Trust “Your ABC” to find yet another way to add fuel to an already combustible mixture, the emotions raised over the inexplicable axing of the George Negus Tonight programs (Mon-Thurs 6.30 pm).

For the second time in 24 hours, ABC publicist Lesna Thomas has done it again, with the willing connivance of the head of general factual programming at the ABC, Denise Eriksen, and her boss, the head of ABC TV, Sandra Levy.

Thomas you remember told The Sydney Morning Herald Wednesday that George Negus was ‘absolutely’ happy with the changes. The SMH then spoke to Negus who asked rhetorically, ‘why should I be happy’? A good question and you have to wonder why the dummies at ABC publicity and management didn’t think to temper their language and spinning line. That’s if they REALLY wanted George Negus back.

So when another statement sailed forth late Thursday from said Lesna and the great ABC e-mail machine, new claims, new flames.

Burp, out it spat containing not only new claims about the worth of the axing decision (but again, no rational explanation), but also a direct attack on George Negus and his claim that he and his program ‘tripled or quadrupled ratings’ in the 6.30pm timeslot. That’s what he told Crikey and other media outlets he spoke to Wednesday and Thursday.

The Lesna missive contained this inflammatory piece of rubbish:

“Reports that GNT ‘…tripled and almost quadrupled the 6.30 pm ratings in two and half years’ are not correct. The average household share for GNT was 10.8% (440,000 people). By comparison, the average household share for repeat British comedies, in that slot, has been as high as 21% (1,050,000 people).”

A TV friend of Terry’s said it was the first time they could remember where a TV Network of any description had corrected DOWNWARDS the ratings for a segment or program. They are always trying to fiddle them higher.

But there is a very important falsity in this claim.

George Negus was not comparing his program’s ratings with the repeats of British comedies (and how many MORE times will be have to watch The Goodies, As Time Goes By etc etc etc?). He was comparing the ratings with those of Dimensions. Remember them, Lesna, Sandra, Denise?

The Dimensions programs were interesting, George was involved, but when the idea was ditched and the program focus changed more to concentrate on George (the producer, Ivo Burum was the same), ratings took off.

George wasn’t comparing the programs with those of the comedies, but despite that clear difference, Lesna, Denise and Sandra chose to ignore it and push out a press release containing a highly misleading claim.

If there was a chance of George Negus returning to front one night a week. Lesna’s slagging of his claims ( with the complicit approval of the other two) would put that very much in doubt.

And one last point about this claim. Lesna and the others attempted to undermine George’s claim about the ratings by comparing the numbers for a locally produced Australian show, with those for cheap imported British comedies. There’s something wrong there isn’t there? Especially when the rest of the statement issued by Lesna and the gals is an encomium for the change for ‘more Australian’ regional based programs, not British comedies.

In fact it’s a gush of tosh. Peter Cundall for example is very happy and so are all the other people whose jobs and livelihoods depend on not speaking out about the actions of the bosses who know it!

That’s why it was gusty for Angela Catterns to treat the axing of the program as newsworthy for her ABC radio listeners in Sydney Thursday morning.

Meanwhile the statement containing the ‘ratings downgrade’ explained the changes this way:

“Western Australia, Queensland and South Australia will each produce their own half-hour show, all of which will be launched in February, for a March on-air date.

“These new shows will run for 40 episodes each across the year and will be hosted, presented and produced in each state.

“The programs will provide each region with greater autonomy than in the past, and will be entirely local productions, made in the regions, for all of Australia.

“The staff in each of these states are excited at the prospect of producing new programming, and are currently working hard on the creative elements,” said Denise Eriksen.

ABC Director of Television Sandra Levy said “the objective of this decision is to provide quality regional content, produced by the regions, and presented by regional hosts, to show the diversity of Australia to all Australians.”

There’s that ‘strength through labour and joy’ approach so beloved of state apparatchiks.

If ‘regionalism’ was so important, why didn’t they do this two or three years ago. How long does it take Sandra Levy to make up her mind (let alone make a decision)?

And what about the thinking behind the decision to start History Detectives, almost lose the whole idea, turn it in Rewind, watch while the staff made it a success and then let someone like Denise Eriksen loose to make decisions about which she was unqualified because of a five year absence from Australia?

And the above statement show that Levy is pandering to the incipient regional interests inside the ABC, without any regard to the interest of ALL ABC viewers.

It’s one of the strange decisions by which she provides a reply to internal ABC politics by ignoring the wishes of viewers (not all by an overwhelming majority)

Remember, the ABC keeps telling us it’s ‘Your ABC’.

Should we ask the ACCC to investigate whether that’s an accurate claim?

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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