Recent News

How Australian is the ABC? - Media Release

On Australia Day 2016 ABC Friends is preparing for a year of action to return the ABC to the people.

As shareholders of the national public broadcaster it is only fair to ask “How Australian is the ABC”?

Is it the familiar national icon that provides a diversity of services and information to all Australians?

Or has the ABC retreated to its Sydney headquarters nervously assessing the impact of shrinking government funding?

National ABC FRIENDS Spokesperson Margaret Reynolds said “This year it’s time that we all spoke up in support of OUR ABC!”

We must remind all existing and potential Federal parliamentarians that we expect them to guarantee ABC funding, which prioritises Australian content and regional services.

And the ABC Board and Management must listen to Australians’ priorities for THEIR ABC.

The ABC needs to halt its declining focus on Australian program content and responsibility to regional Australia.

It is unacceptable that ABC TV relies on mediocre BBC repeats when it should mainly feature quality Australian made programs.

The Sydney based ABC bureaucracy cannot manage regional Australia unless decision making is returned to state managers who work with local communities.

2016 can be a year of reform for the ABC with new Managing Director Michelle Guthrie taking on the leadership.

But all Australians need to insist that the ABC and Federal Government respond to the community’s priorities.

During 2016 ABC Friends will be working in a variety of ways to ensure that our public broadcaster is able to continue providing services to all Australians.

Margaret Reynolds
ABC Friends National Spokesperson and Tasmanian President

How Australian is the ABC?

On Australia Day this year I checked the choices available on ABC TV.

At prime viewing time 7 to 10pm on ABC1 I could only watch News/7.30 Report/Kangaroo Dundee /Restoration Man/Inside Men and ABC 2 offerings were similarly limited.

This is typical of so much current ABC television programming.

Just how many times must the Australian taxpayer accept endless repeats of BBC programming and why is Stephen Fry such a hero within ABC management?

Where is the celebration of Australian film?

Who is responsible for this regular display of cultural irrelevance?

It is true that ABC Radio is thoroughly embedded in Australian culture with its wide range of local content.

But if the ABC TV cannot even make an effort to showcase Australian programs on Australia Day it is scarcely surprising that so many ABC viewers are turning off and establishing new entertainment viewing options.

As shareholders of the national public broadcaster we need to ask “How Australian is the ABC?”

Who is responsible for monitoring Australian content on television?

Why are so many elderly British chaps constantly appearing for the ABC when we could be watching young talented women and men representative of multicultural Australia?

Australians greatly value our ABC and guard its independence

But we are entitled to question why the ABC’s independence is not evident on television because its programmers constantly rely on British content.

What has been spent on British programs in the past ten years? How much revenue has been returned to the UK from the sale of British content which has overwhelmingly dominated the stock in ABC Shops?

The ABC’s Annual Report does not answer these questions so we are left wondering just how much more Australian content could have been funded instead of these dollars being invested in the British television industry.

Of course the ABC should be much better funded and the savage financial cuts to the ABC made by the former Abbott government has seriously impacted on the ABC's professional staffing capacity. The Federal Government must now face the consequences of its attack on the public broadcaster and start to rebuild and reprioritize what is important for the ABC as it moves into new communications territory.

This is a conversation for all Australians and must not be dictated by either ABC management nor by critics of public broadcasting. The ABC is indeed a national icon which provides vital services and entertainment to many Australians.

It must adapt and change to suit new technological and social demands but it must not become so driven by such change that it loses its essential focus to communicate with the Australian community. This year will be both a challenge and an opportunity for the ABC with a new Managing Director Michelle Guthrie taking on leadership and triennial funding finalized in the next few months. Certainly the ABC must be funded at a level that enables it to fulfil its responsibilities. It needs stronger links with regional Australia and with the Asia Pacific region.

It has been refreshing to hear Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss speak out against the way the ABC’s Sydney centric decision making is alienating regional Australia. Of course fundamental national broadcasting policy must be made centrally but what is the role of State Managers if not to advise and action local priorities?

Sydney based decision makers will never be able to assess and reflect the mood of distant communities which have such different priorities. The recent restructuring of some regional programming, downgrading of state offices and closure of local television production are signs that ABC management is retreating into an urban safe haven. Australian stories must be told by “our ABC “and only a national broadcaster can effectively provide this leadership by decentralizing its decision making and listening to local communities.

As we approach a Federal Election we must remind all current and potential parliamentarians that we expect them to guarantee ABC funding which prioritizes Australian content and regional services.

Margaret Reynolds
ABC Friends National Spoke person and Tasmanian President

ABC Friends National Conference - Adelaide 23-24 June 2015

ABC Friends held a National Conference on June 23-24, where all state branches met to discuss the way forward for Friends nationally, and to plan the National Campaign. We were assisted in our discussions by ABC veteran Quentin Dempster, a recent casualty in the ABC staff cuts, whose comprehensive knowledge of the ABC is always valuable, and Ranald Macdonald, Co-Ordinator of the Friends Action Committee, whose vast experience in journalism and the media was of great assistance in developing strategies in defence of the ABC. The Conference was an important step towards Friends, historically a group of state-based organizations, speaking and acting as one, especially as the National Campaign grows in strength. Minutes and resolutions from the conference may be found [here] 150KB PDF 4pp

End of Sunday Live, and a bleak future for Classic FM

You may have seen the announcement over the past few days of the decision by ABC Management to axe the popular Sunday Live concerts and live broadcasts on Sunday afternoons. These concerts have, over the past 40 years, provided valuable performance opportunities for our outstanding soloists and small ensembles, many of them young, and often performing new music. They were the only concerts mounted on a regular basis by the ABC, were free to audience members, and were broadcast from venues in all capital cities.

The claim by Classic FM Manager Richard Buckham that “It’s not cost-cutting - it’s more an editorial decision” is patently rubbish - ask anybody in Classic FM! It is clearly in response to the massive cuts in ABC funding by the Abbott government that have just cost 400 ABC jobs (10% of ABC staff). It would seem that Classic FM is being targeted for much more than its share of these cuts, perhaps because its audience does not meet the criteria for ABC management’s desperate search for “a younger demographic.”

