I am quite sure that industry veterans working for the ABC and SBS have become accustomed to their Federal Government telling them to tighten up their act, cut costs, and to not expect any funding increases in the near future. In other words, funding cuts in real terms, at a minimum. This sort of attitude from government can only work to the operational detriment of Australia’s public broadcasters, in a media environment where the Australian market is being flooded with often high-profile, low-quality programming from overseas. In recent years, we have the humble ABC to thank for critically acclaimed shows such as Seachange, The Hollowmen, and of course the various incarnations of the Chaser Team’s hijinks. The 7:30 Report, despite the occasional flat batting from Kerry O’Brien, remains the most important current affairs program on Australian television. SBS, of course, continues to screen the best documentaries available on free to air, and offers a global perspective on day-to-day news not offered by any other station.
It is thus extremely satisfying (and refreshing!) to read the reflections of Senator Stephen Conroy in this report from Matthew Ricketson in The Age today:
Senator Conroy said the federal cabinet would have “a very healthy debate” about the next round of funding for the public broadcasters. “I will be going in hard in the next budget debates, saying that the future is dramatically shifting,” he said. “The ABC and the SBS have a responsibility to step up to the plate, but to do that they will need new funds, and Kevin Rudd and the Labor Government understand the changing nature of the media.”
Mark Scott and his colleagues working for our public broadcasters must be shocked, having become conditioned during the life of the previous government to having their organisations used as public waste receptacles by high profile ministers.
I have (I think fairly!) taken more than one swing at Senator Conroy over the government’s content filtering plans, but with respect to his stated vision for the public broadcasters, I think he deserves some kudos. Once again we have someone in the Federal Government who is prepared to do the unfashionable thing and actually stand up for the public services that so many of us take for granted, to the ire of blinkered right-wing sell off merchants everywhere. Let’s hope we see some results when it comes to the crunch on this front.