Mark Scott has said it’s not the ABC’s fault commercial TV and newspapers are struggling.
In an extended interview on ABC’s Media Watch, the outgoing managing director of the ABC told host Paul Barry: “The problems particularly newspapers companies are facing has nothing to do with the ABC or public broadcasters.”
To which Barry rebutted saying if the ABC is giving away content for free, of course it’s going to affect the companies.
There’s two issues afoot, said Scott – what’s happened with their advertising and paywalls.
“Their advertising has disappeared,” he said, “not to the ABC because we don’t take a dollar of that. It’s disappearing to Facebook, it’s disappearing to Google, it’s disappearing to Apple, it’s disappearing to all the choices the advertisers have now.”
And when it comes to paywalls, Mark Scott said media companies are now being challenged by customers to pay for content. “But it’s not because there’s a public broadcaster in the market. It’s because there are hundreds of free websites that are offering content that aren’t charging for it.”
Drawing comparison from the US market – which has less of a public broadcaster presence than here in Australia – Scott said the newspapers there have been hit extremely hard. And that doesn’t have anything to do with the public broadcasters.
The movement into the digital age is something many media channels grappled with, and while Scott acknowledged the ABC had a choice whether to delve into it or not, if it hadn’t, it would no longer be relevant.
“If we hadn’t done what we’d done, then the ABC would be in decline,” he said. “There’s no doubt that if we’d just sat where we were and been a traditional old-style, linear broadcaster on radio and television we’d still be held with great affection by the Australian people, but we wouldn’t be as relevant, we wouldn’t be as compelling and I don’t think we our future would be as healthy as it is today.”
Barry also brought up the criticism the broadcaster has faced – primarily from News Corp – about its size and questions about which side the broadcaster is on.
“We do a different style of journalism to the journalism, I think, you increasingly see in News Limited papers and columnists as well,” said Scott. A lot of that criticism comes from right-wing reporters, and he said the ABC doesn’t ask questions about its journalists’ voting patterns or where their ideologies lie.
“We look at the journalism that they put to air, and we have strong editorial standards that demand fairness, balance and impartiality and we hold them to that test.”