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Oct 31, 2008

Mr Mark Scott: jewel thief

Dear Mr Scott, you’ve described Radio National as the jewel in the crown of the ABC. I don’t understand why you would allow the removal of some of the most distinctive gems, writes Bret Treasure.

Dear Mr Scott,

You’ve described Radio National as the jewel in the crown of the ABC. I don’t understand why you would allow the removal of some of the most distinctive gems.

The ABC media release describes the shelving of eight programs. The justification given is the need for more digital broadcasting resources following the success of RN podcasting. 1.7 million downloads a month, 50% of all the ABC’s downloads and 125% higher than the previous year.

*Scratches head*

Why has podcasting been so successful for RN? Do you think it might have something to do with the PROGRAMMING? It is of course good practice to review programming but what confuses me is the removal of highly distinctive shows. For example:

  • There is no other program in the electronic media that addresses sport the way that The Sports Factor does. It deals with the culture of sport; from a spectator’s, administrator’s, coach’s and player’s viewpoint. It is moving and insightful. Are they words you associate with any other sports show? A great loss to the media. Its replacement is the show that reviews movies. Actually, movie review shows work better when you can SEE a snippet of the movie being reviewed and what do you know? There are ALREADY two TV shows on the public broadcasting network dealing with this!
  • Radio Eye is challenging, sometimes hypnotic radio. Meandering, poetic documentaries using powerful sound landscapes. Non-linear documentaries. A style of radio not heard elsewhere and not possible on screen media.
  • The Media Report: analysing the media during a time of critical change in a way that commercial broadcasting has not been able or willing to do. If anything, a program limited by its half hour format, needing longer to properly deal with complex social and political issues.
  • And the Religion Report. Mark, as you know, I’ve been a liberal atheist all my adult life. So when I listen to someone like Robert Silico, a right wing, conservative thinker, and he argues a case for Christianity as the foundation of liberal values (and he argues the case well) I am learning something. I am being challenged. That sort of radio flicks my switches. Again, there is no program in Australia that covers this territory; the contest for influence within each religion, discussion of the role of religion, explanations of religious viewpoints… In the broadest possible sense it is a call for religious tolerance.

The media release also says that podcasts are attracting a younger listenership. So what? Radio National’s market segment is not an age bracket; it is people who like intelligent discussion. You already have a youth network. The reason for the lower average age of a podcasting listener is simply that they are more comfortable with the technology. The success of podcasting is not a reason to alter your programming mix; it is a result of your programming mix.

These decisions are difficult, but you need to preserve the programs that cover important themes and the programs that are distinctive. The Media Report and the Religion Report fit both categories. Radio Eye and The Sports Factor are distinctive. Please reconsider the decision.


Bret Treasure

Footnote: Stephen Crittenden, presenter of the Religion Report, was critical on air of the ‘decommissioning’ and has been stood aside pending an inquiry. Management don’t like staff questioning their decisions but because of the importance of these programs in the public eye, you should cut a little slack. The debate as to what is aired should be public. I can even imagine it becoming a Radio National show. Call it The Media Report.

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3 thoughts on “Mr Mark Scott: jewel thief

  1. Barbara Mortimer

    Very good points Bret. I would also like to add that I sometimes listen to pod casts when i miss hearing one of my favourite regular programs. So my pod download is counted & measured but not the original free to air radio program I rarely miss. So there is no way to know the true ‘ ratings numbers’ at the end of the radio frequencies.
    I bet the ABC changes are implemented way quicker than most of the other Rudd Reports that have been commissioned!!!

  2. Hoss

    Well said Bret.

    This is pretty much what I’ve been thinking. You hiot the nail on the head and show Mark Scott up for what he really is!

  3. Valerie Pitty

    This article says it all, and it is gratifying to know there has been such an outcry at the proposed cancellation of these programmes. The suspension of Stephen Crittenden, one of the best of the A.B.C.’s presenters, reveals a degree of mean-mindedness which was unexpected and very much resented by all who have enjoyed his programme. We can only hope the Management of the A.B.C. reconsiders these regrettable decisions.