ABC poised at the eleventh hour, say friends

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By DAVID BONADDIO,
politics editor

The ABC Friends Victoria Party Leaders Forum held on Saturday encouraged voters to join the campaign aimed at helping the broadcast network receive more funding from the Federal Government.

Host of the event, ABC Friends national spokesman Ranald Macdonald, said the broadcaster [The ABC] recognised the scope for improvement and this was a step in that direction.

“We choose the word ‘friend’ [for the forum] because friends defend in a time of crisis, but also feel the right to criticise,” Mr Macdonald said.

Labor promises:
• A reversal of the $83.7 million cuts to ABC by the Coalition in the last two budgets
• Allocating an additional $10 million to boost resources for regional news, sports and emergency broadcasting
• $2 million to upgrade audio description services for Australians who are blind or vision impaired

• Additional $40 million to support new drama, musical content and children programs
• SBS will be provided with $20 million 
• Change the funding period from three years to five years

Speakers, including ABC alumni Kerry O’Brien, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and Greens leader Richard Di Natale, focused on what the ABC meant to Australians and the implications of further cuts.

Mr Shorten said he understood the value ABC as a broadcast network held for Australians.

“I know it means so much to millions of our fellow Australians and it matters because the ABC is part of the fabric of Australia,” he said.

He said 17 million Australians consumed some form of ABC content each week and applauded the broadcasters’ coverage of sports, children’s programmes and drama series.

“The ABC is our companion for long drives and a friend for many older Australians late at night,” Mr Shorten said.

“ABC is the lifeline of the bush and is the most important, reliable source of information and emergency warnings in the worst of times.”

Mr Shorten urged voters to pick Labor in the upcoming election so ABC didn’t have to face more cuts under the Coalition government.

Mr O’Brien highlighted the “many layers of scrutiny” that ABC journalists had faced over the years, including inquiries ordered by every Liberal government over the last 40 years. 

“The intent behind the journalism since the ’60s hasn’t changed – independence, integrity and the pursuit of excellence have remained at the core,” he said.

“In that same time, sadly, the hostility from the conservative side of politics hasn’t changed either, but it has just grown more intense from Liberal government to Liberal government, from Fraser to Howard, to Abbott to Turnbull to Morrison.”

The vast bulk of ABC viewers were, in fact, Liberal voters and the ABC was merely doing its job, he said.

Mr Di Natale said politics should be about “big ideas and things that matter to people”.

He said huge corporate companies had immense power and influence on the nation’s democracy and media.

“They [corporations] profit from environmental destruction, the pollution of our atmosphere, low wages, a rigged industrial relations system and from a system that is a tax-avoidance system,” Mr Di Natale said.

“News Corp’s malignant presence spreads beyond the environment and they threaten minority groups and normalise prejudice. When you legitimise bigotry it’s only a small step before people start to act on that bigotry.

“We have to do what needs to be done to reign in the malignant influence of News Corp and part of that answer is protecting and strengthening the ABC.”

Mr Di Natale proposed to strengthen media regulator the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA).

He stressed Australia’s media market’ was “one of the most concentrated in the world”, and said this put democracy under threat.

Despite cuts to the ABC and various attacks on the organisation, Mr Shorten said the ABC was still the most trustworthy news source. 

“We live in an era of fake news where science and evidence is only given the moral relative weight of half the argument and stupidity is weighed as equally as intelligence,” he said.

“Facts are facts, truth is truth, science is science and we need an ABC which is not bullied or intimidated or cowed by a new era of institutionalised ignorance.”

According to the ABC Friends website, Prime Minister Scott Morrison was also invited to the event held at Deakin Edge, Federation Square, but didn’t make an appearance.