Padraic P. McGuinness, The Australian, July 1, 1992, p. 17.

Happy 60th birthday to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. That said, it also has to be added that it is time the ABC, in its present form, was wound up and put out to grass.

It is true that over 60 years the ABC has grown into one of the most significant and powerful institutions in our community. Like the Industrial Relations Commission (formerly the Conciliation and Arbitration Committee), it has grown into something of a sacred cow, surrounding itself with an industry of supporters and users who are fiercely loyal. But, like the IRC, it has also grown into an expensive and harmful alliance of vested interests standing in the way of change and improvement.

For there is no doubt the peculiar views on the media that flourish among Australia’s chattering classes have been most assiduously and enthusiastically disseminated by the various programs of the ABC — that is where you find the relics of the Left who in the name of social control want to keep Australia in a strait-jacket of old technologies, traditional monopolies and choice, governed by elites who believe they have the right to impose their own preferences on the general community. This is not altruistic concern for the public welfare — it is a smokescreen for the struggle for ideological control.

But surely, as with the IRC, there is some good in the ABC? Indeed, there is. And the way to release this is to abolish it in its present form. There is simply no good reason for retaining the ABC as a gigantic multi-media monolith, gobbling up half a billion dollars of taxpayers’ money every year. But there is a good case for some publicly sponsored and financed public broadcasting.

Take the ABC Science Show, broadcast on the national radio network, quarried, after years of nagging, out of the former parliamentary broadcasting frequencies. This is a useful and generally excellent presentation of contemporary issues in science which gives the interested listeners access to some of the most inspiring and creative thinkers of today’s world. Yet it operates within a fusty orthodoxy left over from the 1970s, with a team of Mrs Grundys led by Robyn Williams who assiduously sneer at views of which they disapprove, and disseminate a kind of English common room view of science as the key to good government.

When the Science Show is criticised for bias, it reacts in a most unscientific way — that is, there is not for a moment entertained the notion that there might be any justice in the criticism. Instead, the critic is denigrated and accused of nursing conspiracy theories. In this it reflects the whole ethos of the ABC, which is so smugly certain of its own correctness that I am sure most of its employees do not even realise that they are biased — every one of their orthodoxies seems so self-evidently true and ideologically sound that they cannot contemplate how anyone can question them. How can you be biased when you are only speaking the Truth, which could only be denied by people who are evil or misled?

There is an established religion at the ABC, too — environmentalism. This pervades every aspect of its endeavours, except perhaps the sports broadcasts. The Science Show prays in this church, as do the news programs, public affairs, the political commentary and the women’s ghetto programs.

However, the sports broadcasts, as also the incessant prattle about football on some of the gossip programs, sit ill with this. An attempt is made to inject ideological soundness into sports — the heavy attempts at parody by “H.G. Nelson”, the promotion of women’s sports, the appointment of women commentators on male sports and so on. But for the most part it is simply unadorned, free-to-air broadcasts of grunting brutality aimed simply at quasi-commercial ratings. Joined to its managing director’s peculiar intolerance of cigarette advertising, this amounts to a claim by the ABC that its special function in life is the broadcasting of government-financed circuses.

For if tobacco companies are not allowed to pay for sports, admission charges are not sufficient and pay television access does not exist, why on earth should people with not the slightest interest in sport, like myself, be expected to pay for it through taxes? Sport has no social value, unlike the Science Show with all its smugness and blind prejudice.

Clearly, people are prepared to pay directly or indirectly for watching sport. There is simply no case for cluttering the public-financed airwaves with it — that can be left to commercial television and radio.

The point of this is that as well as claiming the status of a disinterested public service broadcaster, the ABC has become totally confused and schizophrenic about its role and justification. Either it can be a public service broadcaster, disseminating educational, artistic, cultural and literary programs as well as providing an alternative news and correspondent network or it can be a lowest-common denominator entertainment medium.

As a public service broadcaster the ABC has a useful role, and merely needs root and branch reform and splitting into competing organisations, with a greater degree of financial accountability. (The arrogance with which the ABC treats the Senate Estimates Committee examinations justifies every glittering tooth bared by Senator Bronwyn Bishop.) But as a mass entertainment network it has no justification whatsoever for its existence, and should either be required to cease these activities or go out altogether into the hard commercial world, carrying paid advertising for real businesses, not unpaid advertising for its own Mickey Mouse entrepreneurs.

