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TV & Radio

Sep 20, 2011

Christos Tsiolkas: a slap to the ABC for killing The Book Show

Author Christos Tsiolkas has attacked the decision to axe Radio National's Book Show. He writes in an open letter to the ABC board ...


Author Christos Tsiolkas sent the following letter to the board of the ABC yesterday …

I am writing to make clear my strong dismay at the proposed changes envisioned for the ABC’s Radio National The Book Show. I believe a stand-alone literary show is vital to the health of literary culture here in Australia. Both as a listener to the ABC and as a writer here in Australia, I am well aware of the terrific job The Book Show does not only in promoting literary culture but in being part of the conversations and arguments about what our literary culture is: who are we talking to, what are we talking about, what is our relationship to the international literary culture, what should we be talking about? I know that a hybrid arts/books/culture show can in no way sustain that kind of engagement.

You must all realise that there is a lot of good will that programmes like The Book Show have developed between writers and the ABC. I think there is also a fierce loyalty writers have to the ABC because the arts programmes champion, defend and, just as importantly, challenge literary cultures. By any meaningful definition of what a public broadcasting cultural program should be, The Book Show is a success: in terms of allowing a space for writers, critics, academics, publishers and readers to engage; through keeping conversations, arguments and debates about books vital and on-going; in acknowledging the worth of work across genres; in speaking to and for and about the audience that buys books, reads books, discusses books.

Just like us writers, you will find that those listeners are also fiercely loyal to the show. (I should note too that if one of the changes I have heard mooted is correct — that of splitting fiction and non-fiction across programmes — then the changes don’t even make sense. Recent debates in literature have raged over the slippages between fiction and non-fiction, between what is memoir and what is imagination. Again, The Book Show is one of the spaces in Australia where those debates and arguments have occurred.)

There is also such a deep reservoir of good will between us writers and Ramona Koval, between us writers and all of the staff of The Book Show. It is there because the programme has supported us from the beginning of our careers as writers. We are not only called to come on when we are “bestsellers” or “names”. This is why the programme still remains vital. We have seen the commitment of the staff when it comes to reporting from writers’ festivals, from forums and from workshops. That good will too is now also in jeopardy.

I will give you a concrete example of how that might affect my relationship with the ABC in the future. I have been happy, in the past, to be invited along and engage in debate and conversation on The Book Show and to do it when I don’t have a new book to promote. I have been happy to do that because I have faith in the commitment to literature on behalf of The Book Show staff, and because I see such involvement as crucial for a dynamic literary culture in Australia. In light of the new changes, I don’t feel that urgency any longer.

I am a writer in my mid-forties. Growing up in the era I did, I turned to the ABC for cultural inspiration and challenge. Younger generations don’t feel that loyalty to the ABC, I understand that. But you don’t chase that kind of loyalty through destroying all that is positive about the organisation. In my experience, young people are smart enough to name it when they smell hypocrisy. Sure, create alternatives to The Book Show, but it isn’t — and shouldn’t be — an either/or situation. What is happening now risks losing the audience and goodwill you already have and confirming the suspicions and low expectations of an audience the ABC claims it wants to foster.

The proposed changes are a dumbing-down, we all know it, regardless of the double-speak, evasions and weasel words being used to cloak it.

Michael Mason, Manager of Radio National, responds …

Our new Books and Arts program (working title only) will not diminish the importance of books in our programming mix. Importantly, across the week there will be no decrease in our commitment to books in the 10am-11am slot. This is because we have increased the length of the program to cover the full hour …

To answer your question, it isn’t true that the program will only look at fiction. The brief for the proposed new program will focus on fiction, memoirs, literary criticism and publishing news. We want to continue our analysis and debate around identity, memory and story and our focus on memoir will enable us to do this …

On Saturday nights, we are proposing that a new Books+ program (again working title) will cover fiction and non-fiction as well as publishing industry news as part of its arts journalism focus. We’re also proposing to broadcast an omnibus of the week’s book readings as we know listeners often miss one or two and believe that people will relish a quiet time for a more complete reading.

ABC Radio National provides more coverage of books and writing than any other Australian media outlet. This commitment continues strongly across the 2012 schedule. Conversations with writers, discussions, talks by authors, a dedicated poetry program, Australian drama, book readings and extensive coverage of writer’s festivals remain key elements of ABC Radio National’s offering to audiences. — read Michael Mason’s full response here (PDF)


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19 thoughts on “Christos Tsiolkas: a slap to the ABC for killing The Book Show

  1. paddy

    Having read Crikey’s moderation policies, I don’t think I’d be allowed to say what I thought of Michael Mason’s response. (Libel laws being what they are.)
    But it’s probably worth linking to a much more coherent article by Jason Steger interviewing Ramona Koval, that says it much better than I can.

  2. JennyS

    Writers should never resort to cliche. and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
    As a writer working from home most of the time, The Book Show is my window on what’s going on out there. If I manage to resist listening in the morning, the evening repeats are a useful chance to stay in touch while folding the washing.
    Ramona Koval is to books in this country what David and Margaret are to movies. If The Book Show is gutted, we’ll lose a big chunk of our intelligent debate, and some of our international standing; it’s not for nothing that Koval hosts sessions at writers’ festivals around the nation and around the world. That this should be happening in Melbourne, “city of literature” is even more disappointing. We can only hope that someone somewhere in the ABC will reverse this decision; hope, or shout at them until they do. Once again Christos is ready to speak out; another reason to admire him.

