FABC welcomes the government announcement of a new ABC children’s channel, but we are concerned to see what level of funding will be provided in the forthcoming Budget. We need to know there will be sufficient funds for the ABC to provide the children’s channel, AND to ensure the ABC is able to remain relevant as technology changes, AND to rebuild other important areas, like Radio National, Radio Australia, current affairs and drama that have been run down over many years.
Re: ABC Critical to Australia's Overseas Interests / Mark Scott, Sydney Morning Herald Opinion 20.4.09
The ABC's international broadcasting services provide an important service and a sound basis for building positive relations with people overseas. They make a valuable contribution to foreign policy and trade interests.
As an independent and respected broadcaster in the Asia Pacific region, Radio Australia, in particular, is one of the most significant voices for Australian interests and for relations with our regional neighbours.
The importance of radio was demonstrated in Victoria's recent bushfires when other forms of delivery failed. The risk of relying on transmission outside our government's control to deliver our broadcast services has been highlighted by the Fijian military government's switch-off of RA transmitters on its soil.
Radio Australia lost the ready access it had to Australia's most powerful shortwave transmission system when it was sold by the Howard government. RA's budget has not been restored since the former government's funding cuts to the ABC resulted in a reduction in RA's range of languages and hours of multi-lingual broadcasting. Powerful commercial interests are pressuring the Rudd Government to outsource Australia Network television, presently provided by the ABC with funding from the Department of Foreign Affairs and supplemented by advertising.
The ABC's international broadcasting services are an invaluable strategic asset and they must remain in public hands. The ABC must be fully funded to provide these services - to ensure their independence from both government and commercial influence and their credibility with our overseas neighbours.
Gael Barrett Vice-President Friends of the ABC (Vic)
Programming decisions are not matters for the ABC Board, with the exception of the prestigious Boyer Lecture series broadcast on Radio National. Each year the Board invites a prominent Australian or group of Australians to present six radio lectures expressing their thoughts on major social, cultural, scientific or political issues.
So, is that how Rupert got a guernsey?!
AGAINST THE CURRENT
Thoughts of Murdoch on the ABC
by Simon Cooper (Arena Magazine No. 99, February-March 2009)
Why was Rupert Murdoch chosen to give the 2008 ABC Boyer Lectures? After all, Murdoch’s Media Empire allows ample opportunity for him to air his views. Even the most wide-eyed liberal would be hard pressed to argue that more Rupert leads to more diversity on the airwaves. One might have hoped that the ABC could find at least one other prominent Australian to ‘present their thoughts and ideas on major social, scientific or cultural issues’, the brief given in 1961 by Richard Boyer. Not only does Murdoch not require any more media space, he’s anathema to the principles of public broadcasting. A quick glance at Murdoch’s record as media baron makes it clear that for him the media is just another commodity on the market — there’s nothing special about it. Was it out of politeness Murdoch chose not to discuss the implications of his own market fundamentalism for the ABC? Perhaps there was no need, for the ABC is doing a good job in reinventing itself as a corporate entity in ways that Murdoch might approve. Indeed the collapse of the theoretical differences between public and commercial broadcasting, represented by the decision to have Murdoch deliver the lectures, is complemented by a similar collapse at the organisational level, with the Murdoch-owned publishing house HarperCollins going into partnership with ABC books. That this might impact upon the already precarious ‘independence’ of the broadcaster seems like an understatement.
Murdoch’s lectures were fairly unremarkable. He outlined his vision for what he calls ‘the golden age of opportunity’. He focused on a number of areas that for him represent the rapidly changing world we now inhabit, including newspapers, education, technology and the rise of a global middle class. The challenge for Australia is to embrace change and ‘not rest on our past achievements.’ Complacency is the enemy — we must according to Murdoch ‘avoid institutional idleness ... the bludger should not be our national icon’. By contrast, Murdoch invokes a mythologised past — the stoicism and reserve of the pioneers and the laconic heroism of Australian soldiers. These values need to be reinvoked if Australia is to reap the benefits of the future.
The dichotomy between bludgers and heroes has become standard tabloid fodder, yet Murdoch never seemed to get much further. He name-checked a few obvious social changes (growing middle class, rise of Asia) and listed a few concerns (technology, declining education) but he didn’t really develop any of these areas. He merely advocated the market as a solution, as opposed to government interference and regulation. Hence, schools would do better with corporate sponsorship because ‘[c]orporate leaders know the skills that people need to get ahead’. A similar instrumentalism pervaded his discussion of newspapers and technology. The lectures fell short of the kind of reflective depth shown by previous Boyer lecturers — on both sides of the political divide.
It’s hard to share Murdoch’s enthusiasm for a ‘golden’ future given the ruthlessness that accompanies his vision. Often his lectures sounded like a mildly elevated version of the speech a new CEO gives to employees shortly before dishing out redundancies — ‘embrace change — or else’. While accepting that not everything will be rosy, Murdoch glossed over the difficulties. In the style familiar to readers of The Australian or the Herald Sun, Murdoch dismisses contrary viewpoints by diminishing those who hold them. Thus, those worried about the future of newspapers are soaking in ‘self-pity’ which is ‘never pretty’. Anyone concerned about technology is a ‘whinger’. Thanks to global markets we are getting richer. The only ones who don’t like it are the ‘elites’, the trademark term used by News Ltd writers for anyone who disagrees with them.