There has, since the announcement of funding cuts (with more to come!) been great concern that Classic FM would be closed down completely, but even an ABC management seemingly intent on “dumbing down” the ABC as much as possible would find it difficult to justify such an action without abandoning the ABC’s clear Charter obligations to broadcast Australian cultural events to the Australian public, as well as its responsibility to educate all Australians.

If you have become accustomed to enjoying the Sydney International Piano Competition, the Townsville Chamber Music Festival, other music festivals across the country, and daily live broadcasts and recordings of concerts by all of our state orchestras, Opera Australia, ACO, AYO, Brandenburg etc. etc. at no cost, and from the comfort of your own home, then you need to be aware that such live broadcasts will be cut by 50% in 2015. We await the full 2015 schedule to find out which major musical events will no longer be covered. The annual coverage of National Music Camp, this year from Adelaide, that was broadcast last Saturday night - outstanding performances from our finest young orchestral musicians, may have happened for the last time.

The tragedy in such cultural vandalism on the part of the Abbott government and ABC management is that Classic FM is outstandingly good at what it does - overseas musicians who visit will readily tell you that Classic FM is the best classical music broadcaster anywhere in the world - its coverage of significant musical events across Australia is comprehensive, and it broadcasts these events to the rest of the world, as well as producing many commercial recordings of Australian performers and composers, such as the recent CD set of Tamara-Anna Cislowska performing the complete piano works of Peter Sculthorpe. Presenters on Classic FM are, almost without exception, musicians in their own right - Graham Abbott, Guy Noble, Chris Nicholls, Mairi Nicolson, Damian Beaumont, et al, and guests such as Gerard Willems for the Sydney Piano Competition, who speak with knowledge, authority and passion.

If you share my outrage and my anger at what is happening to Classic FM, then now is the time to act - it will be too late when it is all gone! Please write, encourage others to write, forward this email to all your friends and contacts and urge them to write to ABC Managing Director Mark Scott, and to the responsible minister in the Abbott government, Malcolm Turnbull - contact details are below.

Mal Hewitt
President Collegiate of Specialist Music Educators
President ABC Friends NSW & ACT

*****************

Mark Scott AO
ABC Managing Director
GPO Box 994
Sydney NSW 2001
Email: mark.scott@abc.net.au

The Hon. Malcolm Turnbull MP
Minister for Communications
Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600
Email: malcolm.turnbull.MP@aph.gov.au

Reply to Annalisa Koeman's letter to Minister Turnbull

See Letter to Mr Spigelman, Mr Scott and Minister Turnbull

From: "Turnbull, Malcolm (MP)" <Malcolm.Turnbull.MP@aph.gov.au>
Date: 5 January 2015 15:08:01 AEDT
To: 'Annalisa Koeman'
Subject: RE: Budget cuts and changes to the ABC

Dear Annalisa,

Thank you for writing to me so candidly. It should be noted that with the right reforms and leadership the ABC and the SBS will emerge from this process much stronger organisations, capable of generating even better value from the money Australians invest in their operation.

Nine months ago I asked the Department of Communications to undertake an Efficiency Study to identify savings that could be made by improving efficiencies in the back of house departments of the ABC, in other words savings that could be made without reducing the resources available for programming.

This was a very deliberate move on my part. The easiest way to cut costs in a television network is simply to cancel programmes - and replace them with cheaper ones. More difficult is to go through the way the business operates, line by line and ask can we do this more efficiently, with fewer people, with fewer fixed assets or other expensive resources.

A commercial broadcaster is always going to look for savings that do not impact on programming quality - because that is the key to its ratings and hence to its revenues. A public broadcaster, which like the ABC does not carry advertising, is not so clearly constrained.

The study was provided to the ABC and SBS in April to assist their boards and management in identifying areas they may not have previously explored in their efforts to improve efficiency. It highlighted outdated business and administrative practices where they could pursue savings without affecting programming or services.

The savings I announced are not of a scale that requires any particular change to programming. All of the savings can be found within operational efficiencies of the kind canvassed in the Lewis Efficiency Study.

There is a temptation for management to blame the Government for some of these programme changes. That would be cowardly.

The ABC management know that they can meet these savings without reducing the resources available to programming - furthermore they know that the Government and their Board know too.

To their credit, I realise that the ABC and SBS are well loved and well trusted - certainly much more so than any political party, minister or furious columnist.  And as I've noted before, the role of the public broadcasters in our national life today is more important than ever, as the business model of the newspapers in particular is under threat and newsrooms dwindle.

With this growing importance comes pressure for both ABC and SBS to uphold even higher standards of balance and integrity in their coverage - and to demonstrate even greater professionalism, transparency and efficiency in their handling of scarce public resources.

I encourage you to read my speech on the future of public broadcasters which can be found here: http://www.malcolmturnbull.com.au/media/the-future-of-our-public-broadcasters

I get a lot of emails and letters about the ABC and so we have set out some frequently asked questions (FAQs) and our answers to them: http://www.malcolmturnbull.com.au/media/faqs-on-the-abc-and-sbs

Yours sincerely,

Malcolm Turnbull

 

This isn't Play School

The night before the last election, Tony Abbott promised "no cuts to the ABC or the SBS".

But today, 1 in 10 jobs at the ABC were lost because of Tony Abbott's $500 million cut to the ABC and SBS. Five regional stations will be shut down and the state based 7.30 program will be cut.

Malcolm Turnbull has desperately tried to explain that Tony Abbott's pre-election promise not to cut the ABC or SBS was not actually a promise!

This is our national Government attacking our national voice and we are in a fight to support the ABC in every city, every town, and every home.

Over 27,000 people have now signed our petition opposing the $504 million cuts to the ABC and SBS and on the weekend I joined thousands rallying in support of the public broadcasters across the country.

But with today's announcement we must do more to keep the pressure on.

The ABC Fighting Fund is being used to target advertising in Malcolm Turnbull's electorate of Wentworth and bombard his office with calls to make sure he gets the message.

