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Home Features Tom Burton: #OurABC, from half channel to uber platform
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PEOPLEMalcolm Turnbull, Mark Scott, Bob Hawke
COMPANIESSeven Group, Foxtel
DEPARTMENTSAustralian Communications and Media Authority, ABC
TAGS Australia, ABC, Television in Australia, Kerry Stokes, Broadcasting, American Broadcasting Company, Freeview, ABC INTERNATIONAL
The ABC has developed into an extraordinarily successful media enterprise. It’s come a long way since Bob Hawke described it as a “half channel”. But where to now?
Prime minister Bob Hawke was fond of referring to the ABC as that “f—king half channel”.
It was the early 1980s; Hawke had recently moved to the Lodge in Canberra to find there were just two television channels: the local Channel Seven, owned by then media tyro Kerry Stokes, and the ABC. The first national satellites were being fired up and the cricket-loving Hawke wanted to be able to watch his favourite sport on Nine, instead of being limited to the local Seven outlet and that “f—king half channel”.
The Packer family controlled Nine. Packer’s chief advocate, young lawyer-cum-journalist Malcolm Turnbull, was fiercely pushing for the three city commercial networks to be able to broadcast direct across Australia. These networks were like orchards, argued Turnbull, who should be able to distribute their fruit direct to their viewers, rather than have to sell their crop through wholesalers like Stokes’ local Canberra operation.
Stokes organised an unlikely coalition of National Party and rural Labor Party representatives to defend the regional broadcasters from big-city media — and won that round easily. Thirty years on, Stokes is still playing politics with the younger Malcolm, with his Seven Group showing no enthusiasm for any rule changes that would threaten the prevailing hegemony.
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Tom Burton is publisher of The Mandarin based in Sydney. He has served in various public administration roles, specialising in digital engagement. He was a Walkley Award-winning journalist and executive editor of The Sydney Morning Herald. He worked as Canberra bureau chief for the Australian Financial Review and as managing editor of smh.com.au. He most recently worked at the Australian Communications and Media Authority.
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