No wonder Murdoch privileges the pioneer and the soldier — they don’t say much. For all the talk of freedom and diversity in the Boyer Lectures, Murdoch’s record on this score is shaky. Many would argue that Murdoch has waged a war on the public sphere. Rather than foster debate, the Murdoch media evinces a pathological dislike of discussion. Witness the shouting down of political opponents on Fox, or the raft of conservative columnists in The Australian who vilify rather than debate those who do think differently. It’s hard to take Murdoch seriously on freedom when we remember how all 247 of his newspapers ‘independently’ supported the Iraq invasion, how Murdoch intervened to pull Chris Patten’s book on Hong Kong so as to please his Chinese clients, or how Murdoch dropped the BBC from Chinese satellite coverage and instead carried the Chinese government channel. No wonder, when discussing the golden future, Murdoch relied on the ‘Asian tigers’ whose authoritarian capitalism functions without any ‘elites’ getting in the way.
Behind all this lies the sheer vacuity of Murdoch’s conception of the media. Despite the discussion of newspapers, new media and technology, Murdoch revealed no understanding of the cultural and social role of the media. It’s simply another commodity; the future simply a market waiting to be harnessed. The idea that media might shape our sense of who we are, and continues to mould our sense of national identity, is missing from Murdoch’s vision — as is any reflection on the public sphere. There is no space to ask what the effects on our society are when we alter our relation to the media, or whether commercial media is qualitatively different from other kinds of media. Such questions of course underpin the arguments for public and independent media. No wonder they were missing from Murdoch’s vision of providers and consumers.
In this ‘golden age’ we will inhabit a cultural economy that contains no culture, a democracy that contains no discussion. Murdoch’s Boyer Lectures celebrate a world of ceaseless connection but it’s hard to get excited about his examples — the stock trader with access to real-time prices around the world (a spectacular, if largely unacknowledged, piece of bad timing), the Korean teenager on his Myspace page downloading music, the Australian expat checking on the footy score. Is this the best that Murdoch can do — something that sounds like a Microsoft ad from a decade ago? Anyone wishing to confirm the banality of culture in the techno-marketplace need go no further than cataloguing Murdoch’s moments of enthusiasm expressed in the 2008 Boyers.
So what inspired the ABC to choose Murdoch? He’s a canny businessman but no great thinker. What he does think we already know merely through exposure to the large quantity of the media he controls. Moreover his entire worldview is opposed to the principles that underpin the ABC. Or used to. The ABC has begun to adopt practices not a million miles away from those of Murdoch. For instance, multiple delivery platforms but reduced content; added commercial value to content though the sale of books, magazines and DVD’s; constant repetition and recycling of content; and the creation of media celebrities associated with the broadcaster. The significance of such commercialising activities would be a fit subject for exploration on RN’s Media Report. But that’s been axed along with a number of other programs, as June Factor pointed out in issue 98 of Arena Magazine.
These shifts in the ABC have helped obscure its role as public broadcaster with a mission that diverges from commercial media. So perhaps it ought not to be a shock that Murdoch was chosen for the Boyers. And now that Murdoch’s company is in partnership with ABC books he can publish and profit from his own lectures. That’s just the beginning. No doubt we will see the ABC carry ads for Murdoch’s publishing house in the near future. In the meantime we look forward to the ABC carrying on with its fierce spirit of independence, and speculate on whether it’s more likely that the ABC will carry any substantial critique of Murdoch in the future, or that Janet Albrechsten and Andrew Bolt will be chosen to deliver future Boyer Lectures.
Simon Cooper is an Arena Publications editor and regular columnist in Arena Magazine in his Cooper’s Last column. He is senior lecturer in the school of communication and writing at Monash University.
Mark Scott Managing Director ABC GPO Box 9994 Sydney 2001
Re: Commemoration of John Cargher
Many members of Friends of the ABC and of the general community have contacted FABC to express their sadness and their appreciation of John Cargher.
There have been a number of suggestions made to mark the occasion of John's death. Among them a free concert (or concerts in different cities) at an ABC auditorium, perhaps broadcast on the ABC; the issue of a CD of some of his broadcasts; an annual musical event or award. It has also been suggested that a scholarship be created, by subscription, to train an aspiring singer.
John Cargher played a unique role on the ABC airwaves combining musical erudition with interesting anecdotes and beautiful music. He introduced many listeners to opera and musical styles that they would not otherwise have met and so was responsible for a great deal of musical education in this country.
It would be fitting for the ABC and others in opera to acknowledge John's contribution and to celebrate his life in music. Robyn Walton, John's widow, would like John's work for music and opera to be commemorated and has informed Friends of the ABC that she would welcome our involvement.
We are enthusiastic that there should be a memorial to one of the ABC's eminent and most popular broadcasters. It would be appreciated if the ABC would contact our campaign manager, Glenys Stradijot, directly on (03) 9525 5717 to inform her of the ABC's plans and to discuss how FABC can participate.