Play School presenter, Rhys Muldoon has agreed to add his voice to the campaign by recording a phone message for the voters of Wentworth this week so everyone in Malcolm's electorate is asked to speak up for the ABC too.

But those calls cost money. Can you join the hundreds of other Australians standing up for the ABC today and donate $7.30 to help make that happen?

Over the years, much has changed in Australian life but the work of our ABC continues to be as important as it has ever been.

The ABC and SBS aren't just broadcasters, they're the home to Australia's stories both past and present. Let's make sure they are around to tell all of our stories in the future too.

Thanks for standing with me on this,

Bill Shorten
Labor Leader

Quentin Dempster's remarks to the 'Save Lateline' Public Rally

ABC Ultimo Centre, Wednesday October 1, 2014.

Friends,

Thank you for your show of support for ABC journalism and original programming.

I'm going to list what's currently on the public record and what has been indicated to us now from all sections of the ABC from middle management which is preparing for a radical reshaping of the ABC.

They'll be called contingency plans because as chairman Jim Spigelman has made clear the Abbott Cabinet's Expenditure Review Committee has still to set the ABC funding envelope... a decision we expect sometime before Christmas.

In spite of the success of ABC television multi-channelling... ABC TV, ABC 2, ABC 3... the children's channel... and News 24... it appears the board, in consultation with the government, will halve these services (merge ABC 3 with ABC One perhaps and close down ABC 2) to save transmission costs. SBS 2 is also expected to be closed down. The deletion of free to air channels for the Australian people is not back office.

Our managing director Mark Scott has outlined his strategy which to me looks like taking the opportunity for organisational change without consultation with the public, particular audiences and stakeholders under cover of funding cuts. To secure the ABC's future he says we must reallocate resources from output which 'skews old' to reinvest in content to meet 'explosive' demand for content which 'skews young' - people who access the ABC through mobiles and tablets.

  • He designates networks which 'skew old' as local radio, Classic FM, NewsRadio and Radio National. The following is what can be called 'informed speculation' sourced from our concerned management and staff.
  • Classic FM can expect a reduction in live broadcasts, more presenter-less streaming of playlists of orchestral and other works for which the ABC owns the Copyright.
  • The World Today on ABC Radio to be cut in half. Other impacts on radio current affairs to reduce full time equivalent positions.
  • ABC Radio news bulletins to be cut from 10 minutes to five minutes.
  • Specialist Radio National programs Bush Telegraph, Rear Vision, 360, Hindsight, Encounter and By Design to be discontinued or cut in half.
  • A reduction of foreign bureaux to four hubs: Washington, London, Jakarta and Beijing. Middle East coverage out of Jerusalem and Beirut to be by what's known as VJ - video journalism... no dedicated camera crews - (let me tell you camera crews are vital to international reporting as collaborators in full editorial decision making and more importantly to the physical safety and well being of our people sometimes in very dangerous situations).
  • Foreign Correspondent... already reduced to 30 episodes a year over two seasons to be reduced to 26 episodes.
  • On TV the final destruction of localism in current affairs with the axing of the 7.30 state shows in New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia, Tasmania, the ACT and the Northern Territory.
  • On TV... I weep for South Australia... if , as information there suggests, it loses all local television production outside TV news.
  • On TV... the axing of Lateline - the late night hybrid news and current affairs program which has been instrumental in the last 25 years in its international analysis, reporting and interviewing and domestically in holding government and this country's institutions to account.
  • Organisationally our separate radio and television divisions are expected to go. In the digital revolution turning the ABC into a digital services provider … radio is just audio, television is just video. Radio and TV are so analogue!
  • I'm sure there's more we don't know about.
  • And I'm not sure about the fate of Ticky Fullerton's excellent late night market analysis program The Business. I wish I could say it will survive.
  • We're seeing the final withering in the ABC of specialist units like science and religion.

What we're doing is stripping out original content which has made the ABC distinctive.

So as a direct consequence we're expecting substantial cuts to ABC channels, programs and services. Channels, programs and services are not back office.

These are not operational savings driven by efficiency. They are cuts to services. Through the digital revolution ABC content makers have enhanced their productivity. Most content creation is now multi-platform... we write and report and make content for ABC Online for pod casting and download... as well as radio and television transmission... at no extra cost to the taxpayer. Without original content the ABC would not have a digital presence.

I wish I could say this torture of not knowing for sure will be over today... but I can't. Its mental health week next week and I've asked the board to stop this cruelty to dedicated program makers immediately.

The ABC has been coerced into this self harm, this hammer blow to our cohesion and momentum by the device of declaring the May budget cut of 1% a 'down payment' and the appointment of a Channel 7 finance executive to review the ABC's cost efficiency. On top of that the ABC has lost $22m through the termination of the Australia Network contract - an act of mindless vandalism to Australia's engagement in the Asia Pacific region. There are an estimated 3.3billion mobile phones in the Asia Pacific and the ABC was cost effectively delivering breaking news, analysis, debate, sport and entertainment to project Australia as a robust liberal democracy. We've lost some of the ABC's most skilled and experienced international correspondents and production staff. For sure broadcasting is about technology - satellites with vast footprints and internet service providers... but most importantly its about people... engagement through reporting, interviewing, fun, satire, documentary, sport and entertainment and interaction.

We're here to physically show our support for ABC journalism and program making - to shout our protest to the ABC Board and the Abbott Government. If we lose original journalism in current affairs television and radio, halve the radio news, drop more live broadcasts on Classic FM, drop specialist programming on Radio National we are doing fundamental damage to what the ABC does at its core.

To News Ltd. which has targeted me and my salary I say this is not about one dispensable ABC individual. Rupert Murdoch would spill more than my salary at luncheon on Rosehearty. If he desisted from using tax havens like the Cayman Islands, Delaware or Bermuda along with hundreds of other corporations, perhaps services like hospitals and schools would be better resourced... there'd be more investment in scientific and medical research... and the narrowing cohort of PAYG taxpayers would not have to shoulder so much of this country's tax burden.

