The Guardian February 2, 2000


Govt presses for commercialisation and political control of ABC

The Federal Government has taken another step towards its political goal 
of reducing the independence of the ABC. It was revealed last month, 
through a leaked Government letter to the ABC, that the Government was 
seeking a binding "agreement" with the national broadcaster that would 
force it to tie programming decisions to budgets and profits.

How well the ABC sticks to the "agreement" would be subject to annual 
review by the Government. In addition, specific programs, such as current 
affairs, would be given regular scrutiny by "independent experts"  a move 
designed to keep a firm grip on editorial content.

In the letter, Communications Minister Richard Alston explained that the 
agreement would ensure tighter control by the ABC Board of budget 
allocations and would include an assessment of likely ratings for programs 
being allocated expenditure.

The letter stressed the need for the ABC to raise revenue for itself, 
especially through its commercial arm, ABC Enterprises.

The Minister also urged the ABC to make greater use of contracting out for 
the production of programs and other material.

These proposals would take the ABC further down the corporate path and 
result in greater political control over the national public broadcaster, 
in particular keeping in check any anti-Government criticism.

The Government wants to change the way the ABC operates and change its 
perception of itself from being "politically independent" to being "a 
competitive business".

The Government has defended its emphasis on revenue raising as necessary to 
fund the ABC's transition to digitalisation.

However, the truth is that the Government deliberately did not fund the ABC 
going digital so as to force the ABC to self-impose further cuts to its own 
budget. This followed the Government's cuts to ABC funding of around $70 
million.

Last year the ABC embarked on "rationalisation" of its assets and started 
selling off a number of its properties in Brisbane, Sydney, Canberra and 
Perth.

The Government's plan is to cripple the ABC with funding problems and 
undermine its potential political strength as an independent public 
broadcaster  all a prelude to complete privatisation.

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