The ABC’s News and Current Affairs division is cock-a-hoop about Managing Director Mark Scott’s reorganisation, because it means they regain control of News Online.

There have been constant stoushes between the ABC’s various divisions in the past over who is responsible for New Media. Scott’s move is seen as an effort to resolve these so that opportunities are seized rather than scrapped over.

The various “content” divisions of Radio, Television and News and Current Affairs regain control of their services — something that Jonathan Shier tore off them – and the powerful New Media division is dissolved.

Insiders say The Australian has got it wrong in seeing Lynley Marshall as the winner. Now head of ABC Commercial and formerly head of New Media, she has lost control of content-making and is said by some to be “spewing”.

There are concerns among insiders that a certain critical mass in New Media necessary to force innovation on a conservative organisation will be lost in the “stodginess” of the traditional content generating divisions, but nevertheless the general response from ABC insiders to Scott’s reorganisation is positive.

The victory of News and Current Affairs over New Media is significant. In other media organisations new media has led to a loosening of traditional newsroom values, with the online presence taking on a character quite different from the print and broadcast editions. Scott’s reorganisation means this is less likely to happen at the ABC.

The new International division, too, is largely welcomed as a pulling together of the efforts of Radio Australia and the television arm Ausnet. Competition in the international media arena is getting much tougher. Cheaper satellites have made it easier for many national broadcasters to set up their own international divisions. Better marketing and better management are needed, insiders say – and this has profound implications for Australia’s place and influence in the region.

The big worry, of course, is commercialisation.

Glenys Stradijot of the Friends of the ABC says that Scott’s plan to charge for downloads is unacceptable. “This is the first time anyone has proposed denying universal access to the national broadcaster” she says. “Universal access is a critical part of public broadcasting. Imagine if when ABC television was introduced it had been suggested you would have to pay for it.”

Charging for downloads would mean the ABC was providing a “two tier” service, with some content only available for those who can afford to pay. “The ABC will be cutting its own throat and marginalising itself,” she says.

What the ABC should be doing, she says, is going back to Government for more money, and meanwhile rallying the public in support.

Peter Fray

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