Welcome to the Friends of the ABC in NSW
Bring back Backchat...
By Tim Bowden
Tim Bowden, former host of Backchat on ABC TV, writes on the restructured Radio National, and the Terrible Tweets on ABC TV’s Q&A
I miss BackChat – it used to comment on radio matters as well as telly, and I have a beef about both.
First Radio National – yes I know, the sainted RN without which Australia would be a cultural wasteland. I also know that things can’t stay the same all the time. (Mind you John Cargher had to die before RN bosses had the courage to drop Singers of Renown after three decades and more… not that there was much alternative as it happened.)
Every now and then the powers-that-be can’t wait to get their hands on the shiny levers of change, and pull them about. This isn’t all bad. The shake up at the beginning of this year did bring back The Media Report, which never should have been axed, so past mistakes CAN be remedied. Also God lost Her stranglehold on RN’s Sunday mornings to some extent from 7 am, which I thought was a good move. In general the RN network did get a spring clean, which livened the old girl up a bit.
BUT – the scrapping of the half-hour specialist programs on Monday to Friday at 8.30am was a disaster. Now I never hear them at 5.30 pm, unless I think to pod them later.
The reason for this was to give Fran Kelly and the Breakfast team an extra half hour till 9am. Why? Look, Fran runs a great show and I am hooked on it. But it starts at 6am, and after two-and-a-half crackling hours, I for one need a change of pace, and Fran at the team probably need a break. On would come Norman Swan with the Health Report on Monday, and the rest of the varied offerings through the week at 8.30am. I am told that the ratings for most of these dropped sharply, but this is admittedly hearsay.
However when you look at what had to happen to accommodate the shifting of this particular shiny-handled organisational lever, the story gets worse and in my view bizarre. To make room for the specialist programs, the current affairs icon PM (OK, declaration of interest, I was it’s first Executive Producer back in 1969 when it started) had to be shortened to half an hour! Talk about put the clock back, we only had half an hour back in 1969, but in later years the program was expanded to include 10 minutes of news and 50 minutes of current affairs. This is still the case on the Metropolitan networks.
So what are RN regulars supposed to do if they want their full dose of PM in the evening? Wait till 6pm and change to another network? What kind of decision-making is that? Why would you encourage your listeners to go to another network to get a service you were no longer providing? Crazy is too kind a word to describe this change.
Apart from my own historical connection with PM,I think this is loopy. I have been writing and emailing (to Mark Scott and the Chairman of the ABC Board Jim Spigelman among others). These emails have been batted back to RN supremo Michael Mason, who countered with unapologetic blandishments – and how about this for a laugh – justifying the change by saying that poor Mark Colvin (after battling through the week doing a truncated PM for Radio National and then a full version from 6-7 pm for the Metropolitans) had been given an extended show of his own at 10 pm on Friday nights!!! Until recently he’d been doing all this while on dialysis for his failed kidneys. He’d have been better off with an early night. But willing horse that he is, I bet he never complained. I am complaining though at this weak excuse by Mason to justify slashing PM in the first place.
As I said to Mason in earlier correspondence, it’s not too late to change this. We don’t even have to wait till 2014. Just do it. End RN Breakfast at 8.30am, bring back the specialist programs to their old slot, and restore PM to its full time. Mistakes can be made. They can also be reversed. As my old father used to say, I have been ‘farting against thunder’ with the ABC on this one. I would welcome some input from ABC RN listeners to indicate that I am not just one voice crying from the wilderness.
NOW IT’S TELLY’S TURN
And in particular Q & A hosted by Tony Jones, a great show but marred by the inane Twittering across the bottom of the screen that is distracting and irrelevant.
I know that it is trendy to involve social media but in reality it simply detracts from the debate and cheapens an otherwise admirable program.
This is why. A good proportion of the tweets are just smartarse comments to get on screen. Even when Twitterers get around to commenting on debate itself, it has invariably moved on and the points being made are no longer relevant.
I am not anti social media and use it myself. But in this case it is an abomination. Sometimes I hold up my arm to try and mask off the bottom of the screen to avoid seeing those distracting messages.
On two occasions I have emailed Tony Jones directly to point out the asinine effect of these pesky Tweets, but he has chosen not to reply. So I am taking this occasion to try again. Get rid of them Tony. They don’t work. Be brave. Let the egocentric Twitterers complain all they like about the loss of their little wanks. They will not be missed by your wider audience, free at last to concentrate on what the panellists are actually saying.
It may be possible to market little curtains with Velcro tabs to mask the bottom of the telly screens while Q & A is on to obliterate the inanity. I tell you, I am seriously considering working on a production model, first for me, and then for Q & A viewers.