As it exists, the greatest problem for the ABC is that at 60 it is already showing signs of premature senility.

The generation of baby-boomers and kindergarten Marxists which came into the ABC in the 60s and 70s, and ever since has been recruiting new staff in their own image, is ageing. It has nothing new to say, and a total poverty of ideas or capacity for thought. Thought, indeed, seems to take the form of continual mulling over and consultation with the heroes of the 70s, or lengthy telephone consultations with distant eccentrics.

This generation is unfortunately not as old as the ABC itself, and unlikely to retire or make way for younger or brighter people in the foreseeable future. Intellectual stagnation is the state and fate of the ABC henceforth. They will attempt to disguise this by shriller and shriller denunciations of the forces of evil and by espousing ever sillier notions. (I am sure most people in the ABC would agree with the Australian Democrats’ ridiculous policy on men’s health, which I described yesterday.)

There are no external commercial pressures operating on the ABC to disrupt this culture of ageing baby-boomers promoting their own interests and obsessions at public expense. There are many, especially in the Coalition, who believe that there ought to be. But, as some of them realise, there is a genuine value in public service broadcasting and the ABC still does some good things (its country services are, for example, very useful). It would be invidious to mount a witch-hunt to root out the worst of the senile baby-boomers and ideologues. Perhaps the simplest and best solution, after breaking up the monolith, would be to sack 10 or 20 per cent of the staff at random, with the same process to be repeated at intervals. That would at least give the ABC staff some incentive to retain their flexibility and employability.

(in order of appearance on
  1. Where Friedman is a pinko
  2. The Economic Guerrillas: A lecture in honour of Maxwell Newton
  3. The Libertarian Alternative
  4. Libel laws block insider's revelations of Australia's industrial mess
  5. But perhaps the merchants of doom have a point
  6. The Origins of Paddy McGuinness
  7. The Itch for Influence
  8. LA safe from religious poverty
  9. Aunty should hang up her boots in face of premature senility
  10. Warning: health is a budget hazard
  11. New ABC Tory chief won't rock the boat
  12. Time to sell the ABC
  13. Youth victims of the welfare con
  14. Paddy McGuinness on class sizes (1991)
  15. More teachers won't solve the problems in our schools
  16. Paddy McGuinness on Catholics and wealth distribution
  17. Paddy McGuinness proposes inheritance tax equal to handouts received by deceased
  18. Let them swim nude
  19. Time to legalise heroin
  20. State-sponsored sports rorts
  21. The blight of the baby-boomers
  22. To reduce the problems of crime and corruption, legalise heroin
  23. We should ban Olympics
  24. Evidence shows heroin policy is not working
  25. Wowsers deny society while killing children
  26. New Paddy McGuinness slogan for ageing feminists and their ideological children
  27. The ABC and the self-evident
  28. Will Australia compete?
  29. Canberra's social revolution
  30. Paddy McGuinness in 1994 on the 2012 class size debate
  31. Why not pay for the ABC?
  32. Paddy McGuinness on David Stove
  33. Sometimes the truth hurts
  34. Paddy McGuinness on compulsory, informal and donkey voting, and breaking electoral laws
  35. Only government-backed monopolies are monopolies, says Paddy McGuinness in 1983
  36. Thomas Sowell, McGuinness, Aborigines and other minorities
  37. Genocide with kindness
  38. Hyde, McGuinness and Sturgess on Chaining/Changing Australia
  39. Government intervention institutionalises bullying
  40. The wrong kind of help for those most needing the right kind of help
  41. Paddy McGuinness defends comparing IQ of races
  42. The Fringe Dwellers: an honest look at the Aboriginal culture of poverty
  43. Impotent priesthood of the global casino
  44. Can primitive black and white minds comprehend nuance?
  45. Class action may be smoking gun
  46. Extend compulsion of compulsory student unionism to voting, paying back student loans and more
  47. Do-gooders should glorify smokers
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