ABC Friends National Conference - Adelaide 23-24 June 2015ABC Friends held a National Conference on June 23-24, where all state branches met to discuss the way forward for Friends nationally, and to plan the National Campaign. We were assisted in our discussions by ABC veteran Quentin Dempster, a recent casualty in the ABC staff cuts, whose comprehensive knowledge of the ABC is always valuable, and Ranald Macdonald, Co-Ordinator of the Friends Action Committee, whose vast experience in journalism and the media was of great assistance in developing strategies in defence of the ABC. The Conference was an important step towards Friends, historically a group of state-based organizations, speaking and acting as one, especially as the National Campaign grows in strength. Minutes and resolutions from the conference may be found [here] 150KB PDF 4pp
End of Sunday Live, and a bleak future for Classic FM
You may have seen the announcement over the past few days of the decision by ABC Management to axe the popular Sunday Live concerts and live broadcasts on Sunday afternoons. These concerts have, over the past 40 years, provided valuable performance opportunities for our outstanding soloists and small ensembles, many of them young, and often performing new music. They were the only concerts mounted on a regular basis by the ABC, were free to audience members, and were broadcast from venues in all capital cities.The claim by Classic FM Manager Richard Buckham that “It’s not cost-cutting - it’s more an editorial decision” is patently rubbish - ask anybody in Classic FM! It is clearly in response to the massive cuts in ABC funding by the Abbott government that have just cost 400 ABC jobs (10% of ABC staff). It would seem that Classic FM is being targeted for much more than its share of these cuts, perhaps because its audience does not meet the criteria for ABC management’s desperate search for “a younger demographic.”There has, since the announcement of funding cuts (with more to come!) been great concern that Classic FM would be closed down completely, but even an ABC management seemingly intent on “dumbing down” the ABC as much as possible would find it difficult to justify such an action without abandoning the ABC’s clear Charter obligations to broadcast Australian cultural events to the Australian public, as well as its responsibility to educate all Australians.If you have become accustomed to enjoying the Sydney International Piano Competition, the Townsville Chamber Music Festival, other music festivals across the country, and daily live broadcasts and recordings of concerts by all of our state orchestras, Opera Australia, ACO, AYO, Brandenburg etc. etc. at no cost, and from the comfort of your own home, then you need to be aware that such live broadcasts will be cut by 50% in 2015. We await the full 2015 schedule to find out which major musical events will no longer be covered. The annual coverage of National Music Camp, this year from Adelaide, that was broadcast last Saturday night - outstanding performances from our finest young orchestral musicians, may have happened for the last time.The tragedy in such cultural vandalism on the part of the Abbott government and ABC management is that Classic FM is outstandingly good at what it does - overseas musicians who visit will readily tell you that Classic FM is the best classical music broadcaster anywhere in the world - its coverage of significant musical events across Australia is comprehensive, and it broadcasts these events to the rest of the world, as well as producing many commercial recordings of Australian performers and composers, such as the recent CD set of Tamara-Anna Cislowska performing the complete piano works of Peter Sculthorpe. Presenters on Classic FM are, almost without exception, musicians in their own right - Graham Abbott, Guy Noble, Chris Nicholls, Mairi Nicolson, Damian Beaumont, et al, and guests such as Gerard Willems for the Sydney Piano Competition, who speak with knowledge, authority and passion.If you share my outrage and my anger at what is happening to Classic FM, then now is the time to act - it will be too late when it is all gone! Please write, encourage others to write, forward this email to all your friends and contacts and urge them to write to ABC Managing Director Mark Scott, and to the responsible minister in the Abbott government, Malcolm Turnbull - contact details are below.Mal Hewitt
President Collegiate of Specialist Music Educators
President ABC Friends NSW & ACT*****************Mark Scott AO
ABC Managing Director
GPO Box 994
Sydney NSW 2001
Email: firstname.lastname@example.orgThe Hon. Malcolm Turnbull MP
Minister for Communications
Canberra ACT 2600
Reply to Annalisa Koeman's letter to Minister Turnbull
Date: 5 January 2015 15:08:01 AEDT
To: 'Annalisa Koeman'
Subject: RE: Budget cuts and changes to the ABC
This isn't Play School
The night before the last election, Tony Abbott promised "no cuts to the ABC or the SBS".But today, 1 in 10 jobs at the ABC were lost because of Tony Abbott's $500 million cut to the ABC and SBS. Five regional stations will be shut down and the state based 7.30 program will be cut.Malcolm Turnbull has desperately tried to explain that Tony Abbott's pre-election promise not to cut the ABC or SBS was not actually a promise!This is our national Government attacking our national voice and we are in a fight to support the ABC in every city, every town, and every home.Over 27,000 people have now signed our petition opposing the $504 million cuts to the ABC and SBS and on the weekend I joined thousands rallying in support of the public broadcasters across the country.But with today's announcement we must do more to keep the pressure on.The ABC Fighting Fund is being used to target advertising in Malcolm Turnbull's electorate of Wentworth and bombard his office with calls to make sure he gets the message.Play School presenter, Rhys Muldoon has agreed to add his voice to the campaign by recording a phone message for the voters of Wentworth this week so everyone in Malcolm's electorate is asked to speak up for the ABC too.But those calls cost money. Can you join the hundreds of other Australians standing up for the ABC today and donate $7.30 to help make that happen?Over the years, much has changed in Australian life but the work of our ABC continues to be as important as it has ever been.The ABC and SBS aren't just broadcasters, they're the home to Australia's stories both past and present. Let's make sure they are around to tell all of our stories in the future too.Thanks for standing with me on this,Bill Shorten
ABC Ultimo Centre, Wednesday October 1, 2014.Friends,Thank you for your show of support for ABC journalism and original programming.I'm going to list what's currently on the public record and what has been indicated to us now from all sections of the ABC from middle management which is preparing for a radical reshaping of the ABC.They'll be called contingency plans because as chairman Jim Spigelman has made clear the Abbott Cabinet's Expenditure Review Committee has still to set the ABC funding envelope... a decision we expect sometime before Christmas.In spite of the success of ABC television multi-channelling... ABC TV, ABC 2, ABC 3... the children's channel... and News 24... it appears the board, in consultation with the government, will halve these services (merge ABC 3 with ABC One perhaps and close down ABC 2) to save transmission costs. SBS 2 is also expected to be closed down. The deletion of free to air channels for the Australian people is not back office. Our managing director Mark Scott has outlined his strategy which to me looks like taking the opportunity for organisational change without consultation with the public, particular audiences and stakeholders under cover of funding cuts. To secure the ABC's future he says we must reallocate resources from output which 'skews old' to reinvest in content to meet 'explosive' demand for content which 'skews young' - people who access the ABC through mobiles and tablets.