That’s all for the moment. Ah – I feel much better now getting that off my chest. But I will be more gratified if RN gets its act together about returning the specialist half-hours to their former spots, and restoring PM to its full length on its home network. And get rid of those bloody Tweets Tony, they are not worth a spurt of goats piss.
Submission to the Inquiry into the ABC’s commitment to reflecting and representing regional diversity of the Senate Environment and Communications References Committee
Submission for Friends of the ABC NSW, Qld, Tas, Vic & WA - full details [here] (18 pp - 590Kb)
Guidance for action and advocacy. These documents provide information and resources for action by individuals and branches, in writing letters to the ABC, to politicians, or in discussion with others about the ABC.
They cover the following areas:
- Addressing Balance and Bias
- Australian Content on ABC TV
- The Role of the ABC as an Educator
- Increasing the ABC Budget
- A Proposed Redraft of the ABC Charter
Click [here] - .PDF 680KB
Letter to the editor of Update
As founding president of the Friends of the ABC I want to congratulate you on the quality of Update. While I am a little too old now to take an active part in the activities of the Friends, I remain an active follower of the contents of the magazine, and the growth of the organisation.
Since the first well-attended meeting in Anzac House, Sydney, in 1978, the Friends of the ABC has become an Australia-wide organisation, demonstrating its importance to the people of this country. It is in fact indispensable. But without their support the ABC, diminished though it is in so many ways, would always be in danger of becoming increasingly commercial, thereby losing its independence - as has happened to New Zealand's national broadcaster.
Dispiriting though it is at times, the struggle for an independent ABC must go on - for increased government funding; for the right to have a staff elected director on the Board; for the ABC to maintain its integrity; for the ABC to keep its Charler responsibilities.....Now there's a new danger - an increasing presence of cheap. lightweight, irrelevant quiz TV programs from UK. What about local content!
ABC Radio battles on courageously against great odds. attempting to maintain high quality in-depth programs, enterlaining as well as informing when TV fails. As one little boy so succinctly put it, he still prefers radio "Because the pictures are better".
ABC Managing Director Mark Scott has responded to a column in The Australian this week by commentator Janet Albrechtsen.
Janet Albrechtsen says her invitation on to the Insiders couch does not address her perception that the ABC lacks a diversity of voices. Albrechtsen is a conviction player and I have always enjoyed my conversations with her, but in her time on the ABC board and elsewhere I was never convinced I could change her mind about much. More [here]
On 25 September, the ABC’s Manager of Radio National, Michael Mason, circulated to “All Staff” a memo announcing “proposed changes to a number of areas of Radio National”. He said:” These changes stem largely from the findings and recommendations of the RN Production Sustainability Project (PSP) but also from editorial considerations relating to the 2015 schedule”. Read Michael Mason's 10 page memo [here].
In response, Dr Peter Pockley from Science Communication ® writes " I make eight major points, though more can be said.
1. Million dollar cut: Unsurprisingly, this memo received wide circulation outside the confines of ABC RN staff and became the basis of critical comment FABC braches and print media. Mason said, somewhat ominously: “We are proposing very significant changes that will affect many of you. The PSP is a once in a generation opportunity for change, and it is critical that you understand the reasons behind the changes we’re proposing”. We are dealing here with a “plan” that is replete with “management-speak”; e.g. the feel-good term “sustainability” really means “our budget has been cut and this is what is left for us to survive on”. Concomitantly, the report is light on real substance. Seriously, too, the “proposals” are, in effect, decisions that have already been made and the ink is only waiting to dry.
2. Details needed: Particularly disappointing for not only RN staff but equally for RN’s many supporters in radioland is that the report meekly accepts the cuts which have been handed down and shows no sign that RN “management” debated the financial consequences with those higher up the management chain, first stop being the national Director of Radio, Kate Dundas, and finally the Managing Director, Mark Scott. FABC would do a public service by asking for details of the cuts to RN and equivalent statements for any budget changes – up or down – for 2013 in other main divisions like TV, News, and Web/Online. Who has really been driving the shrinking of RN?
3. Senior responses needed: This is a time, not for descent into micromanagement “solutions” for dealing with budget cuts (as described in Mason’s memo to staff), but for framing strong and convincing arguments for retention of the specialist units and producers who give RN its special character with its unique contributions of fact and independent analysis to national affairs. Most unfortunately, this report on RN is devoid of such context, primarily, in ABC as a whole, and, secondly, as a major division in ABC Radio. This is why substantive responses need to come from the Director of Radio and the Managing Director.
