What a shame Margaret Simons covered the latest changes proposed by ABC management for crikey.com.au. Simons seems to have been awed by her direct conversation with ABC head Mark Scott into swallowing the latest spin. If even Crikey accepts the selling of the ABC farm without a murmur, the media landscape really will irrevocably change in Australia, and not for the better.
Despite funding crises going back years, the ABC has a creative, dynamic, and skilled production workforce. Many of them, unlike some presenters, could find better paid work elsewhere but are committed to Australian public broadcasting. This precious resource belongs to you, to your children, to your neighbours, and friends. And this is what is about to be sold down the river at the whim of some industry theorists.
SBS has adopted this idea hook, line and sinker and the morale of the remaining staff has died. There is a dusty bouquet taped to the telegraph pole outside as staff there below management know and mourn what has been lost to Australia in disbanding such a resource.
Simons would have been well placed to query Scott regarding the so-called savings of outsourcing production. There are no convincing figures that outsourcing production will save money for the ABC.
For example, although in the short term having multiple financiers for a project saves the ABC money, in the long term, any profit made by distributing the material to other broadcasters is shared among all of those that produced the material/ This means that the short-term savings are lost. The ABC has charter obligations which will not be met if the ABC does not produce material in-house.
Consider just one example: the use of Australian music in programs. Due to good will and a long relationship with collecting bodies, the ABC has blanket agreements regarding the payment of residuals and royalties of music used on ABC programs. If the ABC is only one of several funding partners then why would these collecting agencies apply blanket agreements to such productions? If the agencies charge higher prices given the other commercial interests involved in the program’s production, then the other partners may well choose to instead spend the money on non-Australian music.
Part of the ABC’s charter is to support the Australian creative arts industry. But as only one voice among many making the many creative decisions involved in program making, the ABC’s commitment to that Charter may not be heard or hold sway. The Natural History Unit was destroyed last year. What a shame Simons didn’t ask Scott how many documentaries have been commissioned since the unit’s demise compared to when the unit was thriving, and what kind of saving the removal of the unit has brought to the ABC.
There are cost savings that could be made throughout the ABC on the administrative side. For example, the ABC is the only station that replies formally to all e-mails from the audience. The section that responds to these complaints and questions is now the size of a large town with a showground and 20-metre swimming pool. One of the managers works from interstate for family reasons and is regularly flown in by the ABC to Ultimo and put up at hotels. Under the previous government the paranoid surveillance of the ABC led to new mushrooms growing of internal review sections. These bureaucrats replicate the work of the Australian Communication and Media Authority. Cutting either of these areas would result in considerable savings for the organisation.
These and other administrative cuts will not be made because it is not cost cutting that is the issue here. Along with efforts to position the ABC on the edge for the future, Scott wishes to make clear that the ABC requires further funding. Riding the hobby horse of production outsourcing is a gamble towards collecting more sympathy in the community. If, on the other hand bureaucrats are canned, no-one will care. Gutting the production expertise of the national broadcaster at a time when all pundits recognise that content is King is folly.
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Hopefully other media outlets will recognise this and go in to bat for the ABC, for our ABC. This latest proposal is a PR exercise similar to efforts to drop Behind the News and the journalists’ cadet program in order to get more funding from Howard. The public outcry then surprised the ABC management. Here’s hoping we don’t allow this vital community resource to slip away.