Tom Burton: #OurABC, from half channel to uber platform

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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  • Cartoonmick

    There are various elements who would love to see the ABC struck down, or at the very least, diminished to a bare morsel of its former self.

    Apart from the usual commercial aspects, the political element is the more obvious, and devious, source of agitation for the wrecking ball to be applied to Aunty.

    The struggle for survival is far from the hands of mere mortals who enjoy the ABC, and yet, these people are the last to have any say in the matter. This may be understandable to those at the cut and thrust of the battle, the boardrooms and strategy planners, but it sure is frustrating to the bottom feeders who actually pay for this service.

    If certain elements are successful, then the ABC would be contained (almost silenced) as depicted in this cartoon . . . . . .