3. Some issues addressed, but: The report makes useful comments on some areas of production and there is an overdue recognition of “succession” issues as prominent staff move towards retirement. Also, the proposed Creative Audio Unit sounds interesting but it is only vaguely defined and does not have an obvious, committed champion from within RN staff to establish and lead it. Overall, I cannot perceive anything proposed from these items that will be noticeable to listeners. They certainly notice those programs which are being shut down, like drama, or shrunk.
5. Online to pay RN for supplies? The relative resources available to RN and ABC Online have never been revealed and it’s time to have some clarity on the current budgets and trends planned into the near future. A particular concern in recent years has been the support being transferred from on-air output to online/web services. RN programs, especially the stand-out specialist programs on RN contribute strongly to the content and quality of the online/web services and it has long been suspected that there has been a steady drain of support (i.e. budgets, staffing and resources) away from on-air. This review of RN should have made a strong argument for, or at least acknowledged, an internal re-balancing of resources accordingly, but there is no hint of detailed costings, direct and indirect, involved in internal balances and transfers. For internal fairness and measure of relative support, the ABC budgeting should provide for internal costs of RN’s contributions to web/online to be repaid back to RN’s budget.
6. RN key feed for ABC Online: In another huge hole in the report, I can find no reference of any nature to the audience(s) for RN programs and their reactions. One or two programs are mentioned as having strong followings, but this seems to have been judged by such indirect measures as requests for transcripts (essentially, an online/web area which should be costed there, not out of RN’s diminishing budget). There is no mention of downloads of podcasts which indicate “popularity” of certain content and presenters. Philip Adams, for one, maintains a huge national and international audience for Late Night Live from this online service. It is grossly inadequate for a review like this to avoid any mention of feedback, let alone some kind of analysis of this and how it is handled. This must be of particular concern to FABC followers who, too frequently get the brush-off from our comments which may be critical at times but are always constructive in support of an improved ABC.
7. Audiences not consulted: I wouldn’t want to get stuck on simplistic measures of audience “ratings” as these are not especially applicable to RN as a whole or any of its component programs, but it is extraordinary that this report is constructed entirely internally and the writers didn’t have the good sense to engage in some external consultation. FABC Vic has direct experience of this in the way their painstaking and constructive survey of dedicated ABC followers was dismissed out of hand with a “form” letter.
8. Program quality: Apart from the closure of a few programs, there is no indication that RN “management” gives any leadership in critically assessing program and presenter quality. Of the much-vaunted changes in the 2012 schedule there are some duds which cry out for corrective action or major change. Sunday Extra is one such case. This “flow” program stands in sharp contrast to its companions Saturday Extra and RN Drive which are sharp, inventive and invariably good listening. Much of the difference lies in the regular presenters with Geraldine Doogue and Fran Kelly carrying their audiences with them in natural, relaxed style, whereas for Sunday Extra Jonathan Green is limp or mannered (unnatural upward inflections on most words in scripted intros) and frankly irritating in practically all aspects of his presentation. A firm producer of his style and an editor of his scripted pieces in advance of delivery are badly needed; pre-recording him in place of “live” delivery would allow for such improvements, if he has this within him. But this review does not open the door to any firm action on such failures".
8 December 2012
Statement from Quentin Dempster on ABC Staff-Elected Director* Ballot
I have been rendered ineligible to nominate for the position of staff-elected director of the ABC in the impending Australian Electoral Commission ballot.
My legal advice is that the recently passed National Broadcasting Legislation Amendment Bill and associated regulations about to be proclaimed will retrospectively and unfairly discriminate against ABC employees who served two successive terms as director before the abolition of the position by the Howard government in 2006. Myself and only one other still serving employee, John Cleary, are affected.
I had been eligible to nominate (and in fact won the position) in 2006 even though I had served two terms as SED from 1992 to 1996.
But the new legislation in establishing five year terms for staff elected directors in future applies a retrospective prohibition to former office holders in spite of the fact that the ABC Act’s former provisions set SED terms at just two years. The Minister’s office has indicated my ineligibility is an inadvertent and unintended consequence of legislative drafting.
I am distressed by this turn of events but have no choice now but to withdraw.
I thank the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Senator the Hon Stephen Conroy, members and senators of the Australian Labor Party, supportive independent MHRs and the Greens for the governance reforms which establish an arms-length merit selection process for the appointment of all ABC directors and the reinstatement of the SED position. This is a significant legacy after 80 years of politicisation, influence peddling and the regular practice of stacking the board with partisans and ideologues by both the Labor and Liberal parties to the detriment of the ABC and this institution’s trusted role in our national life.