- He designates networks which 'skew old' as local radio, Classic FM, NewsRadio and Radio National. The following is what can be called 'informed speculation' sourced from our concerned management and staff.
- Classic FM can expect a reduction in live broadcasts, more presenter-less streaming of playlists of orchestral and other works for which the ABC owns the Copyright.
- The World Today on ABC Radio to be cut in half. Other impacts on radio current affairs to reduce full time equivalent positions.
- ABC Radio news bulletins to be cut from 10 minutes to five minutes.
- Specialist Radio National programs Bush Telegraph, Rear Vision, 360, Hindsight, Encounter and By Design to be discontinued or cut in half.
- A reduction of foreign bureaux to four hubs: Washington, London, Jakarta and Beijing. Middle East coverage out of Jerusalem and Beirut to be by what's known as VJ - video journalism... no dedicated camera crews - (let me tell you camera crews are vital to international reporting as collaborators in full editorial decision making and more importantly to the physical safety and well being of our people sometimes in very dangerous situations).
- Foreign Correspondent... already reduced to 30 episodes a year over two seasons to be reduced to 26 episodes.
- On TV the final destruction of localism in current affairs with the axing of the 7.30 state shows in New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia, Tasmania, the ACT and the Northern Territory.
- On TV... I weep for South Australia... if , as information there suggests, it loses all local television production outside TV news.
- On TV... the axing of Lateline - the late night hybrid news and current affairs program which has been instrumental in the last 25 years in its international analysis, reporting and interviewing and domestically in holding government and this country's institutions to account.
- Organisationally our separate radio and television divisions are expected to go. In the digital revolution turning the ABC into a digital services provider â€¦ radio is just audio, television is just video. Radio and TV are so analogue!
- I'm sure there's more we don't know about.
- And I'm not sure about the fate of Ticky Fullerton's excellent late night market analysis program The Business. I wish I could say it will survive.
- We're seeing the final withering in the ABC of specialist units like science and religion.
What we're doing is stripping out original content which has made the ABC distinctive. So as a direct consequence we're expecting substantial cuts to ABC channels, programs and services. Channels, programs and services are not back office. These are not operational savings driven by efficiency. They are cuts to services. Through the digital revolution ABC content makers have enhanced their productivity. Most content creation is now multi-platform... we write and report and make content for ABC Online for pod casting and download... as well as radio and television transmission... at no extra cost to the taxpayer. Without original content the ABC would not have a digital presence. I wish I could say this torture of not knowing for sure will be over today... but I can't. Its mental health week next week and I've asked the board to stop this cruelty to dedicated program makers immediately. The ABC has been coerced into this self harm, this hammer blow to our cohesion and momentum by the device of declaring the May budget cut of 1% a 'down payment' and the appointment of a Channel 7 finance executive to review the ABC's cost efficiency. On top of that the ABC has lost $22m through the termination of the Australia Network contract - an act of mindless vandalism to Australia's engagement in the Asia Pacific region. There are an estimated 3.3billion mobile phones in the Asia Pacific and the ABC was cost effectively delivering breaking news, analysis, debate, sport and entertainment to project Australia as a robust liberal democracy. We've lost some of the ABC's most skilled and experienced international correspondents and production staff. For sure broadcasting is about technology - satellites with vast footprints and internet service providers... but most importantly its about people... engagement through reporting, interviewing, fun, satire, documentary, sport and entertainment and interaction. We're here to physically show our support for ABC journalism and program making - to shout our protest to the ABC Board and the Abbott Government. If we lose original journalism in current affairs television and radio, halve the radio news, drop more live broadcasts on Classic FM, drop specialist programming on Radio National we are doing fundamental damage to what the ABC does at its core. To News Ltd. which has targeted me and my salary I say this is not about one dispensable ABC individual. Rupert Murdoch would spill more than my salary at luncheon on Rosehearty. If he desisted from using tax havens like the Cayman Islands, Delaware or Bermuda along with hundreds of other corporations, perhaps services like hospitals and schools would be better resourced... there'd be more investment in scientific and medical research... and the narrowing cohort of PAYG taxpayers would not have to shoulder so much of this country's tax burden. We're all hoping to see blanket coverage by The Daily Telegraph, The Courier Mail, The Herald Sun, the Adelaide Advertiser, the Hobart Mercury, the London Times, the New York Post .. all News Ltd. outlets worldwide including The Australian... which calls itself the heart of the nation, ... of Joe Hockey's commendable efforts to get the G20 meeting in Brisbane to adopt a zero tolerance policy on wholesale avoidance through tax havens. I can see the headlines now: G20: CRACK DOWN ON THESE TAX HAVEN BLUDGERS. I'll nominate Chris Mitchell for the Walkley Award for headline writing if he publishes that one.Friends... thanks for turning out for the ABC for all the reasons we all understand.We hope the ABC Board comes out fighting for ABC audiences who will be impacted by these cuts to services... but the reality is... it's the government which sets the funding lever.It's the Prime Minister who is breaking his promise to the Australian people not to cut the ABC and SBS. The Coalition has no mandate from the Australian people to do this. This will be the doing of Tony Abbott... the Prime Minister of Australia... and his puppet master... Rupert Murdoch, registered office. Delaware, the United States, nominated by The Economist as a tax haven... 