Why the ABC has been forced to cut programs

THE Australian Broadcasting Corporation has announced cuts to a number of programs which will result in staff in some centres losing their jobs. Surprisingly, the corporation, a government-funded entity, has cited “falling audiences for some programmes” as one reason why it had to make these cuts.

It tells the tale of the corporation in just those few words. Exactly why a government-funded organisation should be chasing behind ratings is not clear.

But the ABC has become like any other commercial network and wants to ape them. It wants to be in the limelight, not to provide services for the diverse range of people who live in Australia.

The second reason adduced by the ABC is vague but tells, in part, the truth: “increasing financial pressures on ABC TV”. This is an euphemism for the enormous additional outlay on the half-arsed 24-hour news channel that was launched last year.

The ABC is unable to even provide the full 24 hours of programming for this service and uses the BBC for an hour or more every day. Yet this channel is a matter of ego for AbC managing director Mark Scott and therefore will continue its half-baked service.

Some people will have to look elsewhere for programs that interest them; no longer is it the duty of the national broadcaster, which is funded by the taxpayer, to provide for all tastes. The ABC now has “a strategic commitment to focus its limited financial resources on prime-time programming”. Whatever that means.

The 24-hour news service has not only put a strain on resources, it has also given existing staff much more to do with less. A planned reordering of foreign correspondents had to be called off after staff protests. But yet the jazzing up continues. A commitment to triviality and artificiality has become the aim of the organisation.

Last year, when the host of the best current affairs program, the 7.30 Report, Kerry O’Brien, decided to move to other pastures, the corporation decided to change the focus of the program. It was relabelled 7.30, hosted on new, garish sets, and new personnel were sought. Unfortunately the two who were given the gig, Leigh Sales and Chris Uhlmann, are not best suited for a program which has made combative interviews its trademark and strength.

If anyone had to be given the gig after O’Brien, it had to be Virginia Trioli, a feisty and intelligent staffer,. who has shown her mettle in no uncertain way. But Trioli is of Italian descent. And the ABC is still very much an organisation of the British colonial era.

Audiences for this flagship program are now down more than 150,000 each night. And the corporation’s head honchos are wondering why. Only idiots would fiddle with a winning formula but the ABC did precisely that. All that is needed now is to appoint an external consultant to find out the reason for falling ratings. Scott is probably on the verge of doing that.

For at least the last five years — curiously, corresponding with Scott’s reign — there has been an increased trend towards fluffy, light stuff. The classic case is the appointment of Lindy Burns to host the drive programme in Melbourne. Trioli was the host before that; there were numerous serious options available but Burns, who can be charitably described as a lightweight, was chosen.

The ABC promotes itself furiously, often much better than the commercial channels do. But as the promotions increase, so too does the quality drop. Scott has been given another term at the helm and by the time he finishes one wonders whether any serious programming will be available on the ABC at all.


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