How the ABC can be saved from itself
I should say upfront there is a lot I admire about the ABC.
I grew up in the country, where putting on the ABC each morning was as natural as putting on an Akubra.
These days our national broadcaster has become embroiled in a number of serious controversies threatening its future. And they are controversies of its own making.
Who could forget the political editor Andrew Probyn saying Tony Abbott as "the most destructive politician of his generation"?
Who could forget the relentless sneers and left-wing tweets against conservatives?
I tend to agree with the Sydney Institute's Gerard Henderson, who says the ABC is a staff-run collective. He says program-makers and editors operate independently of management, and regard the board as irrelevant.
Accusations of bias in the ABC are nothing new, but complaints seem to me to have become more frequent, and more vociferous.
There seems little doubt a perceived Left-liberal bias has alienated great swathes of the Australian public.
Victorian Liberal Michael Kroger, a former board member, savaged the ABC this week.
He said ABC news and current affairs paints the world as a dark place, becoming darker each day.
"It constantly highlights Australia's role in our diminishing world and presents us with a frightening future," he said.
"In the eyes of the ABC we are led by heartless politicians who refuse to open our borders to unlimited immigration. This is presented as a cultural failing of Australians who by extension are immensely selfish and obviously racist."
Kroger said religion was regarded by the ABC as a "dangerous and quaint oddity from the past".
"Christianity in general and the Catholic Church in particular are permanent targets of the ABC's ridicule and contempt. Its one-sided coverage of the Cardinal George Pell case astounded many.''
John Roskam from the Institute of Public Affairs said the debate about privatising the ABC was worth having.
"We are entitled to an unbiased news coverage from the ABC, and we are not getting it," he said.
He said the media elites had lost the ability to debate, "seeking only to censor".
Former Courier-Mail editor Christopher Dore, now the editor-in-chief of The Australian, tangled with the ABC's Media Watch when it criticised his paper, and others, for their reporting on Kevin Rudd's push for a media inquiry.
"In a Trump-like craze, Mr Rudd has published dozens of manic tweets and videos over the past few weeks, almost exclusively seeking to smear journalists at The Australian and other News Corp titles, labelling hardworking, respected professionals among other things, slime, liars, mafia and henchmen," said Dore.
"He has done countless interviews, many on the ABC, where his increasingly bizarre assertions and loose connections with the truth have gone completely unchallenged.''
Dore said the ABC was happy to accommodate Rudd's "lurid" campaign while failing to mention the ex-prime minister's petition also calls for an increase in ABC funding.
More funding? Really? Chris Mitchell, a former editor-in-chief of The Australian and The Courier-Mail, pointed out that The Australian with a budget of $50 million managed to break more exclusives than the ABC with a budget of more than $1 billion.
Why should people who care not for the ABC have their tax dollars plundered to keep it afloat?
The ABC's saturation coverage of left-wing "progressive" causes is largely irrelevant to many Australians.
The ABC seemed to acknowledge its problem in a recent statement when it said it was going to have more conservative voices on air. It read to me as though it had finally acknowledged an imbalance.
Over the years, however, a great number of prominent Australians, including former board members, have noticed a jump to the left by reporters.
I have noticed a "progressive" tone not just in news and current affairs. It has seeped into everything from drama to comedy and religion reports.
Tom Switzer summed it up well in his essay in Really Dangerous Ideas (Connor Court).
"On every issue of political controversy, the ABC's mental default position is essentially left-of-centre: opposition to labour-market deregulation, anti-terror laws and tougher border protection; support for a republic, multiculturalism, and same-sex marriage; an obsession with gender issues, Aboriginal rights and catastrophic man-made global warning."
And he noted groupthink and a collective ABC disdain for climate sceptics, the Christian Right and economic rationalists.
"These groups will not get the soft interview."
In his memoir Making Headlines (Melbourne University Press) Mitchell was especially critical of ABC program Q&A.
"On topics such as refugees, gay marriage and climate change, its coverage is loaded," he writes.
"Its choice of guests is always unbalanced."
And left-wing commentators always outnumbered conservatives on Insiders.
The ABC needs saving from itself.
There is a solution. And that is not to chop it up and sell it off.
In the new digital age, it would be relatively easy to introduce a user-pays model. Those who like the ABC, or choose to monitor certain programs for other reasons, could pay a modest subscription service. I know I would.
A veteran ABC journalist told me there was another way.
He said the ABC should be able to sell advertising, but not in news and current affairs programs.
He reminded me that hell did not freeze over when SBS was forced to accept ads.
And here is another idea: Perhaps the chairman of the ABC should be elected by popular vote.
Kevin Rudd may even put his hand up.
Originally published as How the ABC can be saved from itself