Public broadcasters and charging for content

Posted: October 20, 2009 in Journalism, Media convergence, media convergence, media platforms, media regulation, online media, online news, paid content

Just thought I’d post quickly in relation to last night’s Media Watch on the ABC. If you live outside of Australia, or indeed live in Australia but missed it, it’s well worth watching. Not only is it on the seemingly never-ending debate about paying for content, it’s got what every college-journalist shamefully strives for – conflict!

A great analysis of the war of words between the ABC’s chief Mark Scott and the Murdochs. Well, I’m not sure if Rupert and James are that bothered about the ABC when, in an  age where newspapers and broadcasters increasingly occupy the same space,  it’s clearly the BBC that poses the bigger commercial problem – but the arguments are the same wherever a strong public broadcaster offers online content.

It’s especially interesting comparing the ABC vs News Ltd and the rest spat against the BBC vs News Lts and the rest spat. Although clearly the smaller player, the ABC seems to operate with a lot more confidence than the Beeb. The obvious answer to this is the less visible model of charging the consumer – most punters would probably prefer to have funding quietly taken from their taxes than loudly receive threatening letters to cough up a licence-fee in the mail.

Something the show didn’t go into quite enough detail over, I’d argue, is the role of public broadcasting. Maybe the BBC and ABC should be forced to dump the content that doesn’t play a vital role in democracy? Strictly Come Dancing might be a good laugh (not for me, of course), but is it a good use of tax and licence-fee money? It would rob Murdoch of one part of his argument- for about 30 seconds – if the essential forms of journalism that don’t sell The Sun or Sydney’s Daily Telegraph – in terminal decline on TV as they are – were protected from the storm while entertainment was left to HBO. After all, they do it best.

It would be hard for anyone to argue that a crucial role in uncovering injustice, lies, deception and corruption of power is not currently played by publicly-funded broadcasters – which, of course, includes their online offerings. If the state-funded model (such as the ABC) is to survive another few decades, surely it will have to be stripped down and refined to provide what it does best – an essential source of quality investigative journalism, news and current affairs. And you know what? Far more of it.

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