The personal, it seems, has become conclusively political, and never quite so much as in the case of newly announced ABC funding cuts. On Monday as ABC staff awaited its executive’s response, Fairfax opened a deeply personal vein and allowed a former manager to bleed politics all over the page.
Louise Evans, who appears to have endured no more than six unhappy months at RN, offered an assessment of budget in the style of Nick Cater. Which is to say, her observations on the Lazy Left were rich in cultural references and short on facts. While there was no recourse to the usual Cater menu of “chardonnay” and “cafe latte”, there were tales of trips by staff to buy gourmet produce, which purportedly ate into productive work hours.
There is “flab” to be cut, apparently, and the way to a lean organisation is not through the yoga classes that Evans insists staff enjoy in their leisure hours — apparently, a fondness for downward dog is a sure sign of workplace indolence.
The temptation to counter Evans’ personal observations with other personal observations on the very political matter of the ABC is great. And that is why there have been several first-person accounts throughout the week including this in The Monthly by music presenter Andrew Ford and this on Crikey and Daily Review by an anonymous ABC staffer. If Evans can use her few months of supposed Cabcharge outrage to publicly justify cuts to the organisation, program makers of years’ experience are permitted to do the same.
Goodness, but I can understand the urge. Evans’ claims, based on a short management experience, of superannuated slackers who eat artisanal cheese beneath portraits of Stalin while making progress in courses of Eastern exercise instead of broadcast hours does not describe my experience of ABC employment at all. Over the past two decades I have worked for a total of 12 full-time years in five different ABC departments and experienced nothing of the day spa conditions Evans oversaw. Where she observed secure work conditions, I encountered the casualisation of staff. Where she saw extended leave accumulate, I saw cheap half-arsed contracts grandfather staff out of any paid holidays at all. And where Evans spied unlocked drawers overflowing with taxi vouchers, I met only gloriously tough unit managers who required explanations and documentation of any need for travel. Just yesterday, in fact, I found myself at ABC Ultimo to record some television with my colleague Mikey Robins, whom the producer called before his arrival to ask, “Can’t your wife drop you off to spare us a Cabcharge?”. She did.
“The ABC is efficient. The ABC is useful … as personal as threats to it can feel, its defence must be political.”
Penny-pinching is common practice at both individual and organisational levels at the ABC, even if some people do elect to spend their lunch breaks browsing sheep’s milk cheeses. These days, telly producers only let you have hair and makeup if you beg them (I’m in my 40s so I always do!), and I understand that human resources managers run practices that keep entire production departments low in on-costs by scheduling work hours that never quite meet the enterprise agreement conditions for becoming an employee with full benefits. Go to any one of the local radio hubs and count the unpaid, underpaid or casual hours worked to produce broadcast of high quality and extraordinary social value. That programmers maintain strict commitment to editorial policy in tightly controlled hours is a marvel of efficiency. Even if they do enjoy the occasional log of chevre.
Like most former and all current program-making ABC staff, I’m itching to counter the perception that the ABC is a vacation wonderland full with hatha yoga and cheese platters. I would like to counter the very personal charges of organisation waste with very personal stories of organisational ingenuity. But to continue to make this very political issue personal has become, perhaps, more politically inefficient than an afternoon of asanas.
One doesn’t need to look to emotional charges of the Evans-Cater kind or to moving cries of fellowship and professional dedication from staff. We can all, quite objectively, agree that the ABC provides a range of programming on a range of formats that is kick-arse and to find out how cheaply the organisation does this is not a personal matter.
Those few audits available to us unambiguously suggest that the national broadcaster runs on the perfume of a rag dipped by successive governments in ether. As Crikey‘s Bernard Keane has reported, even Coalition-initiated studies indicate that the organisation remains efficiently alert even in the face of budget anaesthetic. If there is “bloat” within the organisational body, it almost certainly resides in those departments and positions created to manage complaints of bias, inefficiency or disregard of editorial policy. All charges frequently initiated and now maintained by the Coalition and its unofficial spokesmodels like Cater.
The matter of losing one’s job or the resources to effect it competently is very personal. But the future of the ABC is, in this moment, entirely political. This budget vandalism is committed by the Coalition not only in the face of a report that shows the organisation to be efficient but at very real risk of turning into Abbott’s “carbon tax” defeat. For the Coalition, this political act is personal. They don’t even care if it hurts their electoral chances, which it certainly will. They just care about doing long-term damage to something they hate.
These cuts are ideological and personal. As much as many of us would like to address their basis personally, we must keep bringing it back to the political realm.
The ABC is efficient. The ABC is useful. The ABC, for its occasional cheesy flaws, is a mandatory organ in the healthy functioning of the national body as we have come to exercise it, and as personal as threats to it can feel, its defence must be political.