Yesterday’s Australian featured a very interesting opinion piece by Mark Day, which asked what exact role does the ABC as taxpayer-funded media serve in this modern multi-platform digital age. Does the fracturing of media by the internet and the rise of pay television make Aunty an anachronism?
Day makes some very worthy arguments, particularly when pointing out that under Mark Scott, the ABC is getting more aggressive in pursuing new media at the taxpayer’s expense (mind you, given how incestuous the commercial landscape is, it almost seems like a fair match).
Yet, I think there is and always will be a place for the ABC, although my belief stems from the fact that I believe wholeheartedly in public broadcasting (as in taxpayer funded, not the weird charity case that is the PBS system in the US.)
I haven’t lived in Australia long enough to have a strong emotional attachment to Aunty, but bloody hell, it’s pretty damn apparent that Aunty works very hard and very long. The ABC defines Australia like a state broadcaster should, and it also seems to have no problem being redefined by the public it serves.
There is no real state broadcaster in the US (at least not one within its borders—and the external one is a bit of dull dishrag, given that it’s prohibited from broadcasting to Americans), and at least at this moment in time, there really isn’t a need for one. Americans pretty much have long since come to the conclusion that commercial broadcasting would define us ever since Lucy & Desi started hawking cigarettes without breaking character, probably much earlier.
What we did in the US instead was market the living daylights out of our media both domestically and internationally (thank you WWII). The funny thing about the majority of American media, however, is that it’s inward facing: it’s American lives, having American dilemmas, in a world that is mostly devoid of influences from other outside nations, except for Canada, Mexico, and the UK on occasion.
And surprisingly such inward, navel-gazing entertainment sells overseas! (Again, thank you WWII.) It’s a constant surprise to me that commercial television stations all over the world lap up some of the dregs that US television spits out. Yet, that’s the role that the US media has always desired to have on the global market since well WWII, as the top supplier of filler.
The problem is that, like junk food, we fill you up way too much and you start thinking that you make us your whole diet, which is a grave mistake.
This is where a public broadcaster like the ABC comes in. The ABC doesn’t care about whether it’s cool amongst the 18-35 crowd, it just is. It stands apart from Sevens, Nines, and Tens, because it is defiantly Australian 24/7, or at least attempts to. (Everything ITV touches ain’t gold, Aunty.) I can’t say the same about Nine’s digital channel, GO!, which is constant American cartoons and vintage sitcoms.
This may sound shocking to some, but television plays a significant role in our sense of identity, and it is joined by the other new media which have popped up since its creation.
You would be hard pressed to find any country out there who would contract out its identity to another one who, to be blunt, sees no further than the tip of its nose.