Guthrie warns networks, a privatised ABC is an 'advertising behemoth'

Josh McDonnell
By Josh McDonnell | 19 June 2018
Michelle Guthrie

ABC boss Michelle Guthrie has fired back at the Liberal Party, shooting down the suggestion that the national broadcaster should be privatised.

Speaking at the Melbourne Press Club today, Guthrie addressed the recent policy motion by the Liberals which stated there was "no redeemable value in the public investment in the ABC".

She said the idea carried a "misplaced notion" of both privatisation and conservatism.

"More importantly, it completely ignores the public value of the ABC, both in direct dollar terms and also as far as the wider public good remit," Guthrie said.

In a fiery speech, she asked the crowd what price can be put on public trust in an independent, commercial-free news organisation at a time of fragmentation and disruption.

She also questioned what price was being placed on an ABC devoted to "serving the nation" and one with an "86-year history of service".

Guthrie also highlighted that the commercialisation of the ABC would put greater pressures on the other major networks, labelling a privatised ABC as an "advertising behemoth".

"ABC as a priceless asset, is more valuable now than ever in its history. I can appreciate that the ABC would fetch a high price in a commercial market," she said.

"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?"

The ABC commissioned Deloitte Access Economics to do research, with early findings revealing that the network contributed more than $1 billion to the Australian economy in the last financial year which is 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. 

Deloitte calculated that the ABC is helping to sustain more than 6000 full-time equivalent jobs across the economy. It means that for every three full-time equivalent jobs created by the ABC, there are another two supported in its supply chain.

Guthrie also said the Australian public deeply resent the broadcaster being used as a "punching bag" by "narrow political, commercial or ideological interests".

"The ABC’s great value is its ability to call on its composite strengths to service the nation," she said

"History elsewhere has shown that if you start tampering with the formula, you risk destroying it."

Guthrie closed by stating that if the ABC continued to be mistreated and commercialised, the nation would suffer as a consequence.

The speech follows, Guthrie's initial swing at the government’s decision to cut $84 million from the broadcaster.

Federal Treasurer Scott Morrison announced the decision to halt the ABC's annual funding indexation from July 2019, earlier this year.

Of that $84 million, $43 million will be taken from news and current affairs, leaving the ABC will an overall budget of $3.16 billion.

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