I respectfully ask the Liberal and National parties to now review their policy and support these more enlightened governance arrangements.
I apologise to staff and ABC supporters who have been encouraging me to ‘hang in there’ in the six years since the SED position was abolished. I have kept faith with staff and the ABC over those six years, making submissions to parliamentary inquiries on ABC issues, supporting staff, engaging with Friends of the ABC and audiences, advising management on editorial policies and contributing to the debate about public broadcasting and the ABC’s future.
I will remain an advocate for non-commercial mainstream public broadcasting in Australia and will be supporting Matt Peacock, an experienced, courageous and committed public broadcaster for the staff-elected director position. Matt is planning to visit Brisbane, Melbourne, Hobart, Adelaide, Perth and Darwin and as many regional centres as possible to engage with all staff on current issues in coming weeks and months.
I am asking all ABC colleagues to give Matt your full support in the difficult and uncertain period ahead to help secure the ABC’s future.
*The ABC’s staff-elected director position was first introduced into the broadcaster’s governance initially by ministerial arrangements adopted by Moss Cass, Minister for the Media in the Whitlam government 1972-1975. After a ballot of all ABC staff the minister appointed the successful candidate to the board. The position was enshrined in the ABC Act by the Hawke Government in 1983, but was removed in the last term of the Howard government in 2006 when that government had the numbers in the Senate. The following have served as staff-elected director: Marius Webb (1975-78), Tony Bond (interim 1983), Tom Molomby (1983-88), John Cleary (1988-92), Quentin Dempster (1992-96), Kirsten Garrett (1996-2000), Ian Henschke (2000-2002), Ramona Koval (2002-2006). The position has evolved as an integral conduit to board strategy and decision making processes and over time has proved itself to be crucial to the ABC’s independence and integrity. Through the SED position the illegal ‘backdoor sponsorship’ of programs and commercial compromise through pay TV deals in the 1990s and the Telstra content deal in 2000 were fully exposed. In the’ backdoor’ scandal the ABC Board was seen by the public to have acted to restore the broadcaster’s integrity. This made the ABC less vulnerable to attack when its program Media Watch exposed ‘cash for comment’ practices in commercial radio. In 2004 the SED acted decisively to expose political interference through a proposal for external ‘bias’ monitoring of ABC news and current affairs programs. A staff elected director is not a ‘ representative’ of staff as such on the board and has the full range of duties, obligations and responsibilities as all other directors.
If you have ever enjoyed ABC Radio National and would be sorry to see it damaged, I urge you to read the following bulletin, spread the word, and write a short note to the contacts you'll find in the press release [here] linked to below, telling them how you feel.
At stake, the future of radio drama, which brings Australian contemporary writing to 40,000+ people each week, and gives work to hundreds of actors and musicians. Airplay, the Book Reading, Sunday Story and Movie Time are to be axed.
Also the experimental space, the Night Air, which has introduced so many to playful radio and story telling.
Features and docos - Into the Music, Hindsight and 360documentaries too will be affected, with a 1/3 increase in workload for the staff remaining after the cuts, meaning the detail and attention we pay to you and your world, through our programs, will be seriously affected.
Two sound engineers and one admin staff are also to go. Travel across the network has been curtailed - now we can only bring you stories from, well, near our desks.
A new low-staffed radio program called the Creative Audio Unit will come into play, bringing you American storytelling and low budget buy-ins.
RN's most experienced documentary, drama and features producers are being targeted for redundancy. The Arts area of RN is being seriously eroded. This area is a significant marker of RN's difference on the radio dial. Without it, how long can RN itself continue?
Radio National - renowned for its breadth of programs of intellectual and cultural integrity - is being cut to meet a $1 million cut in its budget.
This year, generalist talk programs, traditionally a feature of local radio, took the place of specialist programming in some time slots. Now, highly skilled ABC program makers are about to be made redundant.
Next year, radio plays and book readings will be axed. So will Creative Instinct, Lingua Franca and The Night Air. Movie Time will finish, and RN’s once dedicated book program will be further diluted to incorporate movies. Other programs will have shortened preparation times.
Do not let the ABC abandon its responsibilities to “inform”, “educate”, “encourage and promote drama and other performing arts”, and to “reflect the cultural diversity of the Australian community”.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
Write to Mark Scott, ABC Managing Director at GPO Box 9994, Sydney 2001 or email him.
Write to the Chairman of the ABC Board, James Spigelman email
Write to your local Federal Member of Parliament details [here]
Let your MP know that in the forthcoming Federal Budget you expect the Government to fund the national broadcaster so that it can meet all of its charter responsibilities.
