The ABC would wither and die if it were barred from serving audiences on digital platforms, ABC chairman Justin Milne warned today.
Milne rejected the arguments by commercial operators (including News Corp) calling for the ABC to abandon digital services as simplistic, facile and entirely self-serving.
“Linear broadcast audiences are in steady decline because Australians, just like people everywhere else on the planet, value the convenience of consuming their favourite content whenever, wherever and however they like,” he told an American Chamber of Commerce lunch in Sydney.
“Already, few millennials use broadcast products and many homes no longer bother with television antennas. Within a generation, a majority of Australians will no longer use broadcast platforms at all.
“Throughout the Western world, governments have recognised the public benefit in hybrid public-private models for infrastructure and service delivery, whether you think about education, health, airports, roads, public transport or many more examples.”
Milne argued the public broadcaster does many things which commercial media does not, including making programs about science, education, classical music, art, religion and ethics, as well as Triple J, the most popular youth music station in Australia.
He cited multiple ABC shows which commercial networks would judge as too bold or uncommercial, from Aunty Jack and Norman Gunston to Brides of Christ, Mother and Son, Redfern Now and You Can’t Ask That.
Mine predicted the consolidation among Australian media players would only increase after already handing control over many Australian media voices to businesses in the US – while substantially diluting the diversity of voicesn.
“Those who would cripple or even abolish the ABC would clearly exacerbate that consolidation, leading to further homogeneity of voices. That may mean that pretty soon our kids only see American stories and perspectives to mould their morals, culture and behavior as adults. And those same kids would need to give up any aspiration to work in a healthy domestic production sector,” he said.
He asked rhetorically: “If not the ABC, then who else will provide Australians with services no matter where they live? If not us, who else will define Australian culture in a world of global platforms and content? Who else will provide an independent and trusted voice in a world of contested facts, or promote democratic debate about matters of public importance, or drive accountability through investigative journalism, or underpin a healthy and strong creative sector for all Australians.”
He envisioned the day when linear platforms are switched off for good and Australians would be assured of reliable access to high quality public broadcasting content and platforms.
Also he raised the prospect of a single platform that could provide all Australians with the digitised assets of the ABC, the National Film and Sound Archive, the Australian War Memorial, the National Library of Australia or state orchestras.
“Today Australia must decide whether it wants an ABC in the future,” he said, “Perhaps we should leave the commercial media to entertain our toddlers, educate our students, define Australian culture, unite a nation, and serve regional audiences.
“Some would argue an enlightened private sector dominated by owners in the United States will find a way of marrying commercial and Australian national interest and produce local content about the arts, sciences, religion or music. What could possibly go wrong?
“Today, in a world of global platforms and content, it has never been more important for Australia to retain its identity. And in a world of contested views and facts, it has never been more important to provide an independent and trusted voice, to promote informed democratic debate, and to drive public accountability through investments in investigative journalism.”