Nov 21, 2012

Why the ABC is right to axe Tassie TV production

The ABC is right to reduce its cost base and outsource television production in Tasmania, even if no one likes it. It makes the most economic sense.

Bernard Keane — Politics editor

Bernard Keane

Politics editor

The easy response to the ABC’s decision to axe its Tasmanian television production is to criticise it, which is what plenty right up to Stephen Conroy have done. The ABC is supposed to be a national broadcaster, not a Sydney/Melbourne broadcaster. Its presence is disproportionately important in production in smaller cities. And it’s a terrible time of year for the 16 ABC staff who may lose their jobs.

All true, especially the last one for the ABC staff who face losing their jobs. But there’s a very strong case for the ABC axeing its own in-house production capacity where it’s inefficient and replacing it with outsourced capacity.

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9 thoughts on “Why the ABC is right to axe Tassie TV production


    This is a tough but rational and correct decision. Mark Scott has enough credibility now as an expansionary defender of the ABC to be allowed to make these kinds of management decisions in the ABC’s overall best interests.

    Quentin Dempster gets a mention in the article and I would like to query the strength and effectiveness of his
    Stateline program. The current ICAC investigation of Obeid et al is obviously one of the biggest NSW stories for some time but his Stateline coverage has been lacklustre and greatly overshadowed by the(much-weakened)SMH led by Kate McClymont.

  2. citizen k

    Bernard’s argument begs questions about why inhouse employees aren’t given more to do. Most would welcome more production activity, much of which can be undertaken at relatively little cash cost given that salaries, facilities etc are ABC resources already paid for (some with decades of taxpayers’ investments). But the real problem is with the idea that outsourcing saves money. Whilst it means the ABC ends up paying a fraction of production costs, the balance is contributed by other investors. The reality is that for the most part those other investors are state and Australian Government screen financing agencies and mechanisms. Take Family Confidential for instance – a fine series once produced in house by ABC TV Documentaries. Now it is outsourced and produced with investment from other government agencies and subsidy via the offset. Its key personnel are largely former (and sometimes current) ABC creatives. In other words what the ABC alone once paid for is now funded with cultural subsidies established and renewed by state and federal governments to support a truly independent sector. Meanwhile that sector remains sadly underfunded, underemployed and mostly underpaid. Many independents are little more than lowly paid outworkers. And the ABC’s intellectual capital goes on being eroded by the gradual destruction of production units that were once repositories of considerable knowledge and expertise, and environments for the development of talent, skills and ideas – that served both ABC and independent production scetors. Outsourcing and inhouse production are not mutually exclusive – they are both important elements of a rather fragile Australian screen ecology. It’s high time that some kind of new “mixed economy” strategy was developed and articulated. Some production (especially that which might not happen because of market failure, and that initiated to meet charter obligations) could remain at least partially in-house. Whilst this occurs now to a limited extent, it’s fair to say that most remaining ABC production staff feel they’re living on borrowed time and that what remains of religion, science and arts units are vulnerable to the kinds of decisions taken in the case of Tasmania. It’s high time that Stephen Conroy, Simon Crean and state arts ministers got around the table to consider whether they’re being conned by ABC management. Isn’t it robbing Peter to pay Paul when the ABC’s production capacity is destroyed and monies from other Government agencies and funding mechanisms fill the gap? And why isn’t the ABC held to account in relation to its charter instead of being allowed to get away with the kinds of arguments about increasing Australian content that, sad to say, even the usually savvy Bernard Keane seems to have fallen for….

  3. zut alors

    It appears money is being denied in Tasmania while News24 is propped up.

    Instead, how about scrapping the execrable ‘The Drum’, a programme where journos interview journos about opinion written by other journos. A waste of air time and oxygen – let alone $$$$.

  4. michael crook

    If the ABC stopped paying for feeds from the commercial media and newspoll and cut out the executive layer that howard inserted as part of the emasculation, perhaps we could get rid of the new breed of “baby” presenters (and their hairdressers)on ABC breakfast, and have a news programme instead.

  5. GeeWizz

    LOL loving the leftwing comments, it’s all Howards fault or Murdochs fault.

    Maybe Tassie is just a bad place to do business and it’s Labor/Greens fault?

    Anyways it was like 2 shows worth, one about auctions which would be better situated in Sydney and another about gardening which could happen pretty much anywhere.

    Don’t worry jobs are headed Tassie’s way now thanks to the Federal Governments “Temporary Pontville Detention Centre, we are gonna close it, pinky Labor promise, iron clad guarantee, we wouldn’t tell fibbie fibs” being reopened to deal with the Labor flood of illegals.

  6. Tom F

    Sure, outsourcing saves money. Hasn’t that canard gone the way of trickle-down economics yet?

  7. AR

    How many more job applications from BK for Mudorc/IPA flack will Crikey publish?

  8. WTF

    But if Qantas or any other large corporation makes personnel decisions based purely on economics they are disgraceful capitalist pigs.

  9. fractious

    “But there’s a very strong case for the ABC axeing its own in-house production capacity where it’s inefficient and replacing it with outsourced capacity.”

    So where’s the evidence that Hobart production temas are “inefficient”? Come to that, what does “inefficient” even mean when as you say, the ABC’s presence “is disproportionately important in production in smaller cities.” Oh, silly me, you’re talking about money, I’m talking about serving and informing communities, my mitsake. I will recite some Ayn Rand as penance.

    “Regional MPs, especially Nationals, love its network of regional radio stations, each producing at least a few hours of local content a day and sending reporters to their press conferences.”

    Yes Bernard, the entire gamut of regional content is “sending reporters to press conferences” interspersed with quick tips on making the perfect scone for the next CWA competition. Did it ever occur to you that most of the inhabitants of regional areas are *not* local politicians? But no, you’re right, regional content is “inefficient” and that won’t do at all.

    “But [regional content] costs a lot of money.”

    Oh Noes!!! They’re spending cash again, they’re even COMMUNICATING WITH EACH OTHER ZOMG!!!

    “That logic lies behind Mark Scott’s announcement that the ABC would be establishing a $1.5 million (over three years) production fund for Tasmanian production, aiming to attract matching funding from the Tasmanian government, which will support independent production and guarantee that the “Tasmanian stories” that everyone insists must continue to be told, do indeed get told.”

    Fail. The ABC is funded by the federal government. Why should a relatively small state like Tassie have to stump up the readies while seeing a significant cut in local content, and the sacking of skilled local workers, and all because you and your neo-liberal mates think regional content is “inefficient”? Let me put this simply for you, so that you get it – it should not be up to the states to make up the shortfall when you and your mates who think Gary Becker walked on water arbitrarily decide one day that regional and local content is “inefficient” (whatever the fucque that means).

    “And if politicians want the ABC to spend money keeping standing armies of production staff on standby in smaller cities to produce a few hours of content a year, that’s fine.”

    Please present your evidence that these smaller (I assume you mean regional) centres keep “standing armies of production staff on standby”.

    And you call Quentin Dempster hysterically absurd?

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