New boss hacks ABC's independence, programs
by Peter Mac ABC Managing Director, Jonathan Shier has taken another step along the road to privatisation of the National broadcaster. The ABC has already suffered savage budget cuts. Now the heads of its current affairs, programming, national networks, marketing, news and current affairs, transmission, corporate strategy and research divisions have been replaced, without any advertising of their positions, by recruits predominantly drawn from the private sector. 200 middle management positions could also disappear. The current affairs and news divisions of ABC TV are to be merged, with a new mid-evening (i.e. non-rating and watered down) current affairs program replacing the popular 7.30 Report and Lateline. News broadcasts are also likely to become more restricted, with the independence of the ABC already compromised should a recent business arrangement eventually go through in which its "on-line" news bulletins would be subject to approval by the semi-privatised Telstra Corporation. Abolition of the separate ABC current affairs division was previously suggested by former ABC Washington correspondent Max Uetritz, who is now to become the director of news and current affairs. 7.30 Reportpresenter Kerry O'Brien, at one time a potential contender for ABC managing director, may be forced out altogether. Howard's nasty intentions Although O'Brien's program toed the conservative line on many issues (e.g. NATO's Balkans war), it was far more open, honest and critical in its analysis of the Howard government's intentions than the commercial media. In numerous 7.30 Reportinterviews O'Brien's good-natured but intelligent and determined questioning of Howard revealed much about the coalition's nasty intentions for the Australian people, and caused the PM to become visibly defensive, nervous and hostile. One anonymous ABC source this week commented: "Join the dots. The Howard Government now has a majority on the (ABC) Board; the chairman is a close friend of the Prime Minister, who has been a long-time critic of ABC news and current affairs, and particularly O'Brien and his program. Shier, ... a former vice-President of the Young Liberals, a member of the staff of two former ministers, (and) a strong Thatcherite during his time in the United Kingdom ... emerges to demolish the best news management team the ABC has ever had, and get rid of Howard's number one target. How much more obvious do you want it to be?" Media vultures And the media vultures are gathering. One commentator, bristling with commercial patriotism, declared: "Australians ... have every right to expect the bright, innovative programming reflecting Australian values that Shier promises. They also have every right to expect value for the half billion dollars a year that supports the ABC, and if it takes a no-nonsense business approach to extract it, fair enough." Another compared the ABC unfavourably to multi-cultural broadcaster SBS, which has adopted a conservative political line and broadcasts commercial advertising. With superb hypocrisy, yet another claimed that the ABC had abandoned its rightful viewing public (the "light" program "consumers") by presenting quality productions of literary classics, which it described with a sneer as "costume dramas ... so beloved by the Mosman demographic". Nevertheless, it was quick to argue for a commercial takeover of these potentially lucrative programs, claiming enthusiastically that they could "just as easily be delivered by pay-TV". It's "Dinner Ladies", not Dickens, for the masses, please! Minister for Communications, Senator Alston, last week complained that multi-channelling by the national broadcaster would lead to "trash" on ABC TV. However, it would appear that the Minister is actually more concerned about allocation of multi-channelling to the ABC at the expense of commercial channels. Although Democrat and Labor MPs have now voted for ABC multi-channelling, the Howard government is expected to restrict it to areas such as education and children's TV, so as to protect the commercial channels from competition. And basically, serving the interests of the commercial media is what they're all about, for none of the major changes Shier announced last week will serve the interests of the Australian working people or the wider community.