60% of US companies are registered there.If I can just put in a plug for 7.30 NSW... once called Stateline... a program which has consistently and fearlessly exposed political corruption in this state wherever it exists... this program has the endorsement of the highest officials of the Liberal Party . In 2010 I received this Christmas card... it said Merry Christmas Quentin... Keep up the good work... it was signed by Mark Neeham, state director of the Liberal Party... and the president... Arthur Sinodinis.
By Tim Bowden (AM) - July 2014The weasel pre-election words of Tony Abbott that he would not cut the funds of the ABC or the SBS were only a part of similar deceptions of his ‘Government of no surprises’ which of course came up with a raft of very unpleasant surprises indeed. His incessant, carping insistence on Julia Gillard’s reversal of her no carbon tax statement - at least a principled decision - was a monstrous example of hypocrisy which has become a hallmark of his Prime Ministership now that the full list of his own broken promises is a matter of record.Now we are the laughing stock of the world, about to effectively have no climate change policy at all that is worth a spurt of goat’s piss.But I wish to dwell on the grave problems facing the ABC, whose budget has been cut, and will be trimmed further under the guise of efficiency reviews and a number of other more sneaky ways to attempt to bend the national broadcaster to the Coalition’s will - like appointments to the ABC Board.There is now a mechanism (a Kevin Rudd initiative) to use an independent nomination process that was supposed to de-politicise the way board members to the ABC and SBS were selected. The ’independent’ panel considers applications, then offers a shortlist of board candidates to the Minister for Communications and PM. It is presently overseen by Ian Watt, the Secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.The latest atrocities are to appoint ex-Liberal MP Neil Brown to this committee, an ABC-hater of renown who is on record as wanting to break it up, sell it off and more besides, plus Janet Albrechtsen, a Murdoch columnist whose anti-ABC splenetic columns in The Australianhave been unrelenting and who was a Board member herself from 2005 to 2010, appointed by the Coalition. At least her membership of the Board stopped her weekly assaults on the national broadcaster in her columns for five years. But since she has been off the Board, she has used her column to call for the present Managing Director Mark Scott to resign! The Sydney Morning Herald reported recently that she had even made the farcical claim that the ABC was run by a ‘Soviet-style workers collective’ for heavens sake.All positions on the panel expire by April next year, so it’s not difficult to predict that the Abbott government can entirely remake the panel as it sees fit.Scott has bent over backwards in recent years to set up fairness procedures, complaints handling mechanisms, and making sure that even barking-mad (and anti-ABC) members of Melbourne’s uber-right Institute of Public Affairs crop up regularly on programs like Q & A, as well as the likes of Piers Akerman and Andrew Bolt who had regular exposure on Sunday morning’s Insiders. Former Howard Minister Amanda Vanstone has become one of the asked for ‘right wing Phillip Adams’ on Radio National’s Counterpoint (and in my view runs a very good program). It seemed to me that some of the heat and paranoia about the ABC, it’s alleged left-wing bias and an out of control staff, ‘lunatics running the asylum’ had been at least muted. How wrong I was! The Abbott government is once again on the warpath.I suppose the first question to ask is, who apart from the strangely obsessed anti-ABC warriors like Gerard Henderson - now corralled in the stable of commentators in the Oz with Chris Kenny, Andrew Bolt, Janet Albrechtsen et al where he belongs - are clamouring for the ABC to be radically changed? (It is a pity Paul Sheehan from the SMH, doesn’t pop over and join them - but I digress.)There is certainly no public perception that Aunty needs a makeover. Polls consistently show a high level of satisfaction for the services Aunty provides Australians in television, radio and indeed on line.I first worked as a freelance current affairs reporter for the ABC in 1958, and joined the staff in Launceston in 1963 and was lucky enough to cut my television teeth in Tasmania in the early 1960s, work as a foreign correspondent in South-East Asia and North America until 1969, before returning to Sydney to be the first Executive Producer PM and then work as an associate producer with This Day Tonight, return to radio to make documentaries with the radio Drama and Features Department, founded the Social History Unit in Radio National (happily still going strong), fronted the ABC viewer reaction program BackChat for eight years from 1986, and also made television documentaries in Antarctica in the mid 1990s. I mention all this not to blow my own trumpet, but to indicate that I have been around a bit in the ABC for over 30 years, and in that time have seen many attempts by governments and individuals to muzzle of manipulate the national broadcaster.As a public service broadcaster I wasn't paid all that much, but I loved the freedom of choosing topics not driven by a commercial imperative, and - with overtime not being an option - worked for as long as I had to, in order to get my programs on air. Most of my colleagues were doing the same thing. There were times when we felt