The other day, frustrated that while I could read ABC reporters comments on Twitter about an ABC news program, I wasn’t permitted — by ABC — to watch that program outside of Australia, I announced that I would no longer contribute to their online site. That is, exit. That boycott lasted all of 30 seconds when I switched to voice and offered to write a piece complaining about the ABC on their own site. To their credit, they accepted and it was published here.
Blocking the Expats: It’s not my ABC
Joshua Gans, The Drum, 25th August 2010
There is an old Seinfeld bit where he notes, on a late flight, that the pilot announced that they will “make up time in the air.”
Seinfeld wonders, “well, isn’t that interesting? Why don’t they just go as fast as possible all of the time?”
I thought of that on Saturday morning (my time here in Boston) when a tweet from Mark Scott informed us that ABC News 24 online would be lifting all international copyright restrictions for their election coverage. I thought, “well, isn’t that interesting?”
The image accompanying this article is usually what I see from this distance. Now I had figured that the reason for the block was that sometimes the ABC broadcast news from other parts of the world that was copy protected and so could not just choose to block whenever it wanted. But the Election Night action demonstrates that is not the case.
So my question is: why not just go? Why doesn’t the ABC turn on and off blocking when it needs to rather than all of the time?
Some three quarters of a million Australians live outside of the country. There are surely others who might take an interest in Australia. But for some reason, our public broadcaster — for which my tax dollars still fund (by the way) — chooses to shirk that constituency. This is a constituency that does not have great alternative options precisely because the ABC is responsible for much of the self-produced news and talk shows. I am forced to sit reading 140 character tweets from Jonathan Green (The Drum‘s editor) in order to find out what is going on on Q&A. Suffice it to say, he tries but it isn’t really a satisfying or informative experience.
Public providers should occupy space that private markets do not cover. For international expats, surely there is a case to be made for under provision. After all, Aussie ads aren’t that relevant to me right now. And let me not get started on the content on iView. The same issue applies.
Surely it cannot be hard to work this out. For one, if I provide some proof of residency (perhaps a tax file number), maybe I could register to receive all content unblocked. Otherwise, can’t the ABC at least turn off the block for its own local programming? It is an issue of access.
The ABC needs to take a long hard look at itself and its mission. The technology exists for greater access and it should be falling over itself to utilise it. I vote and am even asked to comment on Australian economics for outlets such as The Drum. Can its readers really rely on someone who is blocked from consuming ABC journalism? Either that reporting is valuable or it isn’t. The ABC needs to make the call.
Joshua Gans is an economics professor at Melbourne Business School and a visiting scholar at Harvard University. This may be his last contribution to The Drum.