We're all hoping to see blanket coverage by The Daily Telegraph, The Courier Mail, The Herald Sun, the Adelaide Advertiser, the Hobart Mercury, the London Times, the New York Post .. all News Ltd. outlets worldwide including The Australian... which calls itself the heart of the nation, ... of Joe Hockey's commendable efforts to get the G20 meeting in Brisbane to adopt a zero tolerance policy on wholesale avoidance through tax havens.

I can see the headlines now: G20: CRACK DOWN ON THESE TAX HAVEN BLUDGERS.

I'll nominate Chris Mitchell for the Walkley Award for headline writing if he publishes that one.

Friends... thanks for turning out for the ABC for all the reasons we all understand.

We hope the ABC Board comes out fighting for ABC audiences who will be impacted by these cuts to services... but the reality is... it's the government which sets the funding lever.

It's the Prime Minister who is breaking his promise to the Australian people not to cut the ABC and SBS. The Coalition has no mandate from the Australian people to do this.

This will be the doing of Tony Abbott... the Prime Minister of Australia... and his puppet master... Rupert Murdoch, registered office. Delaware, the United States, nominated by The Economist as a tax haven... 60% of US companies are registered there.

If I can just put in a plug for 7.30 NSW... once called Stateline... a program which has consistently and fearlessly exposed political corruption in this state wherever it exists... this program has the endorsement of the highest officials of the Liberal Party .

In 2010 I received this Christmas card... it said Merry Christmas Quentin... Keep up the good work... it was signed by Mark Neeham, state director of the Liberal Party... and the president... Arthur Sinodinis.

Stand By to Defend ‘Your’ ABC

By Tim Bowden (AM) - July 2014

The weasel pre-election words of Tony Abbott that he would not cut the funds of the ABC or the SBS were only a part of similar deceptions of his ‘Government of no surprises’ which of course came up with a raft of very unpleasant surprises indeed. His incessant, carping insistence on Julia Gillard’s reversal of her no carbon tax statement - at least a principled decision - was a monstrous example of hypocrisy which has become a hallmark of his Prime Ministership now that the full list of his own broken promises is a matter of record.

Now we are the laughing stock of the world, about to effectively have no climate change policy at all that is worth a spurt of goat’s piss.

But I wish to dwell on the grave problems facing the ABC, whose budget has been cut, and will be trimmed further under the guise of efficiency reviews and a number of other more sneaky ways to attempt to bend the national broadcaster to the Coalition’s will - like appointments to the ABC Board.

There is now a mechanism (a Kevin Rudd initiative) to use an independent nomination process that was supposed to de-politicise the way board members to the ABC and SBS were selected. The ’independent’ panel considers applications, then offers a shortlist of board candidates to the Minister for Communications and PM. It is presently overseen by Ian Watt, the Secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

The latest atrocities are to appoint ex-Liberal MP Neil Brown to this committee, an ABC-hater of renown who is on record as wanting to break it up, sell it off and more besides, plus Janet Albrechtsen, a Murdoch columnist whose anti-ABC splenetic columns in The Australian have been unrelenting and who was a Board member herself from 2005 to 2010, appointed by the Coalition. At least her membership of the Board stopped her weekly assaults on the national broadcaster in her columns for five years. But since she has been off the Board, she has used her column to call for the present Managing Director Mark Scott to resign! The Sydney Morning Herald reported recently that she had even made the farcical claim that the ABC was run by a ‘Soviet-style workers collective’ for heavens sake.

All positions on the panel expire by April next year, so it’s not difficult to predict that the Abbott government can entirely remake the panel as it sees fit.

Scott has bent over backwards in recent years to set up fairness procedures, complaints handling mechanisms, and making sure that even barking-mad (and anti-ABC) members of Melbourne’s uber-right Institute of Public Affairs crop up regularly on programs like Q & A, as well as the likes of Piers Akerman and Andrew Bolt who had regular exposure on Sunday morning’s Insiders. Former Howard Minister Amanda Vanstone has become one of the asked for ‘right wing Phillip Adams’ on Radio National’s Counterpoint (and in my view runs a very good program). It seemed to me that some of the heat and paranoia about the ABC, it’s alleged left-wing bias and an out of control staff, ‘lunatics running the asylum’ had been at least muted. How wrong I was! The Abbott government is once again on the warpath.

I suppose the first question to ask is, who apart from the strangely obsessed anti-ABC warriors like Gerard Henderson - now corralled in the stable of commentators in the Oz with Chris Kenny, Andrew Bolt, Janet Albrechtsen et al where he belongs - are clamouring for the ABC to be radically changed? (It is a pity Paul Sheehan from the SMH, doesn’t pop over and join them - but I digress.)

There is certainly no public perception that Aunty needs a makeover. Polls consistently show a high level of satisfaction for the services Aunty provides Australians in television, radio and indeed on line.

I first worked as a freelance current affairs reporter for the ABC in 1958, and joined the staff in Launceston in 1963 and was lucky enough to cut my television teeth in Tasmania in the early 1960s, work as a foreign correspondent in South-East Asia and North America until 1969, before returning to Sydney to be the first Executive Producer PM and then work as an associate producer with This Day Tonight, return to radio to make documentaries with the radio Drama and Features Department, founded the Social History Unit in Radio National (happily still going strong), fronted the ABC viewer reaction program BackChat for eight years from 1986, and also made television documentaries in Antarctica in the mid 1990s. I mention all this not to blow my own trumpet, but to indicate that I have been around a bit in the ABC for over 30 years, and in that time have seen many attempts by governments and individuals to muzzle of manipulate the national broadcaster.

As a public service broadcaster I wasn't paid all that much, but I loved the freedom of choosing topics not driven by a commercial imperative, and - with overtime not being an option - worked for as long as I had to, in order to get my programs on air. Most of my colleagues were doing the same thing. There were times when we felt we were poorly served by our managers, but this is the way it is in any large organisation.

I can assure you none of us felt we were running the place. We were running just to keep up with what we had to do.

There were occasions when ABC staff united behind our main union, the ABC Staff Association, to protest against issues we felt strongly about. However ABC staff by no means spoke with a united voice. The ABC News men and women had their union, The Australian Journalists' Association. Middle level managers were represented by their Senior Officers Association. These three groups were seldom unanimous in supporting a particular issue but there were times when this was achieved.

