Hands off the ABC – Turnbull should resign his commission

June 25, 2015

The Abbott government’s political interference into public broadcasting has just got serious.

Very serious.

Heads should roll

Not content with going beyond his ministerial brief and ringing Mark Scott in the middle of the night to demand answers, the Duke of Double Bay has now decided to politicise his department by demanding senior officers conduct an inquiry into the ABC’s editorial decision-making.

The ego of this merchant wanker seemingly knows no bounds.

Everybody who ever watched Play School or an ABC news bulletin should be outraged and demanding Malcolm Turnbully resign his commission.

Turnbull has breached his ministerial guidelines with this move, but he’s gloating about it.

The jumped-up, smug little Napoleon has gone well beyond what is acceptable in a system that relies on the separation of powers.

Turnbull’s inquiry is blatant political interference.

How else can you explain his “instruction” to his department — which we can presume knows little to nothing of news judgment and editorial decision-making.

Turnbully's instruction: fuck-up the ABC, but make it look like an accident

Turnbully’s instruction: fuck-up the ABC, but make it look like an accident

And the reason he thinks he can get away with it is that he did the last time.

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Can cuddling up with the commercial media save the ABC from Abbott’s axe?

July 31, 2013

For fans of publicly funded broadcasting in Australia, Mark Scott’s speech to the American Chamber of Commerce in Australia last week had some good news elements, but is it enough to save the ABC?

According to Scott, the ABC is the nation’s most trusted institution; most of us are consuming ABC products and we like it a lot, despite its critics and naysayers.

However, for Friends of the ABC (FABC), Scott’s speech sent mixed signals about the national broadcaster’s future.

The Victorian spokesperson for FABC, Glenys Stradijot is “disappointed” that Scott appears to make an argument for the ABC in “purely commercial terms”, rather than emphasising the benefits of having a “truly independent” public broadcaster. It seems to “erode the very reason that the ABC exists” she says.


Friends of the ABC picket the Victorian Liberal Party convention in May 2013 where a motion to privatise the ABC was due to be debated. The motion was not voted on after intervention by Tony #Abbocolypse Abbott

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Why I’ll be there on Monday – Save RNZ, save public broadcasting

February 27, 2010

Save Radio New Zealand Protest @ Radio New Zealand House Auckland

Bring your portable radio 🙂

Monday March 1 2010

12.30 to 1.30 pm

171 Hobson street Auckland

In the pub on Friday evening my colleague Wayne asked a rhetorical question: “Why should we defend public broadcasting – which is not great anyway – when anyone can download good content from the web?”

I thought about it for a few sips on a Heineken and then verbally dot-pointed an answer:

  • It’s all about the national conversation (thanks GT)
  • The public sphere creates the space for oppositional voices and debate on important social and political issues
  • Aotearoa New Zealand would be culturally poorer without te reo broadcasting, and Radio NZ concerts
  • Whatever we think of Paul Holmes, Mark Sainsbury or the presenters on Radio National, they are at least providing some stimulating ideas and a chance for a range of opinions to be heard
  • The news and current affairs outputs, particularly on radio, are part of the checks and balances that any democratic system needs
  • The web tends to fragment and isolate its audience to a large degree – perhaps not social networking, but in general the web can end up exploiting the misery of fools

It really is an argument about the whole, rather than the sum of its parts, I suggested. There is a minimum standard of public broadcasting we should expect – and we’re pretty much scraping the bottom right now. More cuts to RNZ and TVNZ will make this worse.

I am critical of RNZ and TVNZ programming from time to time, but I am a strong advocate of public ownership of the airwaves. I do not support the so-called democratic marketplace because the media market is inherently anti-democratic. It works on principles of price and profit so it favours the wealthy and powerful every time. Privately-owned media has a vested interest and strong interest in preserving the status quo. The public deserves more than that.

Public broadcasting is in the public’s best interests and is linked to the public right to know, I concluded. We chewed it over for a while and then got on to a more theoretical chat about the public interest, the right to know and the public sphere.

It got a little historical and philosophical when we talked about how, without the benefit of the bourgeois revolutions (particularly the French and American revolutions), there would be no freedom of the press and freedom of speech. This is why Wayne & I, even though we’re of the ‘left’, can see that some real progress has been made in human rights and freedoms under capitalism (for more on this reference Bowalley Road, Chris Trotter’s prolix blog: Collision Course).

“But,” I said to Wayne, the ruling class no longer needs freedom of the press or freedom of speech. The bourgeoisie now needs to hang on to the power of the State, particularly against the working class (for more see reports of large general strikes in Greece).

If we look closely at history we can see a number of instances, times and nations where the absence of a free press has led to a variety of autocratic outcomes. My historical concern has been the rise of Fascism for example in western Europe between the two major wars of the 20th century. However, as Wayne reminded me, alongside Fascism and other forms of autocratic secular regimes (Stalinist Russia and now Putin’s Gangster Capitalism; China, Burma, Sri Lanka) we also have to worry about theocratic authoritariansm (like Iran, Pakistan and so on).

