Friday’s Crikey story from the ABC insider is further testimony on the closed and submissive culture that has overwhelmed our National broadcaster.

Another senior ABC insider, Kirsten Garrett, Executive Producer of Background Briefing, in an extremely defensive letter to the SMH on October 22 , wrote; “The media should spend a little more time getting the full story. These changes have taken a year of careful working through, and most of us support them. Radio National cannot remain static, and its core of specialisation is not threatened.”

A year of careful working through? Well that belled the cat. Kirsten’s revelation should give Mark Scott — and the rest of staff and us — some more pause for thought on what the Top Dog is being told! If Kirsten is to be taken at her word, how come Stephen Crittenden’s recent brave revelation was the first time that these “carefully worked through ” changes had penetrated beyond an obviously secure and secret fire-wall? And should we believe the assurances coming from Kirsten (but not her Radio bosses and Corporate PR people) that these conclaves are going to give us “an invigorated presence next year “?

Thankfully, during 37 years with the ABC my experience was one where open discussion and sharing of information and ideas was aimed at integrity and producing the best possible programmes. There was workplace democracy with encouragement for all staff, not just a few carefully chosen “safe hands”, to have input when programming decisions were being taken. If Mark Scott is as ropable over the RN imbroglio as last Friday’s ABC insider suggests, could it be because he’s allowed the top-down culture inherited from the disastrous Jonathon Shier period and an extremely contained Board, to thrive?

The crass excuses from the computerised corporate-speak lexicons utilised by RN Head Jane Connors and others on the day of Crittenden’s suspension are revealing, eg..; “Interdisciplinary, consumer-focused reporting”. In real speak this is dumbing-down — pure and simple!

Rather than aspiring to enhance the case for better ABC funding to provide specialist programmes, the capitulators are bending the knee to bland, populist sentiment handed down from a closed circle of highly paid powerful managers who don’t like the boat to be rocked. To deny the Specialist RN programme strands such as Religion and Ethics, Media and Radio Eye and Street Stories will not only be a breach of Charter obligations but a savage curtailing of informed research and open debate.

Across mainstream media we are witnessing the destruction of so much good journalism as profits for shareholders become more important than ideas. As an entity funded by taxpayers for the public good the ABC should not compete in the same environment. Our ABC can afford to be the leading patron of a much richer endeavour. Unless, its leadership has dumped values for simple ideology?

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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