As to the ‘workers collective’ obsession by the ABC’s critics in the 21st century, I cannot recall in my long association with the ABC ever voting to go on strike, or to take other industrial action, on pay and conditions - which is usually why unions get stroppy.

Our concerns were almost always on matters of principle.

Let me give you an example - and this occurred while I was working with This Day Tonight in 1970. Malcolm Fraser's dislike and disdain for the ABC was almost as palpable as John Howard's. On the 13th of May that year the Postmaster General Alan Hulme wrote to the ABC Chairman Sir Robert Madgwick saying that the ABC's budget appropriations for the coming financial year would be reduced by $500,000 and directed that $250,000 of that be applied to current affairs television!

The letter was leaked, and the ABC Staff Association called a mass meeting to protest against this political thuggery and to stiffen ABC management's resolve to resist this utterly improper interference in the way the ABC could spend its budget. No doubt buttressed by press and community outrage and by the mass meeting of ABC staff, the then Chairman, Sir Robert Madgwick, did take a principled stand and Hulme had to pull his head in.

I could quote other examples of staff striking against blatant censorship of current affairs programs - sometimes initiated by ABC management itself. But never about pay and conditions. There was, and still is, a great delight by ABC broadcasters to use the freedoms provided by a public broadcaster to pursue stories and topics that shine a light on our own society, political, social and cultural. And our listeners and viewers seem to like it this way. Believe me there is no sinister agenda. Basically the ABC is quite a conservative organisation.

But not conservative enough for the Coalition. Doubtless John Howard hoped that when he appointed his close friend Donald McDonald as Chairman of the ABC for ten years from 1996 probably hoped that he would reign in the perceived radicals - but McDonald is a civilised and cultured man and while not exactly captured by the culture of the ABC (let’s not forget it was McDonald who unleashed the unspeakable Jonathan Shier briefly as it’s MD) allowed most of its flowers to bloom.

However just before the Coalition came to power in March 1966, Howard’s putative Minister for Communications Senator Alston (his fingers presumably crossed behind his back like Abbott) promised there would be no cuts to the ABC’s budget - then the Howard Government promptly slashed $56 million from the national broadcaster. Alston was undeniably the worst minister the ABC ever had, as he actually hated the organisation that he was functionally responsible for, and to whom the ABC should have been able to turn for some kind of protection from the forces of darkness. Instead Alston waged war on the organisation, and even after he retired to London as Australia’s High Commissioner in the plush apartments of Australia House, he still continued to lob mortar bombs at the ABC from afar!

Most of us alive at the time, can remember where we were when we heard the news that President John Kennedy had been assassinated. I don’t want to over-egg the metaphor, but I can remember exactly where I was - a hotel room in Melbourne - when I heard the news on ABC Radio that the then Minister for Communications Helen Coonan announced the appointment of Janet Albrechtsen to the ABC Board, and stood there in my underpants in stunned disbelief! This followed the appointment of the cultural warrior and fellow of Melbourne’s anti-ABC Institute of Public Affairs, Ron Brunton, per favour of Richard Alston, in May 2003. Then, for good measure, the ABC Board was graced by the revisionist anti-black armband historian Keith Windschuttle in June 2006 by the unblushing Communications Minister Helen Coonan! With friends like these three, who needs enemas?

Now the Coalition has taken board stacking to new heights with this latest ploy, bringing Albrechtsen back into the fray with Neil Brown to nominate the next batch of crazies to be inflicted on to poor old Aunty.

In conclusion, I’d like to make the point that reducing the effectiveness of the ABC to perform the functions it does, and generally appreciated by its large nation-wide audience, it would be unwise to think that all conservative members of parliament would welcome the results of further budget cuts.

Imagine the reaction of the National Party if a shrinking budget threatened the closure of many of the regional radio stations, lightly staffed but dedicated to reflecting the issues pertinent to their local areas throughout Australia for example. The Rural Department of the ABC, traditionally responsible for these regional stations are hardly a bunch of Communists.

Abbott seems to be doing all he can to make sure he is a one-term Prime Minister by cutting benefits to the poor, needy, and disadvantaged and looking after industry and the big end of town.

Bashing the ABC, or attempting to muzzle its freedoms, is actually not electorally sensible. In my view, most Australians would take an extremely dim view of that perception. At the moment, the ABC and indeed SBS (which should never be amalgamated with the ABC) needs all the friends it can get. This time, my friends, this may be game on for public broadcasting as we know it and want it.


The Emasculation Agenda for the ABC

By Dr Richard Gates - July 2014

On the eve of the Federal election Tony Abbott made a number of now infamous commitments to us, the people of Australia: “No cuts to education, no cuts to health, no change to pensions, no change to the GST and no cuts to the ABC or SBS.” [emphasis mine]. [View the video]

These promises were shredded a few months later on the confected grounds that Australia faced some kind of budget crisis. Most of us know it’s complete nonsense, a predictable, ‘cry wolf’ crisis. Those with a bit of age and many election campaigns tucked away in memory have heard this old chestnut many times before.

Yes, there’s always room for improvement. Sophisticated and legalised rorts and rip-offs, vote-buying tactics and money-squandering from successive governments need to be reined in, but the deserving poor must not be sacrificed.

Sadly the Abbott government’s glued to its obsessive-compulsive mantra of ‘budget crisis’ in the hope if they say it often enough, people will believe. But most see through this ruse. We’re not that stupid.

Even if no-one comes to believe the mantra, the government will continue to use this travesty to justify a compulsory financial castration of the ABC and SBS. It goes something like this: ‘We are all in this together. We all, with the exception of our mates, have to do some ‘heavy lifting’, the ABC included. So suck it up. Tighten your belts’. Sound familiar? You know the drill!

Of course the breaking of promises goes to the very heart of the credibility of a government. With such blatant breaches why should we believe anything fed to ‘us chooks’.

The government prepared the ABC for public emasculation through the ideologically-biased Commission of Audit, a house-of-cards edifice which does not stand robust scrutiny.