In these nations and others like them there is no public service broadcasting. There is state-run media that is heavily censored and there are newspapers and television stations owned by members of the ruling elite and, like in Berlusconi’s Italy, they tend to be ultra-kind to the powerful and rich and to under-report criticism and opposition.

While this might seem a distant concern in New Zealand,  attacks on public broadcasting are the thin end of the wedge in many respects.

Without RNZ and TVNZ and in particular their news services, there will be less scrutiny of government and business.

There will be less debate on government policy – three strikes, not raising the minimum wage, cutting welfare spending, national standards in schools, etc. In other words those in power – who we know tend to be venal and corrupt, some more than others – will get away with doing whatever they want. In some cases, getting away with murder!

The National-ACT government’s attacks and calls for belt-tightening, sacrifice, etc are designed to weaken public broadcasting and to lessen the scrutiny that this government is under.

And it is under scrutiny. Tax policies, ministers gouging the public purse, cuts to funding of health and education, attacks on teachers and doctors, seabed and foreshore, whanau ora, increasing pressure on students over loans and allowances private prisons and locking up more Maori youth; all of this needs to be questioned and challenged.

This is the national conversation I’m talking about and it is really only on the public airwaves that we can all participate at the same time with the same information at our finger tips.

This is why we need to ensure that public broadcasting in New Zealand is adequately funded; television and radio. My colleague at Unitec Peter Thompson has written on this topic many times and I’ve always supported his very sound analysis. He argues that public broadcasting is being gutted and he’s right. He’s also done the math and we can have great public broadcasting in New Zealand for around one dollar – yep $1.00 – per day.

I’m going to the Save Radio NZ protest on Monday because I believe in public broadcasting. The main pillar of my belief is one that all journalists and news consumers should share:

The public right to know.

We have a right to know that Ministers of the Crown are stealing from us – even if they pretend it’s an accident; we have the right to know what is being done to our schools and hospitals. We have a right to know how John Key is going to tax the poor to keep his rich mates happy and how he’s going to spend our money to do that.

We have a right to be active in our democratic institutions and we have a right to tell Jonathon Coleman politely to fuck right off move to one side and get his greasy paws well-manicured digits off our radio station.

In fact, we have the right to tell the Minister that he should really be thinking about spending more money on both Radio New Zealand and TVNZ in order to improve the outputs and content.

Maybe he could even spring for a haircut and shave for Mark Sainsbury. Oh and minister, get him a new suit while your at it. You are after all, our servant.

Now hop too it before we kick your sorry ass.

See you outside Radio New Zealand from 12.30 on Monday.

BTW: Bomber’s made it a lot more visual and funnier than I can:

Public service broadcasting – Government serving New Zealand poorly

February 19, 2010

Step 1: Join the Facebook group

It was amusing to see Helen Clark defending Radio New Zealand in the paper this morning. It’s too bad that her Labour government didn’t do more to protect it and insulate it from the current campaign of a thousand deadly cuts when it had the chance.

I don’t always like Morning Report, but it is essential listening in my house every day and I try to catch Checkpoint as often as I can too. I’ve always been a strong supporter of public broadcasting and no matter how much I might disagree with the analysis and angles, or how much I am annoyed by fatuous or bullying interviewers I love and cherish Radio New Zealand.

I like the news and current affairs service, I love Mediawatch and I don’t mind some of the weekend shows – the book readings, science, technology and arts programming. It is all important, well-made and essential to maintaining a vibrant, eclectic and democratic public sphere in New Zealand.

In fact, we can probably make a strong case that Radio New Zealand is taonga. Read the rest of this entry »

TVNZ cuts – one finger now, but soon the heart?

March 17, 2009

So the axe is falling again at TVNZ. Yesterday’s announcement that TVNZ management will shave $25 million from the national broadcaster’s budget was not a surprise.  In some circles it’s what we might call a “pre-emptive buckle”.

That is, the organisation has chosen to chop off it’s own little finger, rather than have the Nationals’ Razor Gang do the job. The Yakuza has a similar punishment ritual, it’s meant to demonstrate iron discipline, instill fear and, through fear, loyalty.

Understandable really. Better to be in charge of your own destiny, even if it’s the death of a thousand cuts. At least when hacking into your own flesh (if it’s not a death wish) you can have a decent first aid kit on hand to stem the blood flow.

On paper (on screen?) it looks like the cuts are evenly spread.

The top executives have agreed to a pay-freeze (head-shaking, “Why?”). I guess this demonstrates their commitment to the organisation and it’s supposed to send a signal that the pain is being shared and that the top rung is leading from the front.

Though, if you’re lemmings heading for a clifftop fall, who wants to be in the front line. Tired cliche I know and lemmings don’t actually rush head-long off clifftops, but why let the truth get in the way of a good urban-myth-as-metaphor line.

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