michael Duffy and Paul Comrie-Thomson dared to ask whether, by feeding off the taxes of all and pitching primarily to a progressive few, the ABC was a form of middle-class welfare. Duffy, provocatively asked: “Should our desire to watch Britain’s naked and biting chefs without commercial breaks be subsidised? Or is this unfair on all the workers who have to put up with ad breaks on Channel 9? Is it time to talk about privatising the ABC?” [Kenny, C. ‘Whose ABC?’, The Australian]

Though quoting others, Kenny clearly agrees that it’s middle class welfare (particularly The Drum, though he doesn’t let slip that he also writes for it).

What he doesn’t reveal is that newspaper companies stay afloat by being compensated by Australian taxpayers, mostly through ridiculous spending by the government on job advertisements.  It has been noted, time and time again, that the government’s use of money in this way is wasteful, but it would cripple the industry if they withdrew the funds.

He also fails to reveal that news outlets waste thousands — if not millions — of dollars on frivolous Freedom of Information requests.  The Australian, like other newspapers, have ‘FoI Editors’ whose job it is to lodge dozens upon dozens of FoI claims to government departments in the hope of a scoop.  Though a nominal cost is placed on FoI applications, taxpayers bear the brunt of the costs.

‘In the hope of a scoop’ is the important part there.  Last week, News Ltd. got upset because Senator Conroy started releasing answers to their questions as media releases (thus ‘undermining’ the journalists’ exclusive scoops).  Their questions to government and constant FoI trawling is not in your interest: it’s in theirs.

And don’t they cry when governments try to circumvent them in order to provide us with information?

But let’s get to the meat of his complaint: ABC isn’t needed because there’s no media market-failure in Australia.

I just went through the TV guide for all free-to-air commercial stations, 6pm-10pm.  Apart from reality TV shows, where’s the Australian content?  It’s easier to come across repeats of ’60s American sitcoms on commercial television than it is to come across shows scripted, produced, and performed by Australians.  Commercial stations regularly complain about regulations which mandate Australian content: it’s more expensive (and therefore less profitable) than running U.S. shows.

Australia needs the ABC and SBS to run content which market forces deem unworthy.  Frankly, I don’t think that they go far enough — I hope that, now digital transmission has increased the number of channels, we’ll get a channel for Indigenous content.  If it weren’t for the ABC and SBS, Australian television would be almost entirely overrun by American issues and viewpoints.

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