Tim Blair


New Criterion



Saturday, July 26, 2003

Dear Richard Alston

By now it may have occurred to you that there is no prospect of achieving anything from pursuing complaints against the serial commentary on Radio National's AM program.

Biffer Balding has given your dossier to his legal minds to have fun with.

As far as the public is concerned, unless they take the trouble to read the dossier themselves, all they are going to hear is the reaction of the Australian Union of Journalists Attacked by Ministers. Now there, with the exception of Gerald Stone, is the kind of solidarity the Marxists could only dream of.

ABC Board members are going to be watching their political backs. Who wants to be seen as the Minister's catspaw?

In any case, it's a waste of Ministerial time and potential to engage in such trench warfare. Leave it to others who don't have your opportunity. What is that opportunity, you ask?

To lead, Minister, to lead.

The ABC's performance over recent years makes it obvious that they are beyond reform. Far from seeking to improve their balance, they reinforce their biases. Among the communard classes there is little capacity to even perceive their biases. They believe that, post-Tampa, Afghanistan and Iraq, they live among savages (that is, the rest of us), whose racism, fascism, wilful cruelty, stupidity and short-sightedness must be fought to the bitter end.

And they have bigger political weapons than Cabinet, which is a midget in any contest of political credibility. How many broadcast channels do you run, Minister? With the assistance of public assets, Philip Adams can play like Berlusconi and never have to risk a dollar of his own fortune.

You are going to have to work with your strengths, and I don't mean simply the power of the purse-strings. It's a start, but do you really want the people who tell Biffer what to do to make the decisions about Auntie's future? And to spend the rest of the Coalition's term in office highlighting the consequences of financial attrition, consequences which they have chosen?

Time to take the initiative, in Uncle's humble submission.

What's that? Another Telstra-like millstone, you think?

Here are some suggestions for a strategy to make an honest woman out of Auntie without looking like a wowser yourself.

Establish the local radio network with a clear community-support charter and a ratings-based test of success. You can rely on their audiences to keep them honest most of the time. Most of their audience just want entertainment without advertising. Give them more money in RARA land, to keep the National Party happy. Ditto Auntie TV, minus current affairs, which it does little of anyway.

Put news and current affairs on its own feet, financially speaking. They can offer their services to the ABC network and others. They compete with other providers for government subsidy to do the jobs that revenues don't justify.

Turn Radio National into a subscription-based service focussed on information programming, and make it compete for generous government subsidies with other content providers.

All of the tax-payers' largesse should be based, of course, on much clearer guidelines than old Auntie has to contend with, and decisions about allocation of funds must be made by reputable people at arms length from government, and two arms length from political agitators.

Make sure that the digital radio spectrum is also available to the subsidised content providers, and digital TV spectrum too, if there is any left over after your free feed to the free-to-air broadcasters.

All in the interests of DIVERSITY, and FREEDOM of expression. Who could object?

Have it ready to announce at the first budget after the next election, and to implement immediately.

And find some leaders from outside Parliament to promote it.

What have you got to lose?