we were poorly served by our managers, but this is the way it is in any large organisation.I can assure you none of us felt we were running the place. We were running just to keep up with what we had to do.There were occasions when ABC staff united behind our main union, the ABC Staff Association, to protest against issues we felt strongly about. However ABC staff by no means spoke with a united voice. The ABC News men and women had their union, The Australian Journalists' Association. Middle level managers were represented by their Senior Officers Association. These three groups were seldom unanimous in supporting a particular issue but there were times when this was achieved.As to the ‘workers collective’ obsession by the ABC’s critics in the 21st century, I cannot recall in my long association with the ABC ever voting to go on strike, or to take other industrial action, on pay and conditions - which is usually why unions get stroppy.Our concerns were almost always on matters of principle.Let me give you an example - and this occurred while I was working with This Day Tonight in 1970. Malcolm Fraser's dislike and disdain for the ABC was almost as palpable as John Howard's. On the 13th of May that year the Postmaster General Alan Hulme wrote to the ABC Chairman Sir Robert Madgwick saying that the ABC's budget appropriations for the coming financial year would be reduced by $500,000 and directed that $250,000 of that be applied to current affairs television!The letter was leaked, and the ABC Staff Association called a mass meeting to protest against this political thuggery and to stiffen ABC management's resolve to resist this utterly improper interference in the way the ABC could spend its budget. No doubt buttressed by press and community outrage and by the mass meeting of ABC staff, the then Chairman, Sir Robert Madgwick, did take a principled stand and Hulme had to pull his head in.I could quote other examples of staff striking against blatant censorship of current affairs programs - sometimes initiated by ABC management itself. But never about pay and conditions. There was, and still is, a great delight by ABC broadcasters to use the freedoms provided by a public broadcaster to pursue stories and topics that shine a light on our own society, political, social and cultural. And our listeners and viewers seem to like it this way. Believe me there is no sinister agenda. Basically the ABC is quite a conservative organisation.But not conservative enough for the Coalition. Doubtless John Howard hoped that when he appointed his close friend Donald McDonald as Chairman of the ABC for ten years from 1996 probably hoped that he would reign in the perceived radicals - but McDonald is a civilised and cultured man and while not exactly captured by the culture of the ABC (let’s not forget it was McDonald who unleashed the unspeakable Jonathan Shier briefly as it’s MD) allowed most of its flowers to bloom.However just before the Coalition came to power in March 1966, Howard’s putative Minister for Communications Senator Alston (his fingers presumably crossed behind his back like Abbott) promised there would be no cuts to the ABC’s budget - then the Howard Government promptly slashed $56 million from the national broadcaster. Alston was undeniably the worst minister the ABC ever had, as he actually hated the organisation that he was functionally responsible for, and to whom the ABC should have been able to turn for some kind of protection from the forces of darkness. Instead Alston waged war on the organisation, and even after he retired to London as Australia’s High Commissioner in the plush apartments of Australia House, he still continued to lob mortar bombs at the ABC from afar!Most of us alive at the time, can remember where we were when we heard the news that President John Kennedy had been assassinated. I don’t want to over-egg the metaphor, but I can remember exactly where I was - a hotel room in Melbourne - when I heard the news on ABC Radio that the then Minister for Communications Helen Coonan announced the appointment of Janet Albrechtsen to the ABC Board, and stood there in my underpants in stunned disbelief! This followed the appointment of the cultural warrior and fellow of Melbourne’s anti-ABC Institute of Public Affairs, Ron Brunton, per favour of Richard Alston, in May 2003. Then, for good measure, the ABC Board was graced by the revisionist anti-black armband historian Keith Windschuttle in June 2006 by the unblushing Communications Minister Helen Coonan! With friends like these three, who needs enemas?Now the Coalition has taken board stacking to new heights with this latest ploy, bringing Albrechtsen back into the fray with Neil Brown to nominate the next batch of crazies to be inflicted on to poor old Aunty.In conclusion, I’d like to make the point that reducing the effectiveness of the ABC to perform the functions it does, and generally appreciated by its large nation-wide audience, it would be unwise to think that all conservative members of parliament would welcome the results of further budget cuts.Imagine the reaction of the National Party if a shrinking budget threatened the closure of many of the regional radio stations, lightly staffed but dedicated to reflecting the issues pertinent to their local areas throughout Australia for example. The Rural Department of the ABC, traditionally responsible for these regional stations are hardly a bunch of Communists.Abbott seems to be doing all he can to make sure he is a one-term Prime Minister by cutting benefits to the poor, needy, and disadvantaged and looking after industry and the big end of town.Bashing the ABC, or attempting to muzzle its freedoms, is actually not electorally sensible. In my view, most Australians would take an extremely dim view of that perception. At the moment, the ABC and indeed SBS (which should never be amalgamated with the ABC) needs all the friends it can get. This time, my friends, this may be game on for public broadcasting as we know it and want it.