Write to the Minister for the Arts, Simon Crean email
Join Friends of the ABC [here]
Please pass this message on to others.
Subject: ABC Makes Plans to Axe Radio Drama
ABC Radio National has proposed to axe radio drama, book-readings and short stories from its 2013 schedule and to disband the internationally recognized, prize-winning Radio Drama Unit by late November.
This will entail a redirection of the $200,000 in fees paid each year directly to artists: actors, writers, musicians and composers away from radio play production.
Radio plays are currently made available on a weekly basis to audiences across the country, including remote areas, showcasing the best of Australian playwrighting and performance.
This will mean:
- the end of 40 play productions per year, the major part of which are original playwrighting commissions
- the end of a unique form of drama production in Australia after an 80-year commitment
- the cessation of the last vestige of in-house drama production by the ABC
- a significant withdrawal by the ABC from its engagement with the Theatre sector
- a significant withdrawal by the ABC from its engagement with the Literary sector with the end of readings by performers on air in a dedicated program
- a further "dumbing down" of ABC Radio National output.
The Hon James Spigelman AC QC,
Chairman of the ABC
Address to Ripe@2012 Conference
Sydney, September 5, 2012
As in every nation represented at this international conference, the Australian media landscape is today dominated by the challenges of digital technology with radical effects already apparent and the scope of future effects inherently uncertain. For many participants in the media this is a time of fear and trepidation. It was always thus with revolutions in communication technology. Complete speech [here]
SMH 15 Jun 2012
The ABC’s Radio National has lost one of its most accomplished long-term presenters with the death of Alan Saunders, aged 58.
The respected veteran fell ill while working on his regular program The Philosopher’s Zone in Sydney yesterday, the network said in a statement.
He was taken to hospital but died this morning surrounded by colleagues and friends.
Story continues below ‘‘In his 25 years with Radio National, Alan made a substantial contribution to the intellectual discourse in Australia and certainly to the enjoyment of his audiences,’’ ABC Director Radio Kate Dundas said.
Saunders received the Pascall Prize for Critical Writing and Broadcasting in 1992 and the Australasian Association of Philosophy’s Special Media Prize in 2007.
‘‘Alan embodied Radio National’s commitment to intelligent, specialist broadcasting,’’ said ABC Managing Director Mark Scott.
‘‘He was a trusted, authoritative voice for so many years.’’
Acting station manager Amanda Armstrong said Saunders ‘‘wrote like an angel, and had a deep knowledge of music among many other areas including philosophy, gastronomy, architecture, design and film’’.
Read more [here]
After allowing time for listeners to adjust to Radio National’s 2012 program changes, Friends of the ABC (Vic) recently conducted a survey to ascertain the views of its members and followers on RN’s present line- up. Letter to ABC [here]
Friends of the ABC wishes to raise with you a number of matters regarding Radio National’s future, which include: the ABC’s vision for RN, staffing and budget cuts to RN, RN’s reflection of state interests, and its use of externally produced programs. Read the letter [here]
The Age 21 June 2012
Appointments to the board of the national broadcaster, the ABC, and the government-funded SBS, will be governed by new laws that will reinstate a staff-elected director to the ABC and creates an independent panel to advise the government on suitable appointments.
The National Broadcasting Legislation Amendment Bill 2010 passed the Senate late last night with the support of the Greens.
The Coalition was opposed to the bill, claiming Labor had drafted the legislation to appease the unions [more].
Friends of the ABC
Convergence Review Committee
the Committee’s Interim Report
It is in the overwhelming public interest that independent public broadcasting thrives in Australia.
An independent and comprehensive national public broadcaster that is well-resourced to play a
prominent role in the life of the nation is integral to the maintenance of our culture. Furthermore, in a
country that has a dangerously high concentration of media ownership, the Australian Broadcasting
Corporation (ABC) is critical to the quality and the diversity of media, and to our democracy.
Yet, while the importance of strong public broadcasting grows as commercial media diversity shrinks,
so does the threat to its long-term viability.
The Friends of the ABC (NSW) is a signatory to this submission.
Read the submission [here] (6 pages - 255KB .PDF)
Gerard Henderson - SMH 3 Jan 2012
When minding grandchildren at the beach in shallow water, there is not much to do except listen to the radio. And so it came to pass that on Christmas Day, with earpiece attached, I switched on the ABC Radio National Artworks program.