And then went in with the Lewis Efficiency Review to try and finish the job. The success of this ‘operation’ remains to be seen. But strategies based on failed 1990’s stranded management philosophies and kindergarten human psychology while unlikely to convince anyone with more than a room temperature IQ, can do a lot of difficult-to- reverse damage.

It’s important to be clear here about what’s really going on. The reason for the cuts to the ABC is not to save money. There will be inevitable savings and they will be used to justify the government’s action.

The real reason is to curtail what the ABC does by cutting its blood supply, its funds and through such means create fear, anxiety, angst, whatever you want to call it, to silence it as a genuine, independent critic of what the government’s doing to the nation’s social fabric.

In this era of contracts, which can be terminated easily in the name of flexibility, Machiavellian fear induces silence. And that’s just what the government wants, silence or some benign regurgitation of spin-doctored media releases to make them appear respectable.

The government appointed Mr Peter Lewis to oversee the Federal Government’s ABC and SBS Efficiency Study. His work was done in conjunction with the Department of Communications and at least one other commercial firm with concrete connections to the international commercial media sector. God only knows what that additional commercial firm was brought in to do and what it did do. Nope, secret. We are not allowed to know.

Lewis came from a commercial media background before the review and went back to commercial media as CFO of Southern Cross Media’s Austereo, effective 16 June 2014.

The appointment of Lewis to a commercial media group, so soon after completion of his efficiency review on the ABC/SBS raises some interesting questions.

Lewis was privy to wads of detailed information about both public broadcasters. He takes that knowledge with him to his new role.

He may have signed a ‘confidentiality agreement’ to not reveal the privileged information to anyone but did he empty his head of that information? When it comes to making decisions in his new profit-making role, will that information not figure in his thinking? Sadly there is no ‘Delete’ button in the brains of consultants.

That information may have included material about competitors, pricing and other marketing information and strategies, forthcoming deals and strategic thinking. Such knowledge has potential to bring considerable advantage to his new commercial shareholders and disadvantage to both public broadcasters.

A confidentiality agreement is no safeguard to protect the public interest. It just prevents Lewis from talking with us about what he did but offers no other protection. He can’t tell us what Aunty looks like with her clothes off but he also can’t erase his intimate knowledge of the body corporate.

The public needs to know if there was any overlap between the production of the Lewis Efficiency Study and negotiation for his new appointment in commercial media because there is potential for a ‘conflict-of-interest’. Not only could the potential job cloud judgment about the nature of the review process but could put the ABC at considerable disadvantage.

This problem is not dissimilar to the difficulty of government ministers and senior public servants becoming lobbyists very soon after leaving government.

There would be no problem if Lewis took up a commercial position as CFO in another industry but not the same industry.

The government must deal with this problem if the Lewis Efficiency Study is to have any credibility.

The government is not helping itself by keeping the Lewis Study secret with the weary excuse of ‘commercial-in-confidence’.

Commercial media and the sycophant Murdoch press seem to all know about the Lewis review judging by the extensive media incontinence. So why shouldn’t the public see it?

We paid for it!

The Lewis’ Efficiency Study has been on the back foot from the very beginning. ‘Terms of reference’ pearls such as ‘benchmarking’ and ‘best practice’ gave the game away.

These discredited concepts demonstrate out-of-date management thinking.

The Federal Government’s Commission of Audit set the Lewis agenda by recommending that “future funding decisions about the ABC and SBS “should be informed by the outcome of the benchmarking exercise”.

Benchmarks from a shareholder-driven organisation, where profit motive is queen, is not an appropriate metric to use on a national broadcaster where profit is not the ‘raison d'etre’. It’s just plain dumb unless you have financial castration in mind. The type of tools you use determine the type of outcomes you get. Tool selection can be made to suit a particular political agenda.

As long as the Lewis Efficiency Study is kept secret we can never know if the benchmarking exercise was truly independent and appropriate.

There was no independent public representation on the Efficiency Study for the ABC and SBS. And no one with a public broadcasting background provided independent assessment.

Senior Management of the ABC is now caught up in the exercise bringing some knowledge to the occasion but this is hardly independent. They have too much ‘skin in the game’ and often are vulnerable because of their contracted positions.

A final comment on benchmarking. Organisations which are exceptional do not look like benchmarks. Benchmarks have a way of creating mediocrity, the very antithesis of what our ABC should be.

So what are the benchmarks for public broadcasting? Perhaps Minister Turnbull might like to let us in on the secret. It is his call after all and it would be nice to know what his thoughts and principles are. No more Pontius Pilate thank you.

Apart from the Commission of Audit and the Lewis Efficiency Study the ABC now has the added burden of two anti-ABC ideologue appointments to make selection recommendations for the ABC Board.

This is yet another major conflict of interest. One of these political appointees works for a commercial media organisation with competing interests. So who is that person’s boss and whose interests are being served? Resignation should be forthcoming, pronto.

These political appointments are just further evidence that the Abbott government is out to nobble the ABC/SBS and it will do ‘whatever it takes’ to silence robust analysis and commentary, a hallmark of a vibrant democracy.

Minister Turnbull also needs to step up to the mark and release the Lewis Efficiency Study for public scrutiny. Failure to do so will confirm what many of us think: He is part of the problem.

Dr Richard Gates
President
Northern Rivers Branch

Richard has a background in neurosciences and psychology and was a former Director of a Master of Business Administration and Professional Practice Development programs at an Australian University. He’s consulted widely to business and government, run his own business and been an invited and sometimes uninvited guest at live autopsies of failing organisations. Apparently he’s retired. 

We Must Never Get Tired

By Quentin Dempster - Elder Statesman of ABC Journalists, former Staff-elected Director - July 2014

The appointment of Murdoch Press columnist Janet Albrechtsen and the Liberal Party’s Neil Brown to a Federal Government merit selection panel for ABC and SBS board appointments is contemptuous and provocative.

After years of public debate about the patronage practices of both the Labor and Liberal parties to stack the boards with partisans, reforms to the appointment process were meant to depoliticise governance and restore public confidence.

