Part of the back story to rumours of restructuring at the ABC is the government review of public broadcasting, presently underway.
Submissions have now closed, and I hear there are a lot of them, but they have not yet been made public. The Government says it will consider the issues raised in the lead up to the next funding round, which starts in the middle of next year.
There is a lot to be considered here, as the discussion paper paper that kicked off the review makes clear.
Not all of it is about the “front end” of the ABC – the content the public sees, hears and reads. I understand the Government is getting seriously concerned that a large part of the taxpayers’ dollars goes straight to the Macquarie Bank, via Broadcasting Australia, under the transmission contracts that form the expensive “back end” of ABC and SBS’s ability to reach their audiences.
Broadcasting Australia types are in the habit of referring to the public broadcasters as their “captive clients”, which does not bode well for the deal the taxpayers are getting under the current arrangements.
One of the things the government review is considering is whether SBS and the ABC could combine their “back ends” when it comes to transmission, which would presumably bring an interesting level of scrutiny to the existing arrangements.
Once, of course, the transmission infrastructure was Government owned, but it was privatised in 1999, then sold to the Macquarie Bank and rebadged as Broadcast Australia. You can read the history here.
But lets move from the back end to the front end. One submission to the review has been made public by its authors, and makes interesting reading. It is co-authored by Queensland University academics Axel Bruns, Stuart Cunningham, Terry Flew and Jason Wilson, (shortly to be at the University of Wollongong). Cunningham, in particular, has a modicum of influence as part of the Austraian Research Council funded Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation*.
But here is a key point the authors make, which has relevance for the idea of a restructure of the ABC based on content and target audience, rather than delivery platform. The authors say:
In the 21st century digital media environment, where all media outlets are multi-platform and digitised in their modes of content production and delivery, it is better to understand the ABC and SBS as public service media organizations, rather than public service broadcasters. This emphasises how it is the services provided, rather than the delivery platforms, that are at the core of rationales for public support of the ABC and SBS.
Now there are those within the ABC that are relishing the suggestion of a return to a management structure based around content. Some within the organisation think that a lot of problems can be dated back to former managing director David Hill’s moves in the other direction – removing executive power bases that were based on content, rather than around radio, television and so forth.
All this debate is, in the long and the short run, a lot more important than the stuff about individuals – Sue Howard and all that.
But this blog likes to cater to all tastes, so more on the individuals in the next post.
*Declaration: I was a visiting fellow at the Centre for Creative Industries for six months of last year.