Sunday 4 May 2008

Deflating the ABC

The ABC is a money pit. I have no problems with the idea of a government owned national broadcaster, but I don't believe that we need to keep tipping ever increasing amounts of cash into its maw.

One way of doing this is to put a lid on staff costs. Having worked in a public sector corporation, I know how salaries are set. Management engages a firm like Korn Ferry to evaluate salaries in the private sector for a range of jobs, and salaries are set according to what Korn Ferry report back.

With the ABC, a lot of salaries would be set by using the private TV companies as a benchmark. So if we are going to stop ABC staff costs from blowing out, we need to stop the commercial broadcasters from increasing salaries rapidly. I'd do that by throttling them.

Not literally, but financially. Governments tip huge amounts of money into TV advertising. I don't know what percentage government advertising represents of total broadcasting income, but I'd imagine it is at least 10%, if not as high as 20%. Whatever it is, it's enormous.

So, a good backdoor attack on the ABC would be to slash TV advertising. The commercial broadcasters would have no option but to cutback, unless they could makeup the shortfall by selling more air time to the private sector. With wage inflation at the commercial stations squashed, the ABC would have no excuse to pay more. In other words, we could stop throwing away two lots of taxpayers money in one hit. Save our money on advertising, and tip less into the ABC.

I like it.

It's also about time the government had a serious re-think about the role of the ABC. It was created at a time when TV and radio were new technologies, and it served a good purpose for about 50 years. However, we now have a very healthy commercial TV and radio sector, plus a new technology - the internet. The original raison detre for having the ABC at all has disappeared. We no longer need to have the PMG (Post Master Generals department, or Telecom, or Telstra) owned by government, so I don't see why we need to keep the ABC running in much the same form as it was in 1930. My guess is that we could probably do with an ABC about 1/4 the size of what we have now - something to simply fill in the odd niches that the private sector aren't interested in. Maybe 1/8 would do it.

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