ABC boss Mark Scott: TV networks have dumbed down prime time

The drive for profits has led Australia’s broadcasters to dumb down prime time current affairs coverage and abandon international news coverage, the boss of the ABC has claimed.  

In a London speech, ABC managing director Mark Scott said:

“Back when Kerry Packer ran Channel 9 in Australia, he built a strong news division, often staffed by journalists trained at the ABC. He invested in programs that took time to build large audiences, and ones that attracted influential audiences. Television was in his DNA, and as a proprietor, he could do as he liked – and as his employees testify – he often did. He was after big profits but also reputation and influence, power.

“The private equity owners’ motives are simpler and more pure. They care only about the profits –perfectly rational in terms of their investment strategy and their shareholder interests. But this has meant the abandoning of marquee programs, the dumbing down of prime time current affairs content and the virtual abandonment of international bureaux.

“What is happening in commercial television news now is a rerun of what happened in commercial radio news well over a decade ago: the stage has been left to the ABC.”

During the same speech, Scott also tackled the question of The ABC’s funding, ruling out any push for a licence fee system similar to that of the UK. But he did answer Foxtel’s lobbying for the Government’s public service funding to be opened up to other organisations.

He said: “The pay television sector in Australia…  has no objection to the idea of public funding for a public good. What they’d like, in fact, is a chance to compete for those public funds. And the ABC has no difficulty with the idea of contestability, since the contests we are prepared to enter are those where we believe the market will not be able to provide. We believe in some areas: like commercial free children’s programming and like international broadcasting as an arm of the Government’s soft diplomacy – that the public broadcaster, operating without a profit motive, and building on a record of integrity developed for generations, is the only organisation that can deliver.”


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