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Ranters against ABC underestimate its ability to fight back

Date

Keith Jackson

The ABC: Australians are more than willing to stand up for their 8 cents worth.

The ABC: Australians are more than willing to stand up for their 8 cents worth. Photo: Peter Braig

The emergence of the Abbott government's anti-ABC insurgency and the continuation of the Murdoch empire's propaganda onslaught against its perceived ideological foes has spurred escalating attacks on the ABC. These from people who claim this venerable organisation is biased, badly governed, uncontrollable, in the grip of the left or guilty of some other imaginary offence against their sensibilities.

Given that this month marks the 26th anniversary of the celebrated ''8¢ a day'' campaign, when the ABC successfully persuaded the then federal government to guarantee a triennial indexed funding model, it may be helpful to reflect on why the campaign was so successful.

It certainly didn't succeed because Bob Hawke's government was a great friend of the ABC. In my role as the organisation's general manager for corporate relations from 1985 to 1988, I sat in the prime minister's office with then chairman Ken Myer to share a prime ministerial touch-up.

As my diary entry for March 4, 1985 records: ''Ken goes on to talk about restructuring and the efficiencies that have been introduced. Programs get a bit of a look-in. But it's not a coherent presentation, veering from grand vision to triviality. But it suffices to show that the organisation is, well, doing something.''

''That's all very well,'' says Hawke, rolling his eyes, ''but, Ken, there are some black spots.''

He accuses the ABC of ''bias, partiality and propaganda'', citing a Four Corners program on uranium mining. He complains about radicals dictating a left-wing, anti-government agenda for the ABC. The implication is that management is in the thrall of the staff union.

Throughout its history, the ABC has faced many such moments. Mark Scott, his board and his employees are now experiencing yet another.

The ABC, of course, has emerged from them all and is arguably in as good a shape as it has ever been. Malcolm Turnbull's efficiency audit is something of an irrelevance (the last one by KPMG showed the ABC spent taxpayers' money wisely and, indeed, should be given more) but maybe Turnbull had to come up with some manner of nostrum to pacify the anti-ABC ranters in the Coalition.

As David Hill and I agreed when we were developing the ''8¢ a day'' campaign in early 1988, its failure or success would depend not on politicians, commercial opponents or anything the ABC (or its unions) could do.

Whether the ABC could persuade the government that it was not only doing OK but deserved a better deal would be up to the Australian people.

If the ABC initiated a funding fight and the community response was no more than ''ho-hum'', our goose would be well and truly cooked.

But if the community reaction was widespread, instantaneous and vocally supportive, we would prevail.

After some weeks of preparation, the campaign was launched with gusto in early February 1988.

It was over in just a couple of weeks. There was huge public outcry; town hall meetings were held throughout Australia; no politician went unlobbied; no pressure group remained voiceless; no slanging went unmatched. I had never seen the ABC as united and I had never seen it as vibrant.

Eventually the government backed off and then communications minister Gareth Evans, at Sydney Airport, on his way overseas, signed an agreement on the back of an envelope that the ABC would receive triennial indexed funding, which had been first promised in the late 1940s.

The community had spoken.

Abbott and Murdoch should be aware that the community is capable of repeating the dose. They're more than willing to stand up for their 8¢ worth.

Keith Jackson was the ABC's first general manager of corporate relations from 1985 to 1988.

116 comments

  • Abbott continually portrays himself as all man. The ex rugby player. Any rugby player worth his salt loves competition. Loves to be tested. Mr Abbott and company should relish the opportunity to interviewed by a perceived opposition (ABC) as they claim it to be. Facts and their intelligence should shine through any perceived bias. The audience is capable of understanding truth. I believe the ABC has been referred to as Aunty for so long. It is fabric of Australian society. The absence of such a media outlet in the USA is deplorable and not to its benefit. Their is no need for Australia to hand the ball of opposition over to the competitor.

    Commenter
    2BigSmiles
    Location
    USA
    Date and time
    February 04, 2014, 6:00AM
    • 2BS - indeed Abbott heeded your advice and interviewed with Leigh Sales on 7.30 last night. In her own style Sales threw a lot of topics at him, including the ABC, and he handled himself well.

      You're right about Aunty being at the fabric of Aussie society - a point illustrated by Barnaby Joyce on Q&A. Aunty's problem is that she wants to be at the fabric of Aussie politics as well - sadly with a clear and partisan voice.

      Commenter
      Hacka
      Location
      Canberra
      Date and time
      February 04, 2014, 6:28AM
    • 2Big
      With no facts and no intelligence, it is no wonder he avoids the ABC.

