The ABC has got off very lightly, so far, for the claims it aired about the navy torturing asylum seekers. Well done to Defence Minister David Johnston for his passionate defence of the men and women of the Australian navy. The ABC can dish it out but it's not so good at taking criticism, including from its own Media Watch.

The ABC gave me a much harder time on the 2001 ''children overboard'' issue, when claims were made that adult refugees on boats heading for Australia were throwing their children overboard to force the navy to pick them up. The issue started with the immigration minister Phillip Ruddock, then prime minister John Howard.

By the third day the media were pressing me, as Defence Minister, to comment. I told Howard I would speak but only after I had first been briefed by the chief of the Defence Force Admiral Chris Barrie. While I was Defence Minister, Barrie never changed his initial advice. I did not initiate the claim and I relied on his advice. I was a lot more careful then than the ABC has been now in dealing with a more serious claim.

Even though I retired at the 2001 election, Labor paid me the faux compliment of saying I won the election because of the children overboard affair. This was not true, but I became the punching bag for all those who were disappointed Howard won the election. I believed the children overboard story to be true at the time, although it was later found to be untrue by a Senate Select Committee.

I believed it was just one of a series of attempts by refugees to force the navy to pick up boat people. In the context of more than a thousand people drowning at sea and billions of dollars being spent as a result of Labor's diabolical policy, it's a wonder the ABC should now try to undermine the efforts of the new government to stop the boats. It is a classic case of bias.

The ABC has long had its pet subjects such as asylum seekers and climate change. The ABC's recent problems started with the running of the Edward Snowden revelations of Australia's spying activities during Labor's time in government. The story had a sense of journalistic ''gotcha''. It was badly managed. And reporting into Indonesia under the Australia Network contract is problematic. That story and now the torture story have left the public wondering about the ABC.

The ABC's bias is cultural, deeply ingrained and not about to stop. I do not say the ABC is politically wedded to Labor's fortunes. But it does not understand the Coalition's perspective, as exemplified recently by ABC chairman Jim Spigelman. On the topic of bias, he said the ABC would commission a report by someone from the BBC.

Having lived for six years in Britain, I can say the BBC today is no better than the ABC. BBC founder Lord Reith would roll over in his grave if he could see it today. I am amazed Spigelman cannot see a BBC person will most likely have the same view as someone from the ABC.

But a cultural war is not about to erupt, even if the ABC refuses to offer the apology being sought. There is no appetite in the government to go after the ABC.

The most likely outcome of this melee will be found in the May budget. The ABC will be cut hard but in much the same way as everything else. Its efficiency review will be the extent of the cuts. Later, there may be some changes to the ABC board. Additionally, the ABC will probably lose its small contract for the Australia Network, which is not a core business anyway.

Of course, there is a strong argument that government should not be running a TV business. But I would not sell the ABC simply because of its bias. Bias is always a problem for media outlets, not just the ABC. There is no such thing as unbiased opinion. Everyone has a different view; different media outlets have their own cultures. The objective of public policy is to encourage diversity of outlets and hence opinion. Then it is for the public to make their assessments. If the audience doesn't like what it sees, it will switch.

Australia should not be taxing consumers for a government service that can be provided by free enterprise. We don't need the government to supply viewers with quiz shows and constantly repeating news programs that can all be delivered commercially and probably at a lower cost.

The world has changed; convergence of internet, TV and other devices is broadening the information and entertainment businesses. The recent independent tender process for the Australian Network demonstrates the obvious reality that the private sector is able to provide a better service than the ABC.

But to all the ABC fans, don't worry; Australian politics is far too conservative for that sort of free enterprise approach.

Peter Reith was a Howard government minister.