So, you’d never pick it – Gerard “The Pressclipper” Henderson and cranky ABC unionists united in common cause against the ABC.
Yesterday Sally Jackson reported in The Australian that Henderson’s Sydney Institute – Australia’s least nepotistic thinktank – has launched a broadside at the ABC’s complaints process. In particular, the failure of the ABC to have program-makers respond directly to complaints themselves rather than channel them through the “ABC bureaucracy”, which takes too long for Henderson’s liking.
This is not the first time Henderson has crawled out from beneath his piles of yellowing newspapers to whinge about the ABC’s complaints process. He was Richard Alston’s loudest cheerleader in the latter’s absurd catalogue of complaints about the ABC’s coverage of the invasion of Iraq in 2003 (back when people thought we’d actually managed to win in Iraq). And, at the risk of resorting to Henderson’s own preferred method of public debate, this is Gerard in 2004:
During his time as communications minister, Richard Alston focused on process… Alston called for changes to the ABC’s complaints procedures. This was strongly resisted by journalists and producers alike… [the] suggestions – if implemented – would have improved the organisation.
But Henderson hadn’t done his research properly. The change Alston wanted – and which the ABC made in 2002 – was the very one Henderson is now complaining about: to take responsibility for handling complaints away from program makers. Alston specifically asked the ABC in 1998 to establish a “Program Complaints Unit – an identifiable and separate unit for investigating and reporting on more serious program complaints. This could enhance the existing ABC complaints handling process, which relies upon the program area to deal with complaints.”
So make up your mind, Gerard. Which do you want? Or was Richard Alston wrong?
Most likely, Henderson, like Alston, wants whatever process says he’s right and the ABC is wrong, regardless of whether it’s the program makers, the ABC’s internal complaints unit, or an external assessor saying it. Although, at least Henderson seems to take these issues seriously. Alston only launched his complaints assault because he was furious that the ABC sprung the cancellation of its digital kids’ channel on him by surprise.
And Gerard has some backing from a surprise quarter. An anonymous ABC production employee wrote in Crikey on Wednesday, arguing that the ABC’s complaints area should be abolished, rather than production outsourced. The author is clearly one of the ABC’s small army of production staff who are paid to sit around all day for only a couple of hours’ of internal production work – described by one former ABC executive as “the highest-paid table tennis players in Australia.”
Mark Scott is dead right to get rid of this mob and outsource as much production as he can to the private sector, where he can get better value for the taxpayers’ money he is spending. But instead, our correspondent would like to see indulgences like replying to audience emails and proper handling of complaints chucked out. I mean, it’s only basic accountability. Who needs that at a publicly-funded broadcaster?
Get Crikey FREE to your inbox every weekday morning with the Crikey Worm.
And the author also hopes that other media outlets will “go into bat for the ABC.” Well, the Sydney Institute’s little journal is on your side. That’s a start.