The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) managing director Michelle Guthrie has refuted claims the public broadcaster should be privatised in a speech delivered to the Melbourne Press Club.
The first time speaking publicly since the Liberal party’s vote to privatise the broadcaster, Guthrie said she hoped to tackle the “increasingly febrile debate over the value and future of the ABC”.
“The argument seems to carry a misplaced notion of both privatisation and conservatism. But, more importantly, it completely ignores the public value of the ABC, both in direct dollar terms but also as far as the wider public good remit.”
“What price do you put on public trust in an independent, commercial-free news organisation at a time of fragmentation and disruption?”
The vote was part of the Liberal Party’s annual federal council currently being held in Sydney and called for the “full privatisation of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, except for services into regional areas”.
In response to this, Guthrie used data from a report commissioned by Deloitte Access which found the ABC generates as much to the country’s annual economic activity as it receives from taxpayers.
“The ABC contributed more than $1 billion to the Australian economy in the last financial year – on a par with the public investment in the organisation
“Of that $1 billion, more than a third is economic support for the broader media ecosystem.”
Guthrie also touted the 6000 full-time jobs across the economy provided by the broadcaster, as well as other jobs in the “supply chain”.
“For every 3 full-time equivalent jobs created by the ABC, there are another 2 supported in our supply chain.
“Local artists, writers, technicians, transport workers and many more. In hard figures, the research shows that the ABC helps to sustain 2,500 full-time equivalent jobs in addition to the 4000 women and men who are directly employed by the public broadcaster.”
For Guthrie, a push for privatisation reiterates the media is “at a time when the pressures of the new landscape are forcing our commercial colleagues into a relentless focus on their profitability.”
“I can appreciate that the ABC would fetch a high price in a commercial market.
“But does the public want a new media organisation that compromises quality and innovation for profit? Does the commercial sector want a new advertising behemoth in its midst?
“I think not.”
Speaking further on the commercial market, Guthrie blamed the likes of Facebook and Google for influencing continual consolidation in the media landscape, both in Australia and globally.
“Over a short space of time there may be just a handful of international media giants– yes, I’m including FAANGS (being Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Google) in that group – that will be based in the US and will create and distribute the vast majority of the world’s content, both news and entertainment.
“It means that the pressure on our domestic commercial media counterparts is only going to increase.
“Two years ago, Facebook and Google were already collecting 40 per cent of Australian advertising dollars. Those dollars would previously have gone to the traditional television, radio and print media operators.
“The figure will only have increased since then.
“This and the increasing competition for content from the global players, each with a production budget in the billions, is driving the free-to-airs to adopt play-safe strategies – trying to secure big audiences around tentpole events in news, reality and sports.”
Guthrie added 92 per cent of the ABC’s budget would be spent on “making content”.
Before closing the speech, Guthrie took a cheeky prod at Seven’s Barnaby Joyce and Vikki Campion interview, which, despite the hype, failed to pull in the numbers.
She said, “I was one of the 800,000 viewers who chose to watch Mystery Road a few Sunday nights ago instead of an interview with Barnaby Joyce.
“Who knew Australians would choose a well-scripted and produced drama over the kitchen-sink exploits of a politician?”
Guthrie finished the speech by stating the broadcaster won’t be “pushed and prodded into different shapes to suit the prevailing climate”.
“It can’t. Nor should it be,” she added.
View the full speech here.