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‘To the ramparts citizens, the barbarians are gathering at the gates.’

This letter was published in the Blue Mountains Gazette on March 26, 2014

The Abbott government is conducting yet another enquiry into the ABC. This one focused on its ‘efficiency’. Its launch by Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull is I suggest a pointer to machinations within the Government around the ABC and public broadcasting.

You might be interested to hear, as I was, that the annual budget for the ABC is less than that of the least costly commercial TV network, Channel 10.

This bears a little teasing out. The ABC runs four TV channels, one devoted to children and another to 24 hours news coverage. It has five radio networks – Local Radio (702 in Sydney), Radio National, News radio, Triple JJJ and Classic FM. It offers three digital music channels – Dig Music, ABC Jazz and ABC Country. There are 51 regional and nine metropolitan Local Radio stations – the twelve in NSW range from Broken Hill in the west to Bega and Lismore in the east. It fields a team of foreign correspondents around the globe and is far and away the leader in utilising the internet to provide access to its programs and information resources, as anyone with access to iView on their TV set will attest.

It is hard to imagine it failing an efficiency test given that its operational base funding is 23 percent less in real terms than in 1986 and its full time equivalent staff is at 4000, 3000 less than it was in 1986. The leaked KPMG report of a similar enquiry commissioned by  the Howard government in 2006 was not released by then Communications Minister Helen Coonan, possibly because it concluded the ABC was both efficient and in need of additional funding to fulfill its charter.

Why do it? I suggest Malcolm Turnbull is using the enquiry to protect the ABC and public broadcasting from rabid elements within the government and the Murdoch press cheer squad. Turnbull is known to be a supporter of public broadcasting, as no doubt are many of his admittedly mute parliamentary colleagues, and I like to think they are working behind the scenes to counter the assault on the ABC in particular. A positive outcome from the ‘efficiency’ enquiry will be a good tactical outcome.

There are dismaying signs Turnbull and his assumed allies are failing. The most recent is the report ‘Turnbull loses battle to keep Skrzynski as SBS chairman’ (SMH, March 18) to the effect that Minister Turnbull lobbied strongly for the investment banker’s term to be extended but was overruled by the Prime Ministers office.

If I were inclined to panic I imagine a call along the lines ‘to the ramparts citizens, the barbarians are gathering at the gates’ might be forthcoming.

Bob Macadam