The ABC’s managing director, Mark Scott, has really stepped up in the past month, talking on Rupert Murdoch and his News Ltd hordes and then volunteering to educate us on all things digital, as well as kindly offering to be the Voice of Australia.

In fact, apart from the meanderings of the Sun King last weekend at the end of his latest Australian progress, Mark Scott has dominated the media agenda since September with a series of well-thought-out speeches.

But I reckon he should sit down and have a little chat to himself and his budgetary folk, plus the management of ABC TV and make some far more important and more immediate changes.

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Anyone watching ABC TV last night would have seen the Four Corners report on the Liberal Party and climate change (and why was reporter Sarah Ferguson allowed to nod her head so many times while in camera shot?) and then another solid Media Watch, which helpfully undermined Rupert’s claim to have quality journalism in his papers and websites.

Both eps were the finals for 2009, just as last Thursday’s ep of Q&A was the last for the year.

It’s a seasonal thing; you can almost set your annual clock for it. Summer doesn’t start on December 1, it starts when Four Corners and Media Watch go on summer break in early November.

Yes, its only the first week in November and members of the ABC’s sheltered workshops are going off on beach leave, with a “see you in February” as they leave the studio and turn out the lights.

Over in the battered commercial TV sector, 60 Minutes is still on air and will be to the end of the month. Seven’s Sunday Night is still sticking around to entertain the grown-ups and others who might watch. In fact it’s real TV from the commercial sector, compared to the short season and easy working conditions of the ABC.

I know there is an argument about budgets at the ABC, but my point is: instead of going down the grandiose world of being all things digital and all things external as the Voice of Australia (and soft diplomatic power), the ABC should find the money to at least extend its flagship programs until the end of November. Or can’t the luvvies handle the extra three to four weeks of work?

But this is not a question of just getting more money; it’s about getting the internal priorities of the ABC right. And the principal priority should be to those who listen and watch ABC radio and ABC TV. If the ABC is to justify the claim that it does more news and current affairs than the commercial networks, it has to support that ambition by making sure its flagships news and current affairs programs are on air for as long as possible.

Is the ABC board out to lunch? Should it be telling management, find the money to extend the season of the flagship prorgams.

News and politics doesn’t take a holiday. The 7.30 Report is there and next month, Kerry O’Brien will take his usual end-of-year break (after taking school holiday breaks during the year) and disappear. I don’t begrudge him a break, but he certainly gets far more than the reporters, producers, camera people and editors, etc, do on the program.

The ABC has been doing this and getting away with it for years. It’s a lurk that shouldn’t happen. Taxpayers deserve better, ABC viewers deserve better.

Mark Scott has the well-supported ambition of making the ABC into something more than just a national broadcaster. It is starting to happen in some bits, but in others it resembles a sheltered workshop. Just find the money and end the early marks. Part-time current affairs is no longer good enough.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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