Australia’s national broadcaster, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), faces a serious crisis in the wake of the federal government announcing that the media outlet will face further funding cuts.
A potential $43 million cut to dedicated news will be combined with a funding freeze that will slash $84 million over three years. This comes on the back of years of other attacks designed to undermine the broadcaster. Almost a thousand jobs have been lost from the ABC in the last four years.
Adding fuel to the fire, the Liberal Party Federal Council recently voted on a motion to privatise the ABC. While the motion was carried, Federal Treasurer Scott Morrison scrambled to declare that a motion from the federal council was not binding on the Parliamentary party. He declared that the government has no current plans to privatise the ABC.
This is most likely true in the short term. An election campaign fought around the issue of privatisation would be very difficult for Turnbull’s weak government. Public support for the broadcaster is simply too high. Polling shows the vast majority of people support continued public funding of the ABC, with many calling for funding to be increased.
In addition, people have no confidence that privatisation leads to better outcomes given the debacle surrounding electricity supply and skyrocketing energy costs.
Labor has predictably tried their best to make ground on the issue, moving a motion to bind the parliament into never privatising the ABC, as well as ordering the reversal of the government’s funding cuts. The motion was sunk by the Coalition, who voted against it.
The Labor opposition will likely run with the potential threat of the Liberals privatising the ABC during the forthcoming election campaign.
While Labor might score some points over the issue it would be naïve to assume that a Labor election victory would guarantee that the ABC stays well-funded and in public hands. While Labor’s 2009-10 budget saw a modest increase to the ABC’s funding, Labor has not always been so generous.
Last year’s ABC Annual Report showed that the biggest cuts made to the ABC have actually been carried out by Labor. In the period under the Hawke-Keating Labor government (1985-96), funding fell in real terms by an enormous 25%.
Rather than relying on Labor, ABC staff and supporters of the public broadcaster should take the initiative to stop the cuts themselves. Strike action coupled with public protests would put massive pressure on the government to reverse the cuts.
Strike action has been taken by ABC staff before. The 1970s saw ABC staff strike repeatedly for better wages and conditions, permanency, and for women’s rights at work. The most successful of these strikes took programs off air, with one stop-work even blacking out television and radio programs across New South Wales.
Industrial action not only has the potential to force the government to reverse its cuts, but it would strengthen the hand of those campaigning against any future sell off. Socialists would support a campaign of industrial action as well as any public protests called along these lines. But we would also argue for a more long-term solution to the issues facing the media sector.
Far from just retaining the ABC in public hands, socialists call for all of the mainstream media outlets to be taken out of the hands of self-serving media moguls and brought into public ownership.
Instead of being run for profit as advertising agencies for capitalist interests who appoint right-leaning editors, a publicly owned media sector could be run democratically, with editorial access being granted to various groups based on the support they have in the broader population.
We should link opposition to the attacks on the ABC with a fight for an expanded public media sector.
-No cuts to the ABC
-Fully fund our public broadcasters
-Oppose the privatisation of the ABC & SBS
-Bring the mainstream media outlets into public hands
-Run the sector democratically in the interests of the majority
By Corey Snoek