[View the video]These promises were shredded a few months later on the confected grounds that Australia faced some kind of budget crisis. Most of us know it’s complete nonsense, a predictable, ‘cry wolf’ crisis. Those with a bit of age and many election campaigns tucked away in memory have heard this old chestnut many times before.Yes, there’s always room for improvement. Sophisticated and legalised rorts and rip-offs, vote-buying tactics and money-squandering from successive governments need to be reined in, but the deserving poor must not be sacrificed.Sadly the Abbott government’s glued to its obsessive-compulsive mantra of ‘budget crisis’ in the hope if they say it often enough, people will believe. But most see through this ruse. We’re not that stupid.Even if no-one comes to believe the mantra, the government will continue to use this travesty to justify a compulsory financial castration of the ABC and SBS. It goes something like this: ‘We are all in this together. We all, with the exception of our mates, have to do some ‘heavy lifting’, the ABC included. So suck it up. Tighten your belts’. Sound familiar? You know the drill!Of course the breaking of promises goes to the very heart of the credibility of a government. With such blatant breaches why should we believe anything fed to ‘us chooks’.The government prepared the ABC for public emasculation through the ideologically-biased Commission of Audit, a house-of-cards edifice which does not stand robust scrutiny.And then went in with the Lewis Efficiency Review to try and finish the job. The success of this ‘operation’ remains to be seen. But strategies based on failed 1990’s stranded management philosophies and kindergarten human psychology while unlikely to convince anyone with more than a room temperature IQ, can do a lot of difficult-to- reverse damage.It’s important to be clear here about what’s really going on. The reason for the cuts to the ABC is not to save money. There will be inevitable savings and they will be used to justify the government’s action.The real reason is to curtail what the ABC does by cutting its blood supply, its funds and through such means create fear, anxiety, angst, whatever you want to call it, to silence it as a genuine, independent critic of what the government’s doing to the nation’s social fabric.In this era of contracts, which can be terminated easily in the name of flexibility, Machiavellian fear induces silence. And that’s just what the government wants, silence or some benign regurgitation of spin-doctored media releases to make them appear respectable.The government appointed Mr Peter Lewis to oversee the Federal Government’s ABC and SBS Efficiency Study. His work was done in conjunction with the Department of Communications and at least one other commercial firm with concrete connections to the international commercial media sector. God only knows what that additional commercial firm was brought in to do and what it did do. Nope, secret. We are not allowed to know.Lewis came from a commercial media background before the review and went back to commercial media as CFO of Southern Cross Media’s Austereo, effective 16 June 2014.The appointment of Lewis to a commercial media group, so soon after completion of his efficiency review on the ABC/SBS raises some interesting questions.Lewis was privy to wads of detailed information about both public broadcasters. He takes that knowledge with him to his new role.He may have signed a ‘confidentiality agreement’ to not reveal the privileged information to anyone but did he empty his head of that information? When it comes to making decisions in his new profit-making role, will that information not figure in his thinking? Sadly there is no ‘Delete’ button in the brains of consultants.That information may have included material about competitors, pricing and other marketing information and strategies, forthcoming deals and strategic thinking. Such knowledge has potential to bring considerable advantage to his new commercial shareholders and disadvantage to both public broadcasters. A confidentiality agreement is no safeguard to protect the public interest. It just prevents Lewis from talking with us about what he did but offers no other protection. He can’t tell us what Aunty looks like with her clothes off but he also can’t erase his intimate knowledge of the body corporate.The public needs to know if there was any overlap between the production of the Lewis Efficiency Study and negotiation for his new appointment in commercial media because there is potential for a ‘conflict-of-interest’. Not only could the potential job cloud judgment about the nature of the review process but could put the ABC at considerable disadvantage.This problem is not dissimilar to the difficulty of government ministers and senior public servants becoming lobbyists very soon after leaving government.There would be no problem if Lewis took up a commercial position as CFO in another industry but not the same industry.The government must deal with this problem if the Lewis Efficiency Study is to have any credibility.The government is not helping itself by keeping the Lewis Study secret with the weary excuse of ‘commercial-in-confidence’.Commercial media and the sycophant Murdoch press seem to all know about the Lewis review judging by the extensive media incontinence. So why shouldn’t the public see it?We paid for it!The Lewis’ Efficiency Study has been on the back foot from the very beginning. ‘Terms of reference’ pearls such as ‘benchmarking’ and ‘best practice’ gave the game away.These discredited concepts demonstrate out-of-date management thinking.The Federal Government’s Commission of Audit set the Lewis agenda by recommending that “future funding decisions about the ABC and SBS “should be informed by the outcome of the benchmarking exercise”.Benchmarks from a