In a sign of more government disarray, Christopher Pyne has produced another desperate letter to the PM trying to save ABC local production in Adelaide. South Australia, whine country. Every report on public broadcasting and common sense nominates winding up regional offices as a way to save big money. Pyne says that ABC Adelaide must stay open to “tell local stories” … and then reels off a number of shows that could be produced anywhere and are parked in Adelaide to keep the place humming.

Truth is local stories can easily be told by an Adelaide ABC that is one producer and an assistant in an office above a newsagent. Local talent and stories can be found, local crews and studios hired. Worst comes to worst, it is cheaper to relocate on-air talent to Sydney for a 10-week shoot than it is to keep a full-resources studio running.

The wider point is that once the ABC has all but abandoned in-house production, it makes no sense to have studio facilities (aside from a small news studio) anywhere at all except Sydney — and barely there. Network Ten is pretty much a post office box and a DVD player wired up to the co-ax — and it still loses a motza (the Lachlan effect).

In his panic at the ABC saving money by, er, saving money, Pyne has missed one great argument for regional production, which is autonomy. In SA, under executive producer Margot Phillipson, the ABC produced a string of brilliant original shows — the best being Cricket in the ’70s and Cricket in the ’80s, which used the hundreds of hours of footage the ABC had lying round free.

The Cricket in the … series wasn’t just sport. It was social history, showing the way our attitude to pleasure, fun and nationalism changed over the decades, and not least how cricket changed its style to reflect these. It was brilliant and innovative, and it could only happen when a regional producer didn’t have to go through layers of middle management producers to try out an idea the way she would have had to do in Ultimo.

Pyne’s special adviser may well have missed that — doubtless some acned dweeb or pearly girl whose parents know Pyne from St Peters — because they don’t know anything that happened before 2009. And because, let’s face it, none of them really care about regional broadcasting. Pyne simply fears that the Liberals will never win government in SA again (the distribution is slanted against them, so they need north of 52% for victory — they’ve only started to kick up about it when it became clear that it wasn’t a chance effect) and will all but collapse as a party. And though his majority is wide in Sturt, he’d have to be worried about the new Xenophon team running and draining a whole bunch of votes that would never otherwise go to Labor or the Greens, but will in preferences.

Would make for an interesting doco. Maybe the ABC could … oh.

Peter Fray

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