There was a discussion about the latest inner-city fashion of yarnbombing, whereby a certain sect of radical feminists engage in adorning public places with graffiti of the knitted genre. Artworks' sympathetic coverage concluded with a certain Casey Jenkins telling the program how she recently travelled to Vatican City and attached her home-knitted "lesbian fling-up" to the Basilica. The ABC reporter and presenter appeared to approve of such action. Read more: [here]
Unless you act NOW, gone by the end of this year will be:
Art Nation, the ABC’s sole TV arts magazine program, and Collectors.
The ABC TV arts unit.
A team of specialist arts programmers is
critical to the ABC’s capacity to create and
commission quality arts programming. Without
an arts unit, the ABC’s role as the nation’s
cultural archivist, a chronicler of our greatest
artistic achievements, will be seriously diminished.
And who will be left to advocate for arts programming within a public broadcaster that is increasingly directing its limited resources to populist programs produced by private production houses with an eye to commercial sales after first screening on the ABC?
Artsworks and The Book Show. Arts and The Book Show will be merged into a new Radio National program called Arts
and Books. The Age estimated that if RN’s proposed changes to its 2012 schedule proceed, RN will reduce its arts programming by 16.5 percent to become under 19 hours a week, excluding music programs.
What to do? [here]
The Senate Environment and Communications References Committee report "Recent ABC programming decisions"
Recommendations [here] (2 pages - 42KB .PDF)
Quentin Dempster's response [here] (1 page - 45KB .PDF)
Full report [here] (88 pages - 450KB .PDF)
Friends of the ABC has never been averse to program change and innovation. Hence our comments on
program changes are generally limited to instances where the significance of a change has other
In regard to recent ABC television program decisions, FABC is concerned about both the nature of the
changes and the context in which they are occurring. The changes are a marker of a fundamental
change that is taking place in the essential character of Australia’s national broadcaster. Full submission [here] (.PDF 390KB)
Until quite late in the 20th century, it was fashionable to deride the ABC as a sheltered workshop, hidebound by public service rules and red tape, the home of engineers in grey cardigans, and workaday journalists content to bring up the rear. You seldom hear such things said today, and that is due in no small measure to the life’s work of Ian Carroll. Full article [here]
On 17 August 2011 the Senate referred the following matter to the Senate Standing Committees on Environment and Communications for inquiry and report.
Submissions should be received by 09 September 2011. The reporting date is 12 October 2011.
The Committee is seeking written submissions from interested individuals and organisations preferably in electronic form.
- The ABC to be a producer of innovative quality programming in all areas.
- The ABC to be less dependent on outsourced programming
- The ABC to be funded and rebuilt so that it has strong specialist units to produce high levels of high quality and genuinely local in-house programming in all program genres on radio, TV and online
- The ABC should be a public broadcaster that is focused on diversity and quality, not ratings
Submissions can be done online or sent by email. The email must include full postal address and contact details.
For more details on how to make a submission [here]
Sydney Morning Herald, Letters, 7 Sep 2011
For the past 50 years, ABC TV has introduced Australians to an array of extraordinary local artists - from Sir Robert Helpmann to Kate Grenville, from the emerging Western Desert artists to Nick Cave.
The ABC TV arts unit has taken us into our galleries, theatres and museums, sharing the country's evolving cultural life. In the past year alone, the unit produced more than 500 stories. It has championed new artists, engaged practitioners, and built a vast record of the work of those who strive to articulate our place in the world. Where else do we turn to celebrate our great artists? When we mourned Dame Joan Sutherland and Margaret Olley, the ABC helped us pay tribute to their lives and work.
We are deeply disturbed by ABC management's plan to axe ABC TV's only arts magazine program, disband the TV arts unit and divert resources to prime-time, populist content in pursuit of ratings. It will diminish the ABC's irreplaceable role as the nation's cultural memory. It will reflect no glory on what was once considered the single greatest achievement of Australia's intellectual and artistic life: the ABC itself. Without a strong in-house unit to create and to commission arts programming, the national broadcaster will fail its charter responsibilities. And it will fail us, by not reminding us our national character is informed and shaped by the imagination and creativity of artists.
Tim Winton, Nick Cave, Betty Churcher, Geoffrey Rush and 57 other prominent Australians.
For a full list of signatories [here]
Mark Scott - Sydney Morning Herald 7 Sep 2011
ABC historian Ken Inglis recalls wartime prime minister John Curtin's opinion of a light entertainment program that imagined listeners were at a party. ''If that is the sort of party that is going to be held after the war, it is a good argument for keeping the war going,'' Curtin complained.