shareholder-driven organisation, where profit motive is queen, is not an appropriate metric to use on a national broadcaster where profit is not the ‘raison d'etre’. It’s just plain dumb unless you have financial castration in mind. The type of tools you use determine the type of outcomes you get. Tool selection can be made to suit a particular political agenda.As long as the Lewis Efficiency Study is kept secret we can never know if the benchmarking exercise was truly independent and appropriate.There was no independent public representation on the Efficiency Study for the ABC and SBS. And no one with a public broadcasting background provided independent assessment.Senior Management of the ABC is now caught up in the exercise bringing some knowledge to the occasion but this is hardly independent. They have too much ‘skin in the game’ and often are vulnerable because of their contracted positions.A final comment on benchmarking. Organisations which are exceptional do not look like benchmarks. Benchmarks have a way of creating mediocrity, the very antithesis of what our ABC should be.So what are the benchmarks for public broadcasting? Perhaps Minister Turnbull might like to let us in on the secret. It is his call after all and it would be nice to know what his thoughts and principles are. No more Pontius Pilate thank you.Apart from the Commission of Audit and the Lewis Efficiency Study the ABC now has the added burden of two anti-ABC ideologue appointments to make selection recommendations for the ABC Board.This is yet another major conflict of interest. One of these political appointees works for a commercial media organisation with competing interests. So who is that person’s boss and whose interests are being served? Resignation should be forthcoming, pronto.These political appointments are just further evidence that the Abbott government is out to nobble the ABC/SBS and it will do ‘whatever it takes’ to silence robust analysis and commentary, a hallmark of a vibrant democracy.Minister Turnbull also needs to step up to the mark and release the Lewis Efficiency Study for public scrutiny. Failure to do so will confirm what many of us think: He is part of the problem.Dr Richard Gates
Northern Rivers BranchRichard has a background in neurosciences and psychology and was a former Director of a Master of Business Administration and Professional Practice Development programs at an Australian University. He’s consulted widely to business and government, run his own business and been an invited and sometimes uninvited guest at live autopsies of failing organisations. Apparently he’s retired.Â
Appointment of ABC/SBS Efficiency Review Chair to Commercial Post May Disadvantage the Public BroadcastersMr Peter Lewis, Chair of the Federal Government’s ABC and SBS Efficiency Study has been appointed Chief Financial Officer of Southern Cross Media’s Austereo, effective 16 June 2014.
The Lewis Report, yet to be made public, has been delivered to the Minister for Communications.
Dr Richard Gates, President of the Friends of the ABC Northern Rivers Branch expressed concern today about the appointment of Mr Lewis to a commercial media group so soon after completion of the report on the ABC and SBS.
“No doubt Mr Lewis would have been privy to commercial and other information about both public broadcasters and would take that information with him to his new role at Southern Cross Media.”
“That information may include material about competitors, marketing information and strategies, forthcoming deals and strategic thinking. Such knowledge has the potential to bring considerable advantage to Southern Cross Media and disadvantage to both public broadcasters but whether it will or not may never be clear.”
“What safeguards are in place to protect the public interest?” said Dr Gates.
“But more than that the public needs to know if there was any overlap between the production of the Efficiency Study for the government under Lewis and negotiation for his new appointment because of the potential for a conflict of interest.”
Dr Gates said that this kind of problem is not dissimilar to the difficulty of government ministers and senior public servants becoming lobbyists very soon after leaving government.
Dr Gates said that he would have no problem with Mr Lewis taking up a commercial position as CFO in another industry but not in the same industry.
The government must deal with these problem if its Efficiency Study is to have credibility.
“The Efficiency Study is already on the back foot because its ‘terms of reference’ engage problematic management terms such as “benchmarking” and “best practice”. Use of such loaded and frequently discredited concepts demonstrate out of date management thinking.
The release today of the five reports of the Federal Government’s Commission of Audit creates a further problem for The Lewis Report as it clearly recommends benchmarking of the ABC and SBS against commercial broadcasters. It also recommends that “future funding decisions” about the ABC and SBS “should be informed by the outcome of the benchmarking exercise”.
Dr Gates said that these recommendations were not dissimilar from the Efficiency Study lead by Lewis.
“If Lewis was negotiating a position with Southern Cross Media or was contemplating a return to commercial media while engaged in a benchmarking exercise we can never be sure that the benchmarking exercise was truly independent” said Dr Gates. The problem is made worse by the fact that there was no independent public representation on the Efficiency Study for the ABC and SBS and there does not seem to be anyone with a public broadcasting background.
The public was also excluded from making submissions unlike the Commission of Audit.
The ABC/SBS Efficiency Study is shaping up to be stillborn.
Dr Richard Gates
Northern Rivers Branch
Friends of the ABC (NSW) Inc.
