The ABC’s new head of television, former Australian Film Commission chief Kim Dalton, is “intelligent, lucid” and has the ability to “quietly take sh*t like nobody would believe,” says Alex Prior, managing director of online film and television publication Screen Hub. Dalton will replace Sandra Levy after she defected to Nine four months ago.

The ABC has “chosen drama over news and current affairs” by appointing Dalton, writes Sheena MacLean in today’s Oz. Traditionally, there’s been no love lost between the two sectors, but tensions spilled over recently between former ABC news chief Max Uechtritz and Levy when she refused to interrupt scheduled programs for breaking news. So where will Dalton – the man who as the Film Finance Corporation’s Melbourne investment manager helped finance Muriel’s Wedding and The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert – stand on the issue?

We know he’s a drama man. Dalton is “completely committed to the Australian independent production sector,” says Prior. Until now, the ABC has been in a position where they’ve been making virtually no Australian drama. If “anyone is likely to fix the bureaucracy to free the money, it’s Kim Dalton.”

But to say that’d he’d favour drama over news and current affairs is to “severely underestimate the man,” says Prior. More than anything “he is anti-bureaucracy.” Right now, you’d have a “very worried ABC staff union.” Dalton doesn’t like “entrenched bureaucracy for the sake of entrenched bureaucracy.” And rather than choosing between news and drama he will most likely “try and free money for both.”

But today’s Canberra Times has a different perspective, labelling Dalton “one of the most controversial figures in the Australian film industry.” Helen Musa writes:

In December 2003 Mr Dalton was greeted with hostile demonstrations after he flew to Canberra to announce drastic staff cuts at the archive and the removal of key functions to interstate cities. After a week of protests, Mr Dalton was forced to back down and make public assurances that Canberra operations would be sustained. Yesterday’s announcement came as a surprise to archive watchers in Canberra, as Mr Dalton’s contract had been renewed recently.

So what does the union make of Dalton? Well, we’re “quite used to dealing with hard managers,” says Graeme Thomson, ABC Section Secretary of the Community and Public Sector Union. But the real concern, he says, is whether he’ll be committed to “rebuilding in-house production capacity at the ABC” because in recent times, there’s been a push by groups, including the AFC, for outsourcing.

The Friends of the ABC group says that while “it’s heartening to read of his commitment to and support of local drama content … no film and television director no matter how talented and experienced can make programs out of thin air. For the ABC to live up to its past glory and future potential, it needs fund funds funds.”