The ABC should have a guaranteed five-year funding cycle and its budget and board should be independent of government influence, former competition czar Rod Sims said in a speech.
Ahead of Tuesday’s budget, when the ABC will have its $84 million indexation restored, Sims called for “loud and clear” ABC governance and stable funding for the public broadcaster.
“The ABC is a vital institution which should remain essentially as it is, and certainly should not be restricted in its purpose or, worse, privatised,” said the former head of Australia’s Competition and Consumer Commission. at the Melbourne book launch. Who needs the ABC? by Matthew Ricketson and Patrick Mullins.
“That would represent extremely poor economic and public policy.”
“Damage the ABC and Australia is damaged,” he said.
The ABC has a three-year funding cycle which the Labor Party has pledged to extend to five years to protect the ABC and SBS from “arbitrary ideological cuts and political interference”.
Since the Coalition came to power in 2014, the CBA has lost $526 million in funding, resulting in the loss of 640 jobs, from 4,704 employees to 4,064.
Sims’ call for stronger governance, including no tied funding, comes after the Morrison government demanded the ABC and SBS add a new layer of accountability in the form of new reporting conditions .
The move was lambasted by Labor as “stealth regulation” which could lead to a loss of independence.
Sims, who is a professor of public policy at the Australian National University, said there needed to be a new process to ensure non-partisan appointments to the board.
Several recent board appointments were made after the minister bypassed the independent nominating committee.
Sims said he can’t remember a time when the ABC was under as much pressure as it has been in recent years.
“The current government should seek to nurture the ABC. Who knows, they might even get better coverage, human nature being what it is,” he said.
“The book describes at length the growing criticism of the ABC. If I look back on my life, I don’t recall the criticism of the ABC being as prominent or as strong as it seems in recent years.
Sims said the ABC board should also “make sure the ABC doesn’t go out of its way to ‘poke the government in the eye’ unnecessarily.”
Journalism held the powerful accountable and all of society benefited, Sims said, adding that the ABC was more than its journalism.
“With all these public goods, it is certain that public interest journalism will be under-provided if left to the commercial sector alone,” he said. “As a result, virtually all countries provide some level of public funding for journalism.”