Tel 02 6682 5161
Matthew Knott - Crikey media editorThe ABC has moved to tackle concerns of bias in its news and current affairs programs by calling in external auditors to review coverage of contentious topics such as asylum seekers. The broadcaster will also commission detailed polling to ensure it is covering the stories, such as electricity price rises, that ordinary Australians are interested in.In his most significant speech since being appointed ABC chairman last year, James Spigelman told the National Press Club today:"Since my appointment I have naturally been concerned with the frequency of allegations of a lack of impartiality. I do not accept that it is systematic, but I do accept that it sometimes occurs ... We are not always as good as our most ardent supporters suggest, nor as bad as our most vocal critics assert."As a response to the allegations, Spigelman announced the ABC board has adopted a new initiative:"The ABC will produce and publish a series of editorial audits on particular program topics, by persons of relevant experience who are not employed by the ABC."The first audit -- already underway -- will probe the impartiality of all interviews on ABC Radio of Tony Abbott and Kevin Rudd during the recent election campaign. That audit is being prepared by former BBC journalist Andrea Wills. The second audit will focus on the ABC's treatment of the asylum seeker debate. Spigelman did not speculate on further areas for review in his speech, but the ABC's coverage of climate change is a possibility. So is the recent partnership between the ABC and The Guardian on a recent story about Australian spying in Indonesia.It will be fascinating to see whether ABC critics, including commentator Andrew Bolt and Liberal Party Senator Cory Bernardi, welcome the initiative or seize upon its existence as evidence of bias.In Spigelman's speech, the former judge also called on journalists to connect with the concerns of the general public rather those of an educated elite:"The allegations of bias are, I believe, more often a function of the topics chosen for reporting, than of the content. Journalists -- all of you, not just those at the ABC -- tend to have a social and educational background, perhaps particularly in Canberra, Sydney and Melbourne, that may make them more interested in, say, gay marriage than, say, electricity prices. As a public broadcaster we must endeavour to engage with those sections of our community who are concerned with the latter."To do this the ABC will work with a leading research team to provide systematic briefings to staff on the issues important to Australians. Spigelman also took aim at conservative commentators who are calling for the ABC to be privatised:"I am bemused when I notice that some of the critics who wish to tear down this long-lived institution call themselves 'conservative' ... In the case of a 'privatised' ABC, the services would be unrecognisable. To use the word 'privatise' is an Orwellian corruption of language. A commercial mono-culture in the media will either not deliver the broad range of content that public broadcasters have traditionally delivered, or will not deliver such content to the whole community."
“Two events have whipped up a heightened frenzy: the ABC’s reporting of the Indonesia crisis, and the disclosure of the salaries of some top broadcasters and executives. The Australian has been in one of its fits of hysterics about this for a fortnight. Cries of treason ring out, with demands for the arrest and imprisonment of ABC managing director, Mark Scott. The corporation and its leftist conspirators must be brought to heel.How bizarre. In a London courtroom, the stinking underbelly of the Murdoch empire is being eviscerated in the phone hacking trial. Here, the empire strikes back with even more shrill editorials about journalistic ethics and practice. The mind reels.But make no mistake. The fight for the ABC is on.”ABC Managing Director Mark Scott responded to both the Indonesian security matter and the issue of ABC salaries in an interview to ABC News 24, covered in this Update. However, for commentators on the Murdoch payroll, rational argument and presentation of facts matters little. As Mike Carlton has pointed out, the Murdoch agenda is to maximise the potential profit to be made across all of the media, and a highly respected public broadcaster like the ABC is getting in the way. InMurdochland there is little interest in quality journalism, balance or the truth, as we saw so clearly demonstrated in the News Ltd. coverage of the recent Federal election, where the Murdoch press was little more than a cheer squad for the Coalition.
Murdoch power and money combined with the ideological objections to a publicly funded broadcaster from the far right of his party (unless that broadcaster is simply a mouthpiece for the government) will be very difficult for Prime Minister Abbott to resist. And following the number of “about faces” on the Gonski education reforms, it is fanciful to imagine that his pre-election reassurances on the future of the ABC are worth anything at all.As Mike Carlton says, the fight for the ABC is on.Mal Hewitt
President, NSW Friends of the ABC
And in particular Q & A hosted by Tony Jones, a great show but marred by the inane Twittering across the bottom of the screen that is distracting and irrelevant.I know that it is trendy to involve social media but in reality it simply detracts from the debate and cheapens an otherwise admirable program.This is why. A good proportion of the tweets are just smartarse comments to get on screen. Even when Twitterers get around to commenting on debate itself, it has invariably moved on and the points being made are no longer relevant.I am not anti social media and use it myself. But in this case it is an abomination. Sometimes I hold up my arm to try and mask off the bottom of the screen to avoid seeing those distracting messages.On two occasions I have emailed Tony Jones directly to point out the asinine effect of these pesky Tweets, but he has chosen not to reply. So I am taking this occasion to try again. Get rid of them Tony. They don’t work. Be brave. Let the egocentric Twitterers complain all they like about the loss of their little wanks. They will not be missed by your wider audience, free at last to concentrate on what the panellists are actually saying.It may be possible to market little curtains with Velcro tabs to mask the bottom of the telly screens while Q & A is on to obliterate the inanity. I tell you, I am seriously considering working on a production model, first for me, and then for Q & A viewers. That’s all for the moment. Ah – I feel much better now getting that off my chest. But I will be more gratified if RN gets its act together about returning the specialist half-hours to their former spots, and restoring PM to its full length on its home network. And get rid of those bloody Tweets Tony, they are not worth a spurt of goats piss.
