Radio National’s revamp

Radio National manager Michael Mason writes: Re. “Radio National changes ‘rip the guts’ from features, docos” (yesterday). The Production Sustainability Project (PSP) is about ensuring the ongoing health of Radio National (RN) and maintaining its place as a major contributor to smart, contemporary conversation in this country. For years, the network’s budget has run at breaking point. Like other media outlets, RN faces changing demographics, technology and audience habits. In order to meet these challenges, and the increasing budgetary pressures that come with them, the network needs to make decisions about how to best maintain the sustainability of the network.

The PSP has taken a holistic look at the production and resourcing models of the network. It is about ongoing resource requirements and not the awards or length of service of various producers. Yes, the network believes in broadcasting excellence. RN also believes in the ongoing sustainability of the network as a whole, and its future in Australia’s media landscape.

For a long time, the amount and range of work by RN Features producers has been uneven. There’s long been a lack of transparency about production levels because of the complex way the unit has been staffed. The PSP addressed this directly by setting very clear production quotas, moving from an eight-week cycle to produce a 55-minute radio feature to about six and a half minutes.

With this quota in place, the network can reduce staffing levels in the unit and help rein in the network’s budgetary footprint.

The reality is that RN needs to make tough choices to ensure the Australian public can continue to hear a broad range of engaging programs on the network.

ABC Radio management started consulting with staff regarding the PSP 7 months ago. All staff have been encouraged to provide input, which resulted in the completion of 60 questionnaires and 39 follow-up interviews. The network is consulting with staff and the CPSU, and will continue to meet its obligations under the employment agreement.

Forty-four per cent of Radio National staff are at the most senior radio production levels in the corporation — Band 8 or higher on ABC pay scales. This of course has a major budgetary impact, but also has an ongoing impact on succession planning in the network. Throughout the PSP process, it became clear that the network simply has to grapple with this issue. We know that we need senior people in the network. We know that some roles have to be filled by highly experienced broadcasters. But we need to get the balance right, and develop a wider range of skills and experience so that the network can grow and renew.

The network’s decision to examine the level of Band 8s in the features department hardly “rips the guts out of our intellectual capital”. Out of the 21 staff in the features unit 38% will be Band 8.

In fact, let’s look at RN’s commitment to feature making. In the proposed model to make just 5.5 hours of original programming per week the network will allocate 21 staff with a commissioning budget of more than $200,000. That’s a substantial investment.

The network recognises that this process affects staff directly, and is painful. But let’s get the facts right about what’s being undertaken: protecting the future of a much-loved institution, and a vital part of Australia’s cultural and intellectual life.

Roger Richards writes: I am speaking personally as a RN listener by preference. I never listen to commercial radio. I sometimes listen to ABC Classic FM, sometimes listen to sport on ABC Local Radio, sometimes listen to ABC News Radio . I like the SBS TV News in preference to all.

My preferences are RN Breakfast, Late Night Live, anything on the environment, anything on science, The Music Show, Correspondent’s Report, Book Reading, Bush Telegraph an The Health Report.

I cannot bear most religious programs, wishy-washy pseudo news magazine programs, Counterpoint — except the music they play.

If I had my way I would sack the current ABC chairman, managing director and start with a completely new board. I would willingly pay three times what I pay now for a better service.

  1. I believe the focus on chasing ratings rather than quality has been the ABC’s mistake.
  2. We must have better and more evidence based science programs. We must stop the desire to muddy the water — for which the ABC is notorious. For example the Q&A prelude TV program with climate change denier Nick Minchin being carted round the world on a junket visiting other loudmouths of the same ilk and to counter so-called believers. On the other hand, scientist Chris Smith from Cambridge University, who appears occasionally for a few minutes on RN Breakfast, is excellent. I think that the ABC is as guilty as any other broadcaster in the abysmal understanding in Australia of global warming and the impact of high levels of CO2 and other greenhouse gases. The ignorant, politically appointed board is fully to blame.
  3. Australia’s extinction rate for our native fauna and flora is worse than in any other continent. The failure of the ABC and commercial broadcasters to have a dedicated ongoing environment program backed by robust science and presented by skilled presenters is a national disgrace.
  4. Why are there not more high-quality education programs on the ABC with the whole community in mind? I strongly believe there should be.
  5. There are some great journalists and presenters on the ABC. I specifically like Phillip Adams, Fran Kelly, Alan Kohler, Andrew Ford and there are many more. The ABC foreign correspondents are all great.

Alcohol management plans

Mitchell Holmes writes: Re. “$100 for a cask of wine? Communities welcome grog ban review” (yesterday). So, it’s paternalistic to enforce alcohol management plans (AMP) because “it’s having alcohol restrictions implemented by those who don’t live in the communities that annoys community leaders.” Then we all suffer some paternalism with federal and state governments in distant cities making laws for us (but not by us) all the time. The contra argument, if Aboriginal communities are left to their own devices, is that the rest of us don’t care about them and that we should get more involved!

Further, linking the presence of an AMP to the failure to boost the school attendance rate is ridiculous. How do those two factors relate? In almost all the rest of the community, there is relatively little truancy and every school morning few parents and children seriously debate whether the children should go to school or not. They just go. Do the leaders of the Aboriginal community or the co-ordinators of programs such as PACE think there will be greater school attendance without an AMP?

When it comes to a discussion of the health and welfare of people in Aboriginal communities, it is obvious there are serious problems and it is difficult to find good solutions. However, there is an awful lot of blame shifting and far too little taking responsibility for actions.

Peter Fray

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