ABC managing director Mark Scott has lashed out at The Australian for relying on out-of-date figures to claim viewers are deserting the ABC’s news and current affairs programs.

The Australian published a front-page “exclusive” yesterday, based on Senate estimates briefing notes prepared last October, claiming there has been a ratings drop for key ABC1 programs including 7.30, Insiders, Four Corners and the 7pm news. The briefing notes were handed to The Oz by Liberal senator Eric Abetz, who obtained them through a freedom of information request.

These figures, however, refer to the 2011-2012 financial year, making them seven months out of date. Calendar year figures show the ABC’s flagship programs are performing strongly on Aunty’s main channel, despite the increasing popularity of mobile and online content and the iView catch-up service. In an email to ABC staff yesterday, Scott told his troops:

“Today’s so-called exclusive in The Australian is a slanted look at information contained in our last annual report. It does not reflect our fine performance across the board over the past year … The fact is that in 2012 ABC1, ABC News 24 and ABC iview ratings show a growth in audiences for ABC news and current affairs programs compared to 2011.”

In the email, Scott also tackles the notion, oft-repeated in News Limited papers, that the ABC doesn’t break enough news by spruiking Foreign Correspondent‘s “Prisoner X” scoop and 7.30‘s interview with controversial sports scientist Stephen Dank.

Crikey understands news director Kate Torney is currently putting the finishing touches on a similarly fiery missive and will email it out to staff today.

According to OzTam ratings, 7.30, Four Corners, ABC News at 7pm, Q&A and Australian Story all increased their ABC1 national audiences last year. Insiders, which is simulcast on ABC News 24, increased its total audience:

  • 7.30‘s average Monday-Thursday audience was 1.03 million last year, up from 956,000 in 2011.
  • Four Corners’ average audience was 1.1 million, up from 1 million.
  • ABC News (7pm, Monday-Friday) averaged 1.32 million in 2012, up from 1.26 million.
  • Australian Story‘s average audience was 1.26 million, up from 1.23 million.
  • Q&A had its highest ratings since it was launched in 2008, with an ABC1 average audience of 901,000.
  • ABC News 24 achieved an average weekly reach of 3.4 million, up by 10% compared to 2011.
  • Insiders‘ total average audience (ABC1 + News 24) was 354,000, up from 330,000.

Q&A also receives 19,000 iView plays per episode, Four Corners 15,000 and Australian Story 12,000.

The briefing notes contain a number of interesting tidbits — including that the ABC received a whopping 523 complaints about Leigh Sales’ Walkley Award-winning interview with Tony Abbott as well as 376 “appreciative contacts”.