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Michelle Guthrie warns Australians will not tolerate the ABC becoming a political punching bag

Managing director of the ABC Michelle Guthrie warned the government and Liberal Party this afternoon that Australians would not tolerate the broadcaster being a political ‘punching bag’.

Speaking at a Melbourne Press Club lunch, Guthrie also criticised the Federal government’s pressures on the ABC’s funding and the Liberal Party’s calls to privatise the broadcaster.

ABC managing director, Michelle Guthrie: “

“This is a debate that affects real people,” Guthrie said about the discussion over the ABC’s value to Australia. “I talk here of my very valuable colleagues, who have displayed enormous resolve, dedication and commitment over the past few years in the face of continued criticism.

“But I refer also to the people of Australia, who regard the ABC as one of the great national institutions and who deeply resent it being used as a punching bag by narrow political, commercial or ideological interests.”

In her response to the ABC’s critics, Guthrie cited the trust built up over the public broadcaster’s 86 years, claiming 82% of Australians look to the service as their trusted source of information and 77% of Australians think a healthy ABC is essential for Australia’s future.

“What price do you put on public trust in an independent, commercial-free news organisation at a time of fragmentation and disruption?” Asked Guthrie. “As the Prime Minister himself noted at the Liberal Party council meeting, it is difficult to establish the facts in a disputed media landscape full of echo chambers and ‘fake news’ outlets.

“What price do you put on an ABC devoted to serving the nation – across its vast expanse and through a myriad of services, with quality and distinctiveness as a hallmark? This, at a time when the pressures of the new landscape are forcing our commercial colleagues into a relentless focus on their balance sheets.”

Guthrie also hit back at the government’s funding freeze and ongoing ‘efficiency dividends, defended by Minister Mitch Fifield last week, saying: “It ignores the accumulation of efficiency takes by Canberra over the past four years and the fact that these efficiencies rob the ABC of its ability to finance new content and innovation. This whittling away of our funding represents a real opportunity cost and, in the end, serves only to punish those audiences.”

“The anti-ABC case has been crystallised in two recent developments – the launch of a tome by two people associated with the IPA calling for the sale of the national broadcaster, and last weekend’s policy motion at the Liberal Party federal council meeting in Sydney demanding the ‘privatisation’ of the ABC.

“The argument seems to carry a misplaced notion of both privatisation and conservatism. But, more importantly, it completely ignores the public value of the ABC, both in direct dollar terms but also as far as the wider public good remit.”

Guthrie concluded on a defiant note about the value of a national broadcaster to Australia: “As a nation, we could choose not to have the ABC; or we could hobble it so that it becomes the market failure organisation it was never intended to be.

“Inherent in the drive against the independent public broadcaster, is a belief that it can be pushed and prodded into different shapes to suit the prevailing climate. It can’t. Nor should it be.”

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