The ABC has demanded the Institute of Public Affairs correct “erroneous and misleading claims” the public broadcaster said the rightwing lobby group made to a parliamentary committee.
“If the ABC is as trusted as its staff and supporters claim it is, then it has nothing to fear from privatisation or reform,” the lobby group told the committee.
Surveys consistently show a high level of public trust in the ABC.
The IPA’s audience figure of 15.4% does not account for the fact the ABC’s content has a huge reach across multiple platforms and services. The ABC’s output is not just television but encompasses ABC News online, which has been the No 1 digital news website for 12 months, and ABC Radio, which is also the No 1 national network.
The ABC News channel reached 6.4 million viewers in March and ABC Kids is the No 1 channel for children in daytime, followed by another ABC channel, ABC ME.
“The IPA has a responsibility to the federal parliament, and in particular, the Senate committee, to make sure their submissions are accurate,” the ABC response to the IPA submission said.
“On this occasion, the IPA has made false and misleading claims in relation to the ABC and it should immediately correct the record.”
The Senate committee has accepted the ABC’s reply to the IPA and will add it to the lobby group’s submission as a right of reply, sources told Guardian Australia.
“A media organisation owned and operated by the government that every taxpayer is forced to fund through their taxes is incompatible with a free society,” the submission said.
The IPA claimed that during the Covid pandemic the ABC had run a “pro-Covid elimination, pro-lockdown narrative” and that its journalists were biased and pursued an activist form of journalism.
But the ABC said its Covid coverage had been “from every angle and exhaustive”, which was recognised in the record audience numbers: 74% of Australia’s adult population agreed “the ABC is the most reliable place for information during an emergency”.
“In 2020, Australians turned to the ABC in record numbers,” the reply said. “Through the bushfires and Covid crises, the ABC has been the trusted source of news and information.”
The ABC’s Coronacast podcast with Dr Norman Swan quickly became one of the ABC’s top-performing programs during the pandemic.
Using its own commissioned polling, the IPA claimed only 32% of Australians “believe the ABC represents their view”. Those results, the ABC said, are “at odds” with similar surveys the ABC has commissioned, including those from companies such as Roy Morgan and Essential Media.
“The ABC is perceived as a valuable service to the Australian community by 79% of Australians,” the broadcaster said. “Seventy-seven per cent also believe that ‘a healthy ABC is essential for Australia’s future’.”
The thinktank also claimed the ABC “crowds out emerging and competing media in Australia’s private media market”.
The government’s competitive-neutrality inquiry found in 2019 there was no evidence that the ABC was crowding out the private sector.
The IPA said the ABC’s support for the mandatory news code meant there was a conflict between the ABC’s independent editorial stance. But the ABC has had a commercial arm for 45 years, raising revenue from licensing content such as ABC Kids.
“Obtaining fair market value for content on digital platforms is entirely consistent with that approach and serves the taxpayer well,” the ABC said.