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A Rundown Of Attempts To Get Rid Of The ABC As We Know It

Selling off the ABC is just one of 20 goals conservative think-tank the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) put forward in a recent wish-list to Coalition members.

It follows years of lobbying by the IPA to privatise the public broadcaster, which it sees as a waste of money.

"Consumers have never had more choice about where to source their news and opinions on current affairs. Moreover, the ABC is unremittingly bias," the memorandum released on Friday said.

"The ABC is beyond reform. New leaders will not fix the problem, regardless of their experience or intention," it explained as one of its '20 policies to fix Australia'.

The media union is concerned about the sway this latest attempt may have.

"It does show the reach and influence of the IPA. And we know these views resonated with the federal council of Liberals last year," Marcus Strom, federal president (Media) of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance told 10 daily.

In June 2018, the Liberal Party's peak council voted almost two to one to privatise the ABC. The results were rejected by cabinet ministers at the time.

Budget Cuts And Other Calls To Change The ABC

The national broadcaster has been hit with hundreds of millions of dollars of cuts to its base funding since 2014.

Then prime minister, Tony Abbott, said the ABC took "everyone's side but Australia's" and should show "some basic affection for the home team".

Protesters at a rally to stop cuts to the ABC and SBS at Federation Square in Melbourne, in 2014. IMAGE: AAP

The Abbott government slashed the ABC's  budget by nearly five percent over five years. While the Howard government reduced ABC funding by 11 percent in 1998, government assistance has increased in most years since, in nominal terms.

In early 2016, the ABC's outgoing managing director Mark Scott called for a "grown-up conversation" about merging the nation's two public broadcasters, ABC and SBS. At the time, he argued it could save the federal government $40 million a year.

"By coming together, SBS and the ABC could still offer distinct brands under distinct charters," he said.

"But it could be done without an entire separate back office, stand-alone buildings, studios and technology, IT, legal, finance, HR and corporate divisions -- or a separate board."

Novelist Tom Keneally and actress Magda Szubanski during a 2018 Save the ABC Rally. IMAGE: AAP

In the 2018 budget, the ABC's funding was axed by $84 million to help broadcaster "live within their means".

But the 2019 budget unveiled some good news for the broadcaster, with the Morrison government providing another three years of funding for the national broadcaster's "enhanced news-gathering" program.

However, a indexation funding freeze remains in place. This means the past six budgets have included measures to reduce, remove or freeze (indexation) ABC funding, without adding any new funding initiatives.

"Despite some reprieve in the 2019 federal budget, the ABC is still in dire financial straits. More job losses and a reduction in services remain on the agenda," journalism academics wrote in The Conversation.

"We would like the ABC's budget restored to its 2014 levels and with increases in line with CPI with each year," Strom said.

During its election campaign, Labor has vowed to return the $83.7 million to the ABC if it wins the national poll.

The ABC's Q&A program.Image: ABC.

It should be noted former Labor leader Bob Hawke wasn't fond of ABC when he was in power. At the time, Four Corners was reporting on things the Labor Party wasn't happy with.

Strom said the ABC provides rural and regional coverage at a time when most other outlets are pulling back on resources in those areas.

"Without this funding, it prohibits it from delivering independent journalism in accordance with its charter ... the ABC plays a crucial national role," he said.

But the IPA told 10 daily the ABC "crowds out the competition" because it is funded by taxpayers.

READ MORE: Not Funny: ABC Cops Criticism Over PM Christian Comedy Skit

READ MORE: VIEWS: The Liberals Are Bananas If They Support A Sell-Off Of The ABC

Criticism Of Bias Not Backed By Reviews

A 2013 analysis of airtime given to major parties during the election showed that coverage was pretty even between the two main parties, with Labor receiving 40 percent of coverage, and the Coalition 39.4 percent. In 2010, the split was similar.

A 2014 independent audit of the ABC's coverage in regards to asylum seekers has found only four out of 97 pieces of content which were reviewed raised editorial concerns.

"That's not a view I share. A lot of their reporting on news and current affairs programs are certainly not people from the right of the political spectrum. It's fair to say the majority are left," the IPA's Director of Research Daniel Wild claimed to 10 daily.

Another independent editorial review, this one in 2016, cleared the ABC of systemic "anti-business" bias. The broadcaster did acknowledge its coverage can be "unfocused and uncoordinated" and it would attempt to make business news more accessible.

"Journalists need to be free from political interference, and what unfolded with ABC's board last year was worrying," Strom told 10 daily.

A government-commissioned efficiency review of both the ABC and SBS was recently handed to the broadcasters, but has not yet been made public.

Communications Minister Mitch Fifield assured 10 daily via a spokesperson the ABC will remain a public broadcaster.

“It will never be privatised nor sold. The Coalition will not merge the ABC and SBS,” a spokesperson said.

“It is important to recognise that in a rapidly changing media environment, the ABC has more funding certainty than other media organisations in the nation.”

Contact the author alattouf@networkten.com.au