Information and critical thinking do matter

When Prime Minister Morrison was advised there was the risk of uncontrolled spread of a deadly pandemic on the horizon early this year, he was slightly wiser than at Christmas when he left a burning Australia in the ‘capable’ hands of Deputy Prime Minister and National Party Leader Michael McCormack. Morrison gathered the state and territory leaders together to devise a strategy to manage the Australian health and economic systems through what was certainly going to be unprecedented times. The decision was to listen and act on the advice of the country’s Chief Medical Officers and in the process of saving lives, effectively kill economic growth. Ultimately the strategy was successful on both counts, thousands of lives have been saved and the economy is in recession.

After considerable prompting by evidence such as the millions of people lining up outside Centrelink offices due to the closure of all but essential services, Morrison’s Government created JobKeeper. It offered a flat wage to those people that no longer had meaningful work or an employer without income to convert to wages and other business expenses. At the same time they relaunched the ‘Newstart’ unemployment income support payment as JobSeeker and doubled the rate to something approaching a value that people could pay the rent, utilities, transport costs and finally afford to be able to buy wholesome food instead of starving.

The Arts industry, which is basically anyone from the busker at the railway station through movie producers, authors, orchestras, ballet companies as well as all those that are paid to entertain or provide the logistics for those that entertain also saw their income just stop. As did restaurants, cafes, hotels, sports stadiums, casinos, universities and so on. Airlines grounded the majority of their planes and eventually the Federal Government funded the maintenance of a skeleton service primarily to keep freight moving around the country. Retail literally shut up shop and media companies reduced output as the advertising dollar stopped dead. Murdoch’s Newscorp decided to stop physically printing around 100 newspaper titles across the country, forcing those who want to access the local news to online consumption at a price, certainly not ideal for older residents of regional communities that don’t necessarily have the skills to use a computer or ‘smart’ device, even if they owned one.

While some concessions were made for some of the groups above, with the promise of some targeted assistance yet to come, may were left to their own devices. While ‘private’ university staff were eligible for JobKeeper, public university staff were not. The Federal Government also doubled the cost of various university courses designed to teach people how to think critically (Arts courses that generally don’t have a direct link with a job). Despite the excellent service to communities affected by bushfires and other weather events during the summer, the reduction in comparable funding to previous years (known to most outside Morrison’s ‘Canberra bubble’ as funding cuts) programmed some time ago for the ABC were implemented.

As a consequence of the funding cuts, ABC recently announced a number of ‘initiatives’ to save money including sacking 250 people. News.com.au (owned by Murdoch’s Newscorp) reported
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has argued there have been no cuts to the ABC's funding after the national broadcaster announced 250 job losses.

The ABC unveiled the cuts on Wednesday, with the 7.45am radio news bulletin to be scrapped as up to 70 news division jobs disappear.

Mr Morrison said the ABC's overall funding was increasing each year.

"There are no cuts," he told reporters in Sydney on Thursday.

ABC managing director David Anderson said on Wednesday that operational funding would be more than 10 per cent lower in 2021/22 than it was in 2013.

The overall amount the corporation receives from government will rise from $1.062 billion in 2019/20 to $1.071 billion in 2021/22.

But an indexation freeze in funding is set to cost the ABC $84 million over those three years.
Nine Media recently reported that in a letter to the relevant minister Paul Fletcher, ABC Managing Director David Anderson offered to increase regional reporting in their news coverage should the latest ‘indexation pause’ be reversed
If indexation was restored, combined with savings and efficiencies that the ABC has identified in recent months, the Corporation would be in a position to commit an additional investment of up to $10 million per annum to employ more journalists in regional Australia and generate more content from regions for the local and national stories," Mr Anderson wrote.

Several government sources have confirmed Mr Fletcher did not reply to the letter, nor did he discuss the proposal with the ABC or his National Party colleagues, who have constantly raised concerns over the future of regional media outlets, following a spate of natural disasters including last summer's fires.
Murdoch’s Newscorp claims that local content previously reported in 100 printed newspapers will be retained both online and in the remaining physical newspapers. Maybe those in Morrison’s ‘Canberra bubble’ believe the Courier Mail, published in Brisbane, will represent the local concerns of all the people that live between Brisbane and Townsville which is the next outpost of the Newscorp empire that uses printers ink. You would probably have a hard time finding those outside the ‘bubble’ that shared the belief. ABC was offering to go and represent the communities. The relevant Minister, according to the report, didn’t even bother acknowledging the receipt of the ABC’s offer.

There is a larger issue here. Clearly the Morrison Government really doesn’t care that local people won’t get local news. Sometimes the news may be favourable to the government, sometimes it may not. That really doesn’t matter, accountability does. Local media is effectively the watchdog on the Council that doesn’t apply their own zoning laws, the reporter of the death of a local hero, or that 15 year old Johnny from the local school is going to represent Australia, or even that the local supermarket is expanding to meet demand. If the ABC were providing the news, their reporters are bound by the ABC’s Charter to be balanced and accurate; neither of which was guaranteed by Newscorp’s papers.

So, Morrison’s Government is ensuring that local communities don’t have local information. When you add in that the Morrison Government is also dissuading people from enrolling in tertiary education courses that teach critical thinking, he is also taking away the ability of people to distil the real information from the ‘fake news’. In short Morrison, like Turnbull and Abbott before him are trying to dumb us down to believe whatever story those in power wish to tell us. Maybe George Orwell’s 1984 was closer to reality than we thought.

Accountability matters. If there is no media in regional areas, there is no accountability for the council that rorts the system, the politician that doesn’t deliver what they promise or the numerous other newsworthy incidents that happen in regional communities each week. Murdoch’s Newscorp has made a business decision to effectively withdraw from large parts of Australia blaming lack of profitability. The role of providing accountability therefore defaults to the ABC, which is not profit driven by nature. As Morrison’s Government has deliberately cut funding for the ABC to perform this role — what’s he hiding?

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