Satisfying everyone is impossible and always has been. There has been a lot of debate in recent days about the ABC's commitment to the arts, prompted by the end of one television program, Art Nation, and a new draft schedule for Radio National. The former prompted an open letter to the ABC board, penned by a group of esteemed arts figures protesting about the ''destruction of ABC TV arts'' Full article here
The ABC has released a "Revised 2012 Program Schedule: draft for discussion". The document has been released for information only and a later draft (after staff consultation) will be released for comment and feedback.
Some of its important features are:
- a new late Drive program and an extended Breakfast program that recognises the mobility and availability of audience needs at these busy times of the day;
- more specialisation and fewer repeats;
- the commissioning of new programs across current genre gaps;
- a renewed emphasis on arts and culture;
- maintenance of Radio Drama and a stronger commitment to radio features; and
- a greater capacity to react to major conversation points from Australia and around the world, with a stronger emphasis on more personable and flexible presentation throughout the day.
On Friday 26 Aug 2011 Mike Carlton addressed the Friends of the ABC (NSW) Annual Dinner in Sydney.
"I joined the ABC at 9am on Monday the 7th of January 1963. Fresh out of school with my NSW Leaving Certificate, Honours in English and Economics. I was not quite 17 years old, and hired as a 1st year cadet journalist, on the princely sum of £11 a week.
In those days a university education was regarded as a distinct handicap for a journalist: unnecessary at best and frivolously elitist at worst. Much better to toss ‘em in at the deep end to see if they could swim". For the full address [here] (8 pages) .PDF 310KB
A Tragedy for ABC Staff
Friends of the ABC wishes to express its sorrow at the loss of three truly esteemed ABC staff - Paul Lockyer (reporter), Gary Ticehurst (pilot) and John Bean (cameraman) in a tragic helicopter accident at Lake Eyre.
Our deep sympathy goes to their family, friends and colleagues - all were outstanding professionals in their field, highly respected by all who knew them, and saw the quality of their work.
It is a tragedy that their lives were lost doing what they all loved - bringing rural Australia into the homes of us all.
We share the enormous sense of loss which will be felt by all who knew them
NSW Friends of the ABC
Amanda Meade - The Australian August 10, 2011ABC Managing director Mark Scott has addressed staff on his recent cuts to programs and jobs, telling them he understands their disappointment.
After an outpouring of dismay from staff and the public about the cancellation of New Inventors, Art Nation and some local sport broadcasts, Mr Scott was moved to write a lengthy letter of explanation to employees today.
“Some colleagues have contacted me in recent days about decisions we have made regarding the television schedule and our resources base,” Mr Scott said. [more here]
The ABC decision to cut programs including Art Nation, the New Inventors and the Collectors - and outsource more productions - is bad news for staff and viewers alike
Quentin Dempster, The Age, 4 Aug 2011
The latest cut hurts, but it's not the deepest in an already de-skilled ABC.
At last the hidden agenda has been exposed. The outsourcing of ABC television production to the commercial sector now covers all drama, documentary, natural history, most feature programming and, increasingly, studio-based light entertainment. [more]
Friends of the ABC support union action on cuts
Friends of the ABC has followed closely, and with growing alarm, the steady erosion of the ABC's capacity to produce its own television programs. It seems to have followed closely the appointment of Kim Dalton to the position of Head of Television, where he may not be head of very much for very much longer - there won't be much left of ABC Television!
Friends of the ABC shares the concerns of ABC staff at the loss of production facilities and staff, as well as the flood of money going to the commercial sector to produce programs for the ABC. Whilst the ABC will argue that the process of outsourcing enables the limited funds available to the ABC to go much further, it is inevitable that the product which goes to air on the ABC will be barely distinguishable from that of its commercial rivals. There seems to be little point in following this course.
Friends of the ABC would argue that quality of program is far more important that the chase for ratings which seems to be a concern of the current ABC management. It could be well argued that ratings on commercial television are in inverse proportion to the quality of the program - much that rates highly is absolute rubbish. Is this the direction that ABC management wishes to go?
Friends of the ABC supports any action which ABC staff take over the matter
NSW Friends of the ABC
Program cuts at the ABC
Statement by Quentin Dempster ABC Staff-elected director (in exile) - 2 August 2011
There needs to be a public inquiry into the siphoning of taxpayers’ funds meant to sustain independent public broadcasting to the commercial television sector.
The list of current program cuts, misleadingly represented as schedule refreshment, is in fact the intentional destruction of the ABC’s creative independence.
An inquiry to establish the facts is needed into this major shift in the role of the public broadcaster away from its Charter and public purpose.
I think an inquiry would show that this process, which began with the outsourcing of production units such as drama, then moved on to natural history, now includes all documentary, arts and, finally, studio-based light entertainment.