The arms-length merit selection process (after the placement of ads seeking expressions of interest from appropriately qualified applicants) is to be used to fill current vacancies on the ABC and SBS boards.

It was derived from the United Kingdom ‘Nolan rules’ imposed after controversy in Britain about ‘jobs for the boys’ - political patronage in government appointments - which undermined public confidence in the integrity of many government boards and agencies.

The idea first gained traction in Australia in 2000 after the then politically stacked ABC board disastrously appointed one Jonathan Shier as managing director. A Senate inquiry Above Board arising from the Shier experience first canvassed legislative change to try to bring board stacking and the overt political interference which came with it, to an end.

To its credit the Rudd Government moved on the idea through amendments to the ABC and SBS acts to establish the first merit-selection process.

The spirit of these amendments obviously was to depoliticise the boards and to professionalise the governance of the ABC and SBS. By the appointment of the provocateurs Albrechtsen and Brown, two high profile figures hostile to public broadcasting, the Abbott Government has indicated its contempt for merit selection.

The ABC and SBS deserve and need dynamic, quality directors, not Murdoch-approved party political hacks and ideologues.

These institutions are not the playthings of influence peddling politicians pursuing their usual adversarial games.

The issue is highly sensitive currently because of the budget haircuts now being imposed on both broadcasters which will force their boards and managements to reshape their role and functions.

In the ABC’s case a ‘reshaping’ is expected to turn the broadcaster into a ‘digital content services provider’ to ride the digital revolution through consumer uptake of tablets and mobile devices. Broadcasters are waiting to be consulted to see exactly where the reshaping enhances or diminishes/destroys many of the ABC’s charter functions across the accepted genres - news and current affairs, documentary, education, comedy and satire, drama, natural history, children’s programming, entertainment and information.

So far neither the ABC nor the SBS boards, seemingly besieged by a hostile federal government applying budget cuts, show any sign of wanting to actively engage the taxpaying public in their reshaping discussions.

An ‘efficiency review’ conducted by a commercial network financial controller, Peter Lewis, has not been publicly released. It is said to recommend the outsourcing of program making to the maximum extent possible.

This idea ignores the most recent debates about production costs. It is now well established that it is more cost effective to have the broadcasters retain internal production skills at critical mass with the added advantage of exploiting and retaining copyrighted intellectual property. Outsourcing is invariably more expensive. Some commercial television networks in Australia prefer in house production because of the editorial control, skills development and program sales advantages.

The budget cuts applied by the federal government in May 2014 now represent a major challenge to the independence of the ABC and SBS boards. Faced with gratuitous advice from Mr Lewis and what looks like coercion from the federal government to apply his ‘efficiency’ nostrums, the boards now have to decide how they can sustain the operations of both institutions to keep faith with their legislated Charters.

A hostile federal government has always had the whip hand in the form of the quantum of funding to be allocated.

The loss of the Australia Network contract, the 1% ‘down payment’ on budget savings, the loss of $30million of ABC special purpose funding from 2016 impose destructive pressure.

The ABC and SBS boards will have full public support in their reshaping decisions if they clearly set out their survival strategies to taxpayers.

SBS has no chairman at the moment. We await the merit-selection of this appointee and directors to fill other current vacancies.

It is now over to Albrechtsen and Brown.

Whatever happens it appears we must fight for the independence and capacity of the ABC and SBS in Australia’s media landscape.

We must never get tired.


Appointment of ABC/SBS Efficiency Review Chair to Commercial Post May Disadvantage the Public Broadcasters

Mr Peter Lewis, Chair of the Federal Government’s ABC and SBS Efficiency Study has been appointed Chief Financial Officer of Southern Cross Media’s Austereo, effective 16 June 2014.
 
The Lewis Report, yet to be made public, has been delivered to the Minister for Communications.  

Dr Richard Gates, President of the Friends of the ABC Northern Rivers Branch expressed concern today about the appointment of Mr Lewis to a commercial media group so soon after completion of the report on the ABC and SBS. 

“No doubt Mr Lewis would have been privy to commercial and other information about both public broadcasters and would take that information with him to his new role at Southern Cross Media.” 

“That information may include material about competitors, marketing information and strategies, forthcoming deals and strategic thinking.  Such knowledge has the potential to bring considerable advantage to Southern Cross Media and disadvantage to both public broadcasters but whether it will or not may never be clear.”

“What safeguards are in place to protect the public interest?”  said Dr Gates.

“But more than that the public needs to know if there was any overlap between the production of the Efficiency Study for the government under Lewis and negotiation for his new appointment because of the potential for a conflict of interest.”
Dr Gates said that this kind of problem is not dissimilar to the difficulty of government ministers and senior public servants becoming lobbyists very soon after leaving government. 

Dr Gates said that he would have no problem with Mr Lewis taking up a commercial position as CFO in another industry but not in the same industry.   

The government must deal with these problem if its Efficiency Study is to have credibility. 
“The Efficiency Study is already on the back foot because its ‘terms of reference’ engage problematic management terms such as “benchmarking” and “best practice”.  Use of such loaded and frequently discredited concepts demonstrate out of date management thinking. 

The release today of the five reports of the Federal Government’s Commission of Audit creates a further problem for The Lewis Report as it clearly recommends benchmarking of the ABC and SBS against commercial broadcasters.  It also recommends that “future funding decisions” about the ABC and SBS “should be informed by the outcome of the benchmarking exercise”. 
Dr Gates said that these recommendations were not dissimilar from the Efficiency Study lead by Lewis.

“If Lewis was negotiating a position with Southern Cross Media or was contemplating a return to commercial media while engaged in a benchmarking exercise we can never be sure that the benchmarking exercise was truly independent” said Dr Gates.

The problem is made worse by the fact that there was no independent public representation on the Efficiency Study for the ABC and SBS and there does not seem to be anyone with a public broadcasting background.   

The public was also excluded from making submissions unlike the Commission of Audit.
  
The ABC/SBS Efficiency Study is shaping up to be stillborn.