  3. Stevo the Working Twistie

    I want more recycled BBC frock dramas! More quizzes! You arty-farties never think about us poor lowest-common-denominators.

  4. zut alors

    That’s another one done. Let’s see now, what can the ABC dumb down next…

  5. Andrew Demase

    The ABC has been alienating its traditional audience for some time now for the sake of attracting a “younger” audience.

    Marieke Hardy who often does a guest spot on Jon Faine’s show (774 Melbourne) jokes about being there to make him look cool. ABC TV cuts Arts programming to fund jokes like “Laid”, “At Home With Julia” & “Crownies”. Crownies would have been better on 7 after “Home & Away”, Indiana Evans (Tatum) certainly thinks she is still there.

    My prediction is that if the ABC continues along this road it will lose more of its traditional audience and not gain a “young” audience. Then the politicians will wonder if it is worth funding.

    But this might be the plan all along.

  6. roger

    Ramona Koval is quite simply the finest interviewer in the country. Each day, the Book SHow produces a small miracle on a miniscule budget. Why would you want to much it up? Where is the evidence this will do anything to better serve audiences ? This is tinkering by people who nothing better to do. Michael Mason’s response is insultingly vacuous. He does not hold an intellectual candle to those he is shafting. To claim that Radio National covers more literature than any other media outlet I say, well duh. That’s what RN is for, surely?

  7. Rodger

    I am a fan of the Book Show & Ramona. If they f–k it up I will be angry.

  8. Michael Harvey

    You can’t have dangerous ideas being discussed on the ABC – it would upset The Australian.

  9. Roberto Tedesco

    I’d be more interested in Christos’s view if he hadn’t written a great pile of steaming turd like “Dead Europe”. Ye flippin’ gods.

  10. Bob Biggs

    So, Roberto, you’re writing off Tsiolkas’s opinion because… You didn’t like one of his books? You must be a smash at parties.

  11. Bob the builder

    The most depressing thing about this is the bureaucratic crap coming out of the RN manager’s mouth. I’m getting SO SICK of the PR-speak everywhere – a great blancmange of words to smother all thought and discussion.
    The Book Show is – like so many RN programs – a fantastic and dynamic specialist program. If I was after it, there’s no shortage of generalist and ‘fun’ crap out there. RN doesn’t need to add to it!

  12. syzygium

    “The desire to attract a new younger audience” – Christ Almighty, do not ‘new, young’ people also read books? Might not some of them be interested in broadening their horizons and discussing books? Some might even want to be authors! Not as many as will want to watch Neighbours, mind you, but by God some will and now where will they go? It’s enough to make one weep.

    That aside, as an immigrant the Book Show was my window into the world of Australian writing. Before I started listening to it, I didn’t have a clue. I remember, after hearing Richard Flanagan on the show, going to the library, checking out three of his books and devouring them in a week. Thanks, Book Show!

  13. Bob the builder

    Has anyone ever looked into how much of the (older) current Book Show or RN audience listened when they were ‘young people’? I was a freak and did, but lots of people I know who now do didn’t when they were younger.
    Perhaps in-depth thinking and discussion is more suited to an audience that has some life experience.

  14. Gail

    The ABC’s constant missteps with RN make me weep. Why so they keep doing such stupid things. Apparently an extra half hour of Fran Kelly is going to add to my day. I don’t think so. I already think that two hours is more than enough and if it wasn’t for AM…..I don’t know. On top of that I lose programmes that are interesting and often pertinent to current life. Losing the Book Show is almost enough on top of more Fran Kelly to make me turn the radio off and use my iPod audio instead. ABC FM is too soporific for me in the morning, I want information usefully presented.

    Do they do the focus group thing or something? My son, just 30, is not at all happy about the changes. He listens to the radio while he works and he listens to RN and has done all his adult life except during the def metal (or whatever) period in his teen years.

  15. Andrew Demase

    Talking about cutting funding to the ABC due to its programming decisions: it does not take long for politicians to start thinking along those lines.

    “Queensland Liberal MP Teresa Gambaro told the party room the program degraded the office of the prime minister, and called for a rethink of ABC funding.”

  16. donica

    At the risk of sounding flakey I just wanted to cry when I read this. Why do they have to bugger everything up? Why does everything have to be aimed at ‘young people’ anyway?

  17. HB

    somebody tweet Miley Cyrus

  18. Yellow Bird

    I’m 24. Does that still count as young? please don’t f-ck with our book show.

  19. Yellow Bird

    I think it should be noted that there are a lot of young people who listen to Radio National. It is incredibly popular with musicians (who don’t tend to listen to Triple j), Young writers, actors etc. Christos’ comment that younger people ‘don’t have that loyalty’ to the ABC, is flat wrong. No, the Book Show doesn’t attract the same young people who listen to the vapid comedy of Hamish and Andy, It attracts people who are interested in bloody literature. The other thing about young people is that they are, by definition, in the process of growing up. We need high quality programmes like the Book Show (like nearly everything on RN, in fact) to help us with that. To broaden our experience so that later on, we can add to it.

    Oh well. I suppose we could just get Anonymous to give management a good talking to.

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