      Commenter
      Steve
      Date and time
      February 04, 2014, 6:45AM
    • No amount of blabbing from ex-ABC left loonies will change the facts - we all are forced to subsidize the Labor and Greens propaganda without having any say in the matter. How democratic is this?? And complaints about Murdoch News are laughable - this organization is a private entity surviving by providing services to public and the public has an option to buy it or not. To make an equal footings how about the tax payer also contribute $1.4billion to the News?? Crazy?? Sure it is, but no less stupid than spending large amounts of cash on the ABC.

      Commenter
      Ted
      Date and time
      February 04, 2014, 6:57AM
    • I don't think you've been paying attention. The last 5 months have been utterly cringeworthy.

      Commenter
      Hacked Off
      Date and time
      February 04, 2014, 7:56AM
    • The absurdity of the LNP position is incredible. Are they (and our dimwit PM) honestly arguing that our national broadcaster should not report on stories already published by other media outlets, namely the Guardian and the Djakarta Post? They did nothing but report what had already become controversies, and that is in some way controversial? I'm certain if they had been allowed to question the Navy or Morrison on operational matters and get a rebuttal the ABC would have, but the Government in its own Catch 22 world for some reason known only to itself refuses to comment on these matters.

      This Government is honestly as absurd as Yossarian's world, they go around bumping into their own policies trying endlessly to justify their contradictions and moving the goalposts. 'We love chocolate, but we are going to have a war on tinned fruit.'

      'We can carry on endlessly about the supposed lie of the carbon tax yet we ourselves can backflip on almost everything we said, for example now the promise not to cut ABC funding'.

      'If we find a set of facts that doesn't suit our point of view we will just make it up, for instance despite the fact that Australia had the best performing economy in the world under Labor they are someway responding to a crisis.'

      The Catch 22 logic is that somehow the ABC is unpatriotic because it won't report the facts that the LNP and the Navy won't tell them, which the Govt says they are doing for patriotic reasons. The only thing for a patriotic reporter to do in this situation is to report nothing, and if a reporting agency can't report anything therefore we should just abolish them.

      Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/hockey-calls-end-to-age-of-entitlement-20140203-31xgl.html#ixzz2sIxKfvvo

      Commenter
      GOV
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      February 04, 2014, 10:30AM
    • You've missed the point. What the ABC said when showing a video of asylum seekers with burnt hands was that the video tended to support the allegations that navy personnel caused the burns. It did no such thing. It showed the burnt hands but gave no supported information as to how those burns had been caused. Had you watched Paul Barry on Media Watch last night you would have heard him state "the ABC got it wrong" Yes, they did. See report here http://tinyurl.com/nxqk4le)

      Commenter
      Ian
      Location
      Fremantle
      Date and time
      February 04, 2014, 11:05AM
    • "Abbott and Murdoch should be aware that the community is capable of repeating the dose. They're more than willing to stand up for their 8¢ worth."

      No they're not.

      Hey Keith, maybe you should be looking a little beyond white bread suburbia. The country's ethnic makeup has changed substantially since 1988. If you think the majority of Australians who are too busy stuck in traffic or working their proverbials off have time to "stand up" for the ABC, then you and your cohorts are in for a rude shock.

      Welcome to reality. The ABC had better learn quick smart to dance an even-keeled tune for its own sake. Promoting people smugglers' interests is not the way to go about it.

      When will the left learn that it needs to stand up for what the majority of Australians want, not for what a minority of lefty elites envision as a utopia from their lofty white ivory towers.

      Its the reason Labor lost in 2013. Its the reason they'll lose again in 2016.

      Repeat after me: "Labor supports the Liberals/National stance on border protection and will continue to do so should the Australian people allow us the privilege to govern again."

      Commenter
      Malik the magic sheep
      Location
      Perth
      Date and time
      February 04, 2014, 11:42AM
    • I've heard on the grapevine that the ABC is about to run repeats of Sea Patrol after extensive lobbying from Sarah Hanson-Young. Apparently Hanson-Young also wants copies made available for use in detention centres.

      Commenter
      enough is enough
      Date and time
      February 04, 2014, 12:20PM
    • In my view Abbott poortrays himself as a paranoid controlling nuttter.
      Why else would a PM rave on about a tv reporting normal news.
      What an earth could happen to auss because a tv channel reported that boat people burnt their hands?
      More boats coming? well reporting burnt hands, is certainly not going to encourage more boat people to come...who wants burnt hands?
      And if he thinks reporting burnt hands makes auss look bad....well just have a listen to what he himself has said about Indonesia and china??
      Nutts.... completely nutts in my opinion, and to think we got two and three-quarter more years of listening to his ravings....

      Commenter
      Pongo
      Date and time
      February 04, 2014, 12:27PM

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