Has the Liberal Party’s attack dog in the Senate, Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, claimed her second ABC scalp with the news that the successful comedy/satire production The Glass House is not being renewed?

The good Senator was attacking The Glass House in the Senate Estimates Committee examination of the ABC on Monday, as well as Media Watch, which has already been earmarked for a revamp with new staff and promises of “balance” from ABC management.

The program was axed yesterday. This is how the ABC TV explained its decision:

It is correct, that after 5 years and 218 episodes ABC TV will not be commissioning Glass House in 2007. We have done what ABC does best – bringing new talent to the screen and giving them the opportunity to establish themselves as TV stars. We have a new show planned for next year and unfortunately we can’t do everything.

That’s a pretty pro forma response which does little to counteract the feeling that the axeing is an unusual decision, especially given The Glass House‘s popularity with its target audience: young people from around 16 to 39. In recent times, the show has been achieving its best ratings in five years, with averages of 720,000-730,000.

We have to take ABC TV’s decision on face value, GH co-host Corinne Grant told ABC radio this morning, but it “doesn’t make any sense to us whatever”. A source close to the program, while disagreeing that the axeing can be easily linked to The Glass House‘s perceived bias, says that “at the very least it’s being mismanaged” and at the worst, it looks like “a sort of pre-emptive buckle ahead of next year’s election”.

The reaction on the program’s guestbook was predictable but understandable (I just loved the John Howard comment). As for what will replace The Glass House and whether it will be in the same news-based satire mould, the ABC today said it hadn’t yet “locked in what will be where” for next year.

The Glass House isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, especially conservative Liberal Party Senators from NSW whose only role in Federal Parliament is to run the conservatives’ ABC bias monitoring operation. Here’s what Fierravanti-Wells said in the Senate estimates hearing on Monday to Mark Scott, who was without his Director of TV, Kim Dalton (who would have deflected the Senator’s offensive):

… I also wanted to say to Mr Dalton that one of your presenters, Corinne Grant, The Glass House, is also the public face of the union’s anti-government IR campaign. She has also evidently produced a radio ad for the unions. I have to say that a very cosy arrangement between the unions and the ABC troubles me.

Mr Scott—I have not seen that campaign.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS—Again, that is on Your Rights at Work. I will produce a copy of that for you.

Mr Scott—Thank you.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS—It is interesting that one of the comments in the guestbook on The Glass House—and I have a copy here dated 6 October—is that even comedy the ABC is entirely devoted to “misguided left-wing politics”. It is interesting that such comments are appearing on your guestbook.

Today, Grant denied that she was the face of the ACTU — it “must be news to Greg Combet”.

So should other ABC programs be worried?

Well it’s nothing new for Media Watch to be in the spotlight. The good senator and other conservatives, like Gerard Henderson, have campaigned actively against Media Watch and Media Watch replied in kind, posting on its website a letter from the Senator to Liberal Party constituents in NSW with “Important Information Regarding ABC Bias. Note the use of the upper case ‘B’ in Bias.

And it looks like the just-started First Tuesday Book Club hosted by Jennifer Byrne is already in the Senator’s sights:

…I want to take you to the new program called First Tuesday Book Club. I understand that the first First Tuesday Book Club had an auspicious start and that one of the presenters made a jibe along the lines of “not like John and Janette invading Iraq”. It was bad enough that this comment was made on an arts program, but why drag Mrs Howard into it? Will you investigate that? Is this the sort of program that is now going to be covered by the editorial policies?

Peter Fray

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Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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