Dr Richard Gates
President
Northern Rivers Branch
Friends of the ABC (NSW) Inc.
Tel 02 6682 5161
Email: ragates@netspace.net.au

Editorial audit: ABC calls in outsiders for news bias probe

 

Matthew Knott - Crikey media editor

The ABC has moved to tackle concerns of bias in its news and current affairs programs by calling in external auditors to review coverage of contentious topics such as asylum seekers. The broadcaster will also commission detailed polling to ensure it is covering the stories, such as electricity price rises, that ordinary Australians are interested in.

In his most significant speech since being appointed ABC chairman last year, James Spigelman told the National Press Club today:

"Since my appointment I have naturally been concerned with the frequency of allegations of a lack of impartiality. I do not accept that it is systematic, but I do accept that it sometimes occurs ... We are not always as good as our most ardent supporters suggest, nor as bad as our most vocal critics assert."

As a response to the allegations, Spigelman announced the ABC board has adopted a new initiative:

"The ABC will produce and publish a series of editorial audits on particular program topics, by persons of relevant experience who are not employed by the ABC."

The first audit -- already underway -- will probe the impartiality of all interviews on ABC Radio of Tony Abbott and Kevin Rudd during the recent election campaign. That audit is being prepared by former BBC journalist Andrea Wills. The second audit will focus on the ABC's treatment of the asylum seeker debate. Spigelman did not speculate on further areas for review in his speech, but the ABC's coverage of climate change is a possibility. So is the recent partnership between the ABC and The Guardian on a recent story about Australian spying in Indonesia.

It will be fascinating to see whether ABC critics, including commentator Andrew Bolt and Liberal Party Senator Cory Bernardi, welcome the initiative or seize upon its existence as evidence of bias.

In Spigelman's speech, the former judge also called on journalists to connect with the concerns of the general public rather those of an educated elite:

"The allegations of bias are, I believe, more often a function of the topics chosen for reporting, than of the content. Journalists -- all of you, not just those at the ABC -- tend to have a social and educational background, perhaps particularly in Canberra, Sydney and Melbourne, that may make them more interested in, say, gay marriage than, say, electricity prices. As a public broadcaster we must endeavour to engage with those sections of our community who are concerned with the latter."

To do this the ABC will work with a leading research team to provide systematic briefings to staff on the issues important to Australians. Spigelman also took aim at conservative commentators who are calling for the ABC to be privatised:

"I am bemused when I notice that some of the critics who wish to tear down this long-lived institution call themselves 'conservative' ... In the case of a 'privatised' ABC, the services would be unrecognisable. To use the word 'privatise' is an Orwellian corruption of language. A commercial mono-culture in the media will either not deliver the broad range of content that public broadcasters have traditionally delivered, or will not deliver such content to the whole community."


The Fight for the ABC is ON

Mike Carlton (SMH November 30, 2013) writes:

“Soon, my friends, we will have to gather in defence of the ABC. With the Tories in power, the assault on the national broadcaster grows more vicious by the day. Unsurprisingly, the campaign is spearheaded by the Murdoch press. Rupert himself loathes publicly funded broadcasting because it attracts an audience which he believes is rightly his to make money from. The platoons of toadies on his payroll troop obediently into line, along with the rest of the right-wing commentariat.”

On Wednesday 4th December, community activist group GetUp sent out the following message:

THE ATTACK IS ON AGAIN. Today, members of the government, including Cory Bernardi, Bronwyn Bishop and Ian Macdonald, agitated to defund Australia’s public broadcaster. Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi called our ABC a “taxpayer-funded behemoth,” and suggested that we could “perhaps cut the ABC budget and allow the commercial media operators to compete.”

This is the Coalition throwing out a test balloon, so they can see how the public responds to their long-held desire to slash the ABC. Pulled straight from the Christmas wishlist of Rupert Murdoch and the right-wing think-tank the IPA, defunding or commercialising the ABC would ruin a rare, educational and uniquely Australian public resource.

We like our ABC free of ads, free for all, free to remain fair and balanced. Will you make sure Tony Abbott knows to keep it that way?

The petition attached to this statement had, at the time of Update going to print and over 5 days, attracted 200,000 signatures from ordinary Australians determined to defend their ABC – an extraordinary response.

Senator Bernardi’s comments are covered fully in this edition of Update, including the rather surprising assertion that the commercial media need to be protected from the inroads made, very successfully, by the ABC into digital platforms.

Mike Carlton continues:
“Two events have whipped up a heightened frenzy: the ABC’s reporting of the Indonesia crisis, and the disclosure of the salaries of some top broadcasters and executives. The Australian has been in one of its fits of hysterics about this for a fortnight. Cries of treason ring out, with demands for the arrest and imprisonment of ABC managing director, Mark Scott. The corporation and its leftist conspirators must be brought to heel.

How bizarre. In a London courtroom, the stinking underbelly of the Murdoch empire is being eviscerated in the phone hacking trial. Here, the empire strikes back with even more shrill editorials about journalistic ethics and practice. The mind reels.

But make no mistake. The fight for the ABC is on.”

ABC Managing Director Mark Scott responded to both the Indonesian security matter and the issue of ABC salaries in an interview to ABC News 24, covered in this Update. However, for commentators on the Murdoch payroll, rational argument and presentation of facts matters little. As Mike Carlton has pointed out, the Murdoch agenda is to maximise the potential profit to be made across all of the media, and a highly respected public broadcaster like the ABC is getting in the way. In

Murdochland there is little interest in quality journalism, balance or the truth, as we saw so clearly demonstrated in the News Ltd. coverage of the recent Federal election, where the Murdoch press was little more than a cheer squad for the Coalition.
Murdoch power and money combined with the ideological objections to a publicly funded broadcaster from the far right of his party (unless that broadcaster is simply a mouthpiece for the government) will be very difficult for Prime Minister Abbott to resist. And following the number of “about faces” on the Gonski education reforms, it is fanciful to imagine that his pre-election reassurances on the future of the ABC are worth anything at all.

As Mike Carlton says, the fight for the ABC is on.

Mal Hewitt
President, NSW Friends of the ABC

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.

 


Upcoming changes to Radio National

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".

Peter Pockley
8 December 2012