Upcoming changes to Radio NationalOn 25 September, the ABC’s Manager of Radio National, Michael Mason, circulated to “All Staff” a memo announcing “proposed changes to a number of areas of Radio National”. He said:” These changes stem largely from the findings and recommendations of the RN Production Sustainability Project (PSP) but also from editorial considerations relating to the 2015 schedule”. Read Michael Mason's 10 page memo [here].In response, Dr Peter Pockley from Science Communication ® writes " I make eight major points, though more can be said.1. Million dollar cut: Unsurprisingly, this memo received wide circulation outside the confines of ABC RN staff and became the basis of critical comment FABC braches and print media. Mason said, somewhat ominously: “We are proposing very significant changes that will affect many of you. The PSP is a once in a generation opportunity for change, and it is critical that you understand the reasons behind the changes we’re proposing”. We are dealing here with a “plan” that is replete with “management-speak”; e.g. the feel-good term “sustainability” really means “our budget has been cut and this is what is left for us to survive on”. Concomitantly, the report is light on real substance. Seriously, too, the “proposals” are, in effect, decisions that have already been made and the ink is only waiting to dry.2. Details needed: Particularly disappointing for not only RN staff but equally for RN’s many supporters in radioland is that the report meekly accepts the cuts which have been handed down and shows no sign that RN “management” debated the financial consequences with those higher up the management chain, first stop being the national Director of Radio, Kate Dundas, and finally the Managing Director, Mark Scott. FABC would do a public service by asking for details of the cuts to RN and equivalent statements for any budget changes – up or down – for 2013 in other main divisions like TV, News, and Web/Online. Who has really been driving the shrinking of RN?3. Senior responses needed: This is a time, not for descent into micromanagement “solutions” for dealing with budget cuts (as described in Mason’s memo to staff), but for framing strong and convincing arguments for retention of the specialist units and producers who give RN its special character with its unique contributions of fact and independent analysis to national affairs. Most unfortunately, this report on RN is devoid of such context, primarily, in ABC as a whole, and, secondly, as a major division in ABC Radio. This is why substantive responses need to come from the Director of Radio and the Managing Director.3. Some issues addressed, but: The report makes useful comments on some areas of production and there is an overdue recognition of “succession” issues as prominent staff move towards retirement. Also, the proposed Creative Audio Unit sounds interesting but it is only vaguely defined and does not have an obvious, committed champion from within RN staff to establish and lead it. Overall, I cannot perceive anything proposed from these items that will be noticeable to listeners. They certainly notice those programs which are being shut down, like drama, or shrunk.
5. Online to pay RN for supplies? The relative resources available to RN and ABC Online have never been revealed and it’s time to have some clarity on the current budgets and trends planned into the near future. A particular concern in recent years has been the support being transferred from on-air output to online/web services. RN programs, especially the stand-out specialist programs on RN contribute strongly to the content and quality of the online/web services and it has long been suspected that there has been a steady drain of support (i.e. budgets, staffing and resources) away from on-air. This review of RN should have made a strong argument for, or at least acknowledged, an internal re-balancing of resources accordingly, but there is no hint of detailed costings, direct and indirect, involved in internal balances and transfers. For internal fairness and measure of relative support, the ABC budgeting should provide for internal costs of RN’s contributions to web/online to be repaid back to RN’s budget.6. RN key feed for ABC Online: In another huge hole in the report, I can find no reference of any nature to the audience(s) for RN programs and their reactions. One or two programs are mentioned as having strong followings, but this seems to have been judged by such indirect measures as requests for transcripts (essentially, an online/web area which should be costed there, not out of RN’s diminishing budget). There is no mention of downloads of podcasts which indicate “popularity” of certain content and presenters. Philip Adams, for one, maintains a huge national and international audience for Late Night Live from this online service. It is grossly inadequate for a review like this to avoid any mention of feedback, let alone some kind of analysis of this and how it is handled. This must be of particular concern to FABC followers who, too frequently get the brush-off from our comments which may be critical at times but are always constructive in support of an improved ABC.7. Audiences not consulted: I wouldn’t want to get stuck on simplistic measures of audience “ratings” as these are not especially applicable to RN as a whole or any of its component programs, but it is extraordinary that this report is constructed entirely internally and the writers didn’t have the good sense to engage in some external consultation. FABC Vic has direct experience of this in the way their painstaking and constructive survey of dedicated ABC followers was dismissed out of hand with a “form” letter.8. Program quality: Apart from the closure of a few programs, there is no indication that RN “management” gives any leadership in critically assessing program and presenter quality. Of the much-vaunted changes in the 2012 schedule there are some duds which cry out for corrective action or major change. Sunday Extra is one such case. This “flow” program stands in sharp contrast to its companions Saturday Extra and RN Drive which are sharp, inventive and invariably good listening. Much of the difference lies in the regular presenters with Geraldine Doogue and Fran Kelly carrying their audiences with them in natural, relaxed style, whereas for Sunday Extra Jonathan Green is limp or mannered (unnatural upward inflections on most words in scripted intros) and frankly irritating in practically all aspects of his presentation. A firm producer of his style and an editor of his scripted pieces in advance of delivery are badly needed; pre-recording him in place of “live” delivery would allow for such improvements, if he has this within him. But this review does not open the door to any firm action on such failures".Peter Pockley
8 December 2012