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Democrats Move to Outlaw Ads on ABC Online

Fresh from their criticism of the Federal Government's plan to ban online gambling, the Australian Democrats are moving to keep national broadcaster site the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) Online ad-free.

Democrats Broadcasting spokesperson Senator Vicki Bourne introduced the party's introduction next Monday of the ABC Amendment (Online and Multichanneling Services) Bill 2001, to prevent news and similar content-driven ABC Online from hosting advertising.

"The Democrats have been long time opponents of advertising on the ABC," said Bourne. She added that the bill was aimed at heading off any introduction of advertisements to ABC Online, as they are currently not prohibited alongside television and radio versions of the ABC9s service under the ABC Act.

"The bill will ensure that the ABC Online Service is a declared service in the Act," said Bourne. "It will further ensure that the prohibition on advertising and sponsorship that exists for radio and television services is applied to the ABC Online service."

Bourne said that an important aspect of the proposed bill is that it extends the prohibition on advertising to links on or from ABC Online, an area about which the Democrats expressed concern as it can impact the broadcaster9's independence.

Bourne believed the ability to link to or from ABC Online pages offers potentially greater commercial benefit to other service providers. "This is particularly true of the News pages. Commercial organisations have the potential to feed from the integrity of the ABC's own services, without users even knowing they have entered an external site."

"This bill will require the ABC, at the very least, to notify users when they are entering a non-ABC site."

It is a concern for the independence of Australia9s national broadcaster that the Democrats maintain is driving the introduction of the bill. The ABC's recent history is dotted with instances of its potential vulnerability, the most recent of which being the now defunct new content deal with telstra.com.

"The ABC must remain both independent from government and free from commercial imperatives. The Democrats believe the ABC's independence and integrity should be protected and upheld at all times," said Bourne of the Democrats' motivation behind the bill's introduction.

This independence has also become frequent fodder for political debate. In March last year, a Senate Committee discussion into the Online delivery of ABC material posed the question considered the broadcaster9s independence online. "What is the prime purpose of the of the ABC? Is independence first or second?" asked committee respondent Ian Millard. "Whenever marketing is put before independence, it is at this point that the board, management and marketing people are not working in the public interest."

The debate over the ABC's independence, which is what lies at the heart of the Democrats new bill, goes back further, to claims in the Senate that former ABC Board member Michael Kroger proposed the partial or full privatisation of ABC Online in February 1999.

When Australia Labor Party Senator Mark Bishop quizzed then ABC managing director Brian Johns at the time, Kroger's proposal surfaced as a possible option the ABC may choose to explore.



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