The loss of in-house production will have a particularly significant impact on arts and other specialist communities especially those outside of Sydney and Melbourne.
Public broadcasting is founded on the idea that you cannot have creative independence unless you have a capacity to make programs yourself, unencumbered by the commercial imperative.
Under the Kim Dalton model ABC programs are these days commissioned on the basis of their commercial ‘bankability’ – their capacity to be on-sold to pay TV and other commercial operators after a showing on the ABC. When this commissioning model is applied there is little room for public purpose, innovation and risk-taking, much less independence from commercial influence. What the public gets from this model is Hallmark television or light-weight, sexy and formulaic stuff pitched at an AB demographic.
The public has become alerted to the way in which SBS has been undermined with its once loyal audience by SBS’s increasing dependence on commerciality. Commercial co-productions and out-sourcing at the ABC, though less visible, are just as corrosive of the public role of the ABC as paid advertising at SBS. All of this without any public discussion.
In the context of the current ‘convergence review’ this siphoning of taxpayer funds to commercial purposes fundamentally shifts the place of the ABC in the Australian media and cultural landscape. An inquiry would show the extent to which the taxpayer’s trust in the ABC as an independent and creative voice is being betrayed.
The public trust of the ABC is based on an expectation that we are independent of commercial influence.
That trust is being breached by current management and board policy.
Union slams ABC program cuts
The ABC union has warned that the national broadcaster’s decision to cut programs including Art Nation and the New Inventors, sack staff and further outsource production, is a breach of its Charter and may jeopardize its ongoing funding.
The union is calling for an immediate audit of all TV production costings, both outsourced and in-house, to ensure taxpayers are getting value for money. Graeme Thomson, ABC Section Secretary of the Community and Public Sector Union said: “Taxpayer have the right to be outraged by the dismantling of their ABC.
“This announcement raises serious questions about whether the ABC is delivering against its legislative Charter, Parliament’s justification for the ABC’s one billion budget.
“ABC staff have been gutted by this decision. They are personally committed to delivering the quality content that has made the ABC one of Australia’s most important and respected cultural institutions.
“The cutting of Art Nation, the ABC’s only remaining TV arts program, is an act of cultural vandalism. “The ABC is at its best when it broadcasts the best international and domestically produced material available. This has meant maintaining a balance between in-house and private sector production. “Under Head of Television Kim Dalton ideologically driven approach, this balance has been lost. The ABC TV has been reduced to a mere transmission tower broadcasting the same material from the same production houses used by commercial channels. This threatens the ABC’s distinctiveness, rationale and ultimately, its funding.
“The national broadcaster is required to provide quality programs that reflect the diversity of Australia, its cultures and regional perspectives. The announcement today that regional TV producers are to be sacked destroys this important arm of the ABC Charter. The union has also criticised Managing Director Mark Scott, claiming he has overseen the destruction of the ABC’s television production.
“Mr Scott claims he supports a ‘mixed model’ of internal and external production. But on his watch we have seen more outsourcing than under Jonathan Shier,” Mr Thomson said.
“What angers ABC staff is that they have been set up for failure. The internal programs have been starved of funds and promotion budgets, while external productions have had funds lavished on them and have been heavily marketed by the ABC.
“ABC program-makers, eager to rebuild in-house production have been repeatedly told by Mr Dalton to leave the ABC and pitch the program ideas from outside because he is not interested in producing them inside. Australian taxpayers are entitled to be angered at this arrogance and waste,” Mr Thomson said.
Tim Dick - SMH 3 Aug 2011
The ABC has blamed its decision to axe three television programs and make workers redundant on falling audiences, tight budgets and a strategy of focusing on prime-time shows.
New Inventors, Art Nation and Collectors are to be dropped, with the last to be replaced by a new show called Auctions.
Quentin Dempster, host of 7.30 NSW and a former staff-elected ABC director, has called for a public inquiry into ''the siphoning of taxpayers' funds meant to sustain independent public broadcasting to the commercial television sector''. [more]
Judith Sloane - The Drum Opinion 1 Aug 2011
Rupert has endured the humblest day of his life, the News of the World has published its last edition and the government in Australia is toying with the idea of an inquiry into the media.
The tender process for the contract to operate the Australia Network, currently held by the ABC, has been pulled and the final decision has been transferred from the Foreign Minister to the Minister for Communications. The rumour is that the decision had been three to one in favour of Sky News Australia being awarded the 10 year contract.
But due to "changed international circumstances" – what, because international circumstances never change? – there has been a change of heart. It's now a shoo-in that the contract will be awarded to the ABC. [more]
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