Hurt Aunty and you’re hurting Australia

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“That’s the ABC. That’s Aunty. That’s the most respected and reliable teller of the Australian story. And that’s what the Morrison government is cutting off at the knees,” writes The Gadfly columnist ROBERT MACKLIN

THERE’S something strangely perverse about the Morrison government’s decision to cut funding of the national broadcaster just when it’s playing such a key role in the coronavirus pandemic. 

Robert Macklin.

The latest $84 million sliced from its triannual budget follows a pattern of defunding the ABC by more than $700 million since 2014.

It means that some 250 jobs will be lost at home and abroad, that Australian drama will be replaced by endless reruns of English detective series and BBC propaganda. 

But most importantly, it means that Australian news and views will be reduced when the commercial alternatives are virtually disappearing up the social media fundament. 

The classic Liberal response to this came from former NSW Opposition Leader Kerry Chikarovski, who told “The Drum: “You have to realise that all the traditional media outlets are facing the same problems.” 

Next day at a press conference Morrison followed suit. Well, exactly. That’s why it’s so important that the ABC funding is increased if our democracy is to survive and prosper. 

The commercial channels and most of the remaining dailies are run by people whose overriding concern is making money for their shareholders. It arrives via the advertising that destroys dramatic storytelling and compromises their willingness to investigate corruption and bad behaviour, to say nothing of their own commercial interests. Only the ABC in programs from “Four Corners” to “7.30” to “Q&A”, “Media Watch” and more recently “The Drum”, can consistently raise issues and break stories that hold the powerful to account. 

Only the ABC can spread its net across the entire country to create a true sense of community in programs such as “The Country Hour”, “Back Roads”, “Gardening Australia” and “Landline”. Only the ABC can bring a continuous Australian presence to the Asia-Pacific region via radio and television news.

But for those of us with a connection to the NSW south coast it’s personal. During the bushfires it was ABC radio and television that carried the news and the warnings that actually saved lives. 

It gave us the best coverage on the status of the fires and advice on what to expect from weather changes and what to do when all else failed.

It was the ABC who sent their very best people, from Hamish McDonald to Phil Williams who until the previous week had been telling us the latest from outside 10 Downing Street. And it was the ABC that fearlessly showed the exhausted firefighters waving away an errant prime minister who wanted to shake their hands. Surely that’s not what’s behind the latest cuts… I’d hate to think that were so.

The reporters in the field were heroes. But once the Covid-19 pandemic hit they were joined by two women who went far beyond the call of duty. Ellen Fanning and Julia Baird have done programs for “The Drum” – from 6pm to 7pm every weeknight – under almost impossible conditions. They have had panellists in homes spread across the time zones, the cities and the outback and brought them together with the verve, the warmth, the intellectual depth and an absolute professionalism beyond anything the rest of the world can offer.

One can only imagine the organising horror stories behind the scenes in getting each hour-long program to air. You’d never know it from the demeanour of the women in the chair. But that’s the ABC. That’s Aunty. That’s the most respected and reliable teller of the Australian story. And that’s what the Morrison government is cutting off at the knees. 

Think again, Scotty. You should be better than that.

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