Tuesday 10 March 2009

ABC: Letting Down Democracy

Syd Walker wants the ABC to act like a publically-funded broadcaster.

The election process in this country – at State and Federal levels –often reminds me of a lift. It’s rather small lift, and there’s only really room for two. The first candidate out wins.

In this coming Queensland election, only two major parties – the ALP and the LNP – are inside the lift. They have the resources, dollars, organization and contacts to ride the escalator to power. Other candidates have a hard job getting any traction. The chance of an upset – in which neither the ALP nor the LNP are elected - is slim.

But what if a candidate from outside the two major parties is a candidate of quality – someone whom many find a more attractive representative than the major party offerings? Surely quality powers through?

In theory, that’s true. But most people in the electorate will, in all likelihood, never even hear alternative candidates speak. They get so little media coverage there’s a good chance you’ll miss them. Occasions when all the candidates debate together – so you can compare and contrast their arguments and policies – are few indeed.

There was one such opportunity this morning on ABC radio, which is running a daily series of interviews with candidates for each of the six FNQ State electorates. Today, Day One, was the turn of Barron River candidates. It was an interesting debate.

Did you hear it? Statistically, that’s unlikely. You would have needed to be listening to the ABC between 9.30am and 10am. Most folk in the electorate, I suspect, missed the program – even if they were interested.

Yet in this modern era, it’s easy to catch such audio recordings at your leisure: just download them from the ABC website. It’s an easy service for the public broadcaster to provide – and in a case like this, ensures that no-one who’s interested misses out.

I was keen to obtain a copy of the recording and called the ABC shortly after the interview ended – only to be informed that ABC Far North has no intention of putting the audio files on its website. I was told people should try to listen live. When I made a fuss, I was referred to Media Monitors.

Media Monitors is a private company. I called and asked for an audio file of the interview. I was told that would be fine. The price tag? $200!

I then wrote a letter of complaint to the local Manager of the ABC, pointing out this debate was – to my knowledge – the ONLY time in the election campaign when any of the mass media interview all three Barron River candidates at once. Yet the public, if they missed it, are expected to pay $200. The ABC, I pointed out, is publicly funded. If it won’t cover elections adequately it is failing, in a most basic way, to serve as a public broadcaster.

I have yet to hear back from the ABC. My letter of complaint is below. You may like to write one too?

The interview this morning was not perfect. The format was rather stilted and there was no real engagement between the speakers. Even so, I think a clear idea of the respective qualities of the candidates emerged for those of us who listened.

If you didn’t hear it, you missed out. If the ABC behaves like this as a matter of routine, our democracy misses out. My letter to that worthy organization follows…

  • Mr Bruce Woolley,
    ABC Far North
    Cairns, FNQ
    9th March 2009

    Dear Mr Woolley

    This is a formal request that ABC Far North does its most basic job without delay, by providing basic information to help inform the Australian public so our democracy is sustained and strengthened.

    According to the Charter of the ABC, the functions of the Corporation are:

    (a) to provide within Australia innovative and comprehensive broadcasting services of a high standard as part of the Australian broadcasting system consisting of national, commercial and public sectors and, without limiting the generality of the foregoing, to provide:
    (ii) broadcasting programs of an educational nature;

    There can be few matters of such crucial educational value to the community as a whole as accurate and thorough reporting about the candidates who will represent this community in our Parliaments.

    Today the candidates for the electorate of Barron River in the forthcoming Queensland State election were interviewed on ABC Radio Far North. It is one of six debates between election candidates in the six electorates due to be broadcast by local ABC radio. No repeat debate is scheduled, as far as I'm aware.

    Also, as far as I’m aware, there are no plans for debates between candidates on local TV or on any other radio channel. The debate that just tool place, therefore, is the ONLY media debate between candidates for the electorate of Barron River planned during the entire election campaign.

    I just called ABC Far North to obtain a copy of the audio tape, which I’d like in digital format. I was told it wouldn’t be possible. I asked again and was referred to 'Media Monitors'.

    As an Australian citizen I do not find it acceptable that the ABC fails so abysmally to fulfill its obligations to further the democratic process in this country.

    I thoroughly object to being referred to a fee-charging private company in this case. If I am to pay a fee at all, I wish to pay the public broadcaster. I object to enriching a private monopoly on a matter pertaining to Australian democracy. What have we come to, for heavens sake?

    How much effort does it take to make this interview available as a downloadable file on the ABC Far North website - so all locals can hear it if they so wish at a tie of their convenience? How much cost is involved? Would you like volunteers to help?

    If the ABC can’t afford to perform this utterly basic service, free of charge to listeners, I question the value that the public obtains from the local ABC.

    Perhaps the opportunity to broadcast on these wavelengths should be tendered out, so other organizations willing to meet basic standards for reporting elections in a modern democracy can have a go?

    Yours sincerely
    Syd Walker
    Far North Queensland

PS. I just called Media Monitors to establish the cost and availability of the audio file. I was told it may be available later this morning. The price was $200.

Democracy privatized? Traduced? Just for the rich? Or all of the above?


Anonymous said...

A happy ending.

Bruce Woodley from the ABC just got in touch and said that ABC Far North shall, indeed, post the series of interviews with election candidates on its website, as soon as possible.

Apparently Fiona Sewell will do it in her spare time. Thanks Fiona.

Anonymous said...

Does Bruce Woodley still play the double bass. They don't make bands like that any more.

Anonymous said...

OK. I mis-spelt Bruce Woolley. Apologies.

Still no candidate interviews online, not as far as I can see. Just a week and a half to go before election day...

Anonymous said...

The Greens in Barron River now have a webpage linking to the interviews.