Levelling The Media Playing field

Keeping up with the news is a non-stop part of being a politician. It’s important to know what is going on and how it is being reported. It’s not unusual for me to flick through the news websites multiple times throughout the day whilst also reading newspapers and watching television news bulletins.

While some ‘break’ exclusive stories, many of them report on the same political events but the difference in the way particular stories are treated speaks volumes about the political leanings of the media outlet.

For example, the Prime Minister’s overseas travels have been either a diplomatic success or the lonely travails of “Nigel no-friends”. Defending our national interest by abolishing the carbon tax is reported as patriotic or upsetting Barack Obama. There are many, many more instances where the story is in the eye of the beholder; or editor as the case may be.

We have seen similar things with the examination of the AWU slush fund affair that has dogged former PM Julia Gillard. Journalists have lost their jobs for reporting on it, some have been warned off reporting on it and some outlets just dismissed it as scuttlebutt. Despite being dismissed as such, this matter is now being probed as part of the Royal Commission into union corruption.

Now some readers may consider these perceived political leanings in the commercial media as cause for complaint. I don’t. Commercial operators can do pretty much as they please within the confines of the law. If people don’t like what they produce then they’ll stop buying it.

However, it is a different story with our ABC. They have no commercial pressures because they receive around $1 billion annually from the Australian taxpayer. Actually, given the current fiscal position it might be more accurate to say we are borrowing $1 billion every year to fund the ABC.

That money sustains multiple television stations, radio stations and an online presence that, when combined, gives the ABC the greatest reach and breadth of any news organisation in the country; a presence that exceeds what is permitted under law for any other media outlet in Australia.

The ABC has more than 50 employees earning in excess of $270k per year and five who earn in excess of $450k per annum (more than a Cabinet Minister). Managing Director Mark Scott has a salary package in excess of $750k which is more than the Prime Minister. Perhaps all these high salaries are justifiable; perhaps they are not.

However, we are now in a period of great financial instability for the commercial media outlets. Newspapers are becoming less profitable or losing money. The free to air commercial networks are tightening their belts and yet the ABC continues to expand into new areas at taxpayers’ expense.

Which takes me back to the diversity of views within the media landscape. If we truly value a competitive media that can present news as they see fit, then we need to ensure they can stay in the game. That means they need to be profitable to survive as no private organisation can sustain losing money forever.

For commercial outlets to make money, we need to make sure they are competing on a reasonable playing field, and that means the taxpayer funded monolith known as the ABC needs to be wound back.

Please don’t get me wrong; I think the ABC is a valuable and important resource for all Australians but I do question why it needs so many television and radio stations. I wonder why it needs to have such an extensive online presence and would prefer to see it compete in that space on commercial terms.

There is currently a review into the ABC and its funding arrangements. In the interest of a sustainable diversity of media outlets in Australia I sincerely hope that review will address some of my concerns, which are also shared by many Australians.

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