Well, who would have thought the ABC would end up out-boning the boning yard that is the Nine Network.

But step back Eddie McGuire, step forward ABC Director of TV, Kim Dalton: you are the man. You’ve even managed to bone the person who helped make (though not create) B1 and B2, Australian icons.

Claire Henderson was Head of ABC Children’s programming but no more. Her position was abolished yesterday along with the head of the ABC2 , Chris Winter, and the head of ABC factual, Denise Eriksen. All hangovers from a former regime.

Kim Dalton asserted in his explanatory memo to staff: “The separation of the various aspects of the children’s area is problematic and unsustainable.”

That may very well be the case but why now, why not last year and why, without any explanation, change something that was delivering? Or wasn’t it and has something been covered up? Is Henderson being blamed for this or held accountable in any way because it sounds suspiciously like a situation that previous heads of TV should have resolved.

Besides all the shuffling and streamlining, here’s the core of the changes:

  1. Creation of a discrete Children’s Department that draws together all children’s-related areas currently dispersed across ABC TV. This department will be headed up by a new position of Executive Head of Children’s, who will report to Director TV and be responsible for all aspects of ABC TV’s children’s and educational content.
  2. Integration of ABC2 functions and roles into existing TV functional areas.
  3. Current positions of Head Children’s and Manager ABC2 will no longer be required.
  4. Head Factual position will be abolished after September this year.
  5. Post September, Two positions of Supervising Executive Producer will oversee ABC TV’s factual content, positions to report to Executive Head of Content Creation. Until September, the current reporting structure remains.

And for Dalton to say this: “It is anticipated that there may be one or two redundancies which are unavoidable outcomes of this realignment,” was a bit blasé, even if redeployment or redundancy with fairness was promised.

Yes, Kim, you have managed to do to Claire Henderson, the ABC’s former head of Children’s programming, what Jonathon Shier couldn’t do during his short and nasty resign at the ABC: get rid of her.

Shier tried and tried to supplant her with a former Disney executive to exploit all the ABC’s wonderful children’s properties, but failed miserably.

She withstood that assault and others, including the row in 2004 over Play School showing a lesbian couple. That got the conservatives in a titter, especially those of the same ilk as some on your board who were frustrated that Russell Balding wouldn’t do anything, nor would the former head of TV, Sandra Levy.

Though Ms Henderson might have made B1 and B2 popular it’s Helena Harris who was responsible for the creation of the series. In fact her title was “creating producer Bananas in Pajamas”, according to some entries on google.

But back to the boning of Claire Henderson. To cap it all off you failed to recognise her long and valued role at the ABC, especially the commercial impetus B1 and B2 gave to the ABC’s commercial arm, ABC Enterprises.

Wasn’t it former CEO, David Hill, who paid tribute to the commercial benefits when he said it had been a “banana-led recovery” or something like that?

Kim, in your colourful email (the colour of the type, not the words), you mentioned that the head of ABC TV Factual, Denise Eriksen was going as a result of her not renewing her contract. Well, after all the changes you announced there wasn’t much point of her staying on; she didn’t have a gig.

And why have you replaced her with TWO Supervising Producers; is that job creation? And your best producer in the area, Tim Clark, is going because he doesn’t like the changes and the switch in policy.

You also mentioned that Chris Winter was going because, well, without actually saying it, you had restructured his gig as head of ABC2; out of existence to bring it back under the control of you and your ham-fisted programmers.

There is some sense in having ABC 1 and 2 co-coordinated but 2 is a full digital channel and is developing an audience among younger viewers, which the ABC desperately needs.

Now that the restrictions are off what can be broadcast on 2, which necessitated the separate management, will 2 revert to a tired clone of the existing ABC Channel, with a few tizzies?

But you neglected Henderson to pay tribute to Henderson’s career. Whatever her faults were (lack of visibility was one comment, a bit ‘static’ was another) she was entitled to be mentioned in your email, or in another to staff.

On the face of it, it shows a churlishness that is worrying. Her contribution to the ABC is worthy of recognition, or is there hope things can be patched up and a nasty spat avoided? Hopefully those reports of her leaving in tears and consulting lawyers are rumours from affected work colleagues.

Further, the handing over of ‘Events’ from factual to Sport. Does that really mean the ABC TV Sports department will have the responsibility of the ABC’s coverage of the Anzac Day Marches in every capital city, as I have been told?

I wonder what the RSL thinks of that, and I also wonder if the ABC TV Sport will get the money to give the Marches their full due from its small budget?

All grist for the mill Kim and I know change is a constant these days but perhaps you could explain, clearly, what these changes are all about.

I know there is a case made for streamlining at such a public service orientated organisation like the ABC, but can you tell us just how much out-sourcing will happen. Will all Children’s Programming be outsourced, including B1 and B2 and Play School, or will it just be some?

And what sort of governance rules will be put in place to guard against commercial exploitation. It seems Ms Henderson had some concerns in this area.

We don’t want a repeat of the ‘commercial’ intrusion 80s and 90s style that we see in some areas of ABC programming, do we?

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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