Friends of the ABC (Vic) Inc PRESIDENT’S REPORT 2008 AGM – given by Gael Barrett, Vice President INTRODUCTION This year when we have come together it is time to celebrate! Put aside for the moment the hard work still to be done - I'll come back to that later. Congratulate yourselves. As the result of the good work of Friends of the ABC and its supporters, the new Labor Government came to office with a platform to introduce a new merit-based and transparent process for appointments to the ABC Board and to restore the staff elected director position - a process it has recently begun to implement. No system can prevent a government from stacking the ABC Board. But this system reduces the likelihood that will occur, and increases the likelihood that governments will appoint people well-qualified for the job. In the longer term, it will have significance for all public appointments, not just the ABC. This is a major achievement. WHAT'S HAPPENED THIS YEAR This year has continued to be another of active campaigning for FABC - getting the word out to the public and into the media, addressing other organisations, lobbying politicians and responding to important happenings to the ABC as they arise. FABC spent much time informing, communicating with and urging members and others to action in support of the ABC. But before I talk more on our activities, I will report briefly on some operational matters. FABC's operation . Some FABC local groups have continued to be active - campaigning and conducting social functions and fundraisers. Others are in need of regeneration, having lost energetic members for one reason or another. Getting together in groups - geographically based, or interest or activity-based, still continues to be a productive, and often enjoyable way, to get involved in FABC. So please do let FABC's office know if you have an interest in this. . FABC is increasing information available to members online - through its website www.fabc.org.au and the subscription email service that runs off it. This does not mean we will abandon hard copy mailouts. But those with online access can be better informed between mailouts. Activities During this year: . FABC wrote to every member of the new Coalition Opposition, to seek their support for a new ABC Board appointment process, which provides an important opportunity to demonstrate bipartisan support for the national broadcaster. We met Bruce Billson, the Coalition's communications spokesperson first appointed after the election, and have made contact with their new communications spokesperson, Senator Minchin. Unfortunately, the Coalition remains opposed to there being a staff-director, and Senator Minchin's attitude to the new board appointment process is that it is "something of a farce". . While FABC's efforts to nominate people for the Government's Australia 2020 Summit (held in April this year) were unsuccessful, we made formal submissions to the Summit and lobbied its participants. The ABC was a significant topic of discussion at the Summit and FABC received positive feedback for its efforts - from Saul Eslake (senior economist, ANZ bank) to Margaret Seares (Senior Deputy Vice Chancellor, Uni of WA and former CEO Aus Council), and Hugh Jackman, to name a few. Key Issues . The new process of making appointments to the ABC Board is being implemented as each vacancy occurs - presently, there are two positions vacant. In the meantime, it is of serious concern that people not appointed for their merit or independence, let alone both, remain on the ABC Board. Another matter of concern is the lack of transparency in the ABC Board's operations. FABC has written to the Government on this matter. . Funding remains a key issue. FABC must ensure that recent positive comments of Senator Conroy, the communications minister in the new government (reported on the front of The Age) translate into sufficient funding to ensure the ABC, including Radio Australia is rebuilt. It is critical the national broadcaster be funded to fully participate in new media technologies, such as digital and online, if it is to remain relevant. But this must not occur at the expense of content development for all delivery platforms - radio included. FABC also needs to continue its efforts to ensure that funding is delivered in a manner that upholds the ABC's independence from government. . There is a growing trend towards commercialisation of the ABC under the present board and management. This is occurring in all kinds of different ways. Briefly, they include: - interminable on-air 'announcements', so-called to get around the advertising prohibition on ABC radio and television. (Please keep an eye out. Complain to the ABC and provide FABC with full details of any for which you cannot see any reasonable connection to the ABC.) - ratings-focused programming, particularly on local radio - the closure of specialist TV programming units and outsourcing of production. Several weeks ago, 35 television production staff were informed their jobs are to be axed. - cuts to Radio National's specialist programs announced for next year - though this is in part the result of inadequate funding. - setting up ABC websites with ads ('Countdown', and others are planned) - selling ABC content to commercial websites, where it is surrounded by ads - an interest by the ABC to charge the public for new services that online allows the public broadcaster to deliver More FABC Activities . All members received FABC's Petition to the ABC Board opposing the ABC's commercialisation. Please do what you can to collect signatures wherever you go. Send petitions to friends and colleagues - locally and interstate. . With the last newsletter, all members received a flyer with information about the government's ABC & SBS Review ('ABC and SBS: Towards a Digital Future'). Allowing the ABC to engage in dubious commercial activities and to charge for some of its services are all under consideration by the government. (What government wouldn't welcome being able to provide less funding!) So please, please write a letter yourself, and help others. We must do what we did with the Mansfield Review set up by the former government - send thousands of letters to let them know we value the ABC, it must be well funded, a producer of high quality programs, commercial-free and accessible to all Australians without charge. No matter how short, the fact that you take the time to send a letter is important. . Further copies of the Petition and Review flyer can be obtained today, from FABC's office, or from FABC's website www.fabc.org.au for those who prefer to get the word around by email. We ask that petitions are returned to us by mid February. Their impact will be greater if we can present a large number together to the ABC Board. . Members also received, with the last newsletter, an invitation to FABC's meeting, 'Think Nationally, Act Locally' on Saturday 22 November. This is your opportunity to discuss issues and plan action. We encourage you to bring a friend, preferably a potential member. Even if you can't stay for the day, you may want to come for the ABC speakers in the morning - Kim Dalton, the head of ABC TV, and Radio National presenter Peter Mares. An RSVP to FABC office is essential. . In a week's time, Friends of the ABC's website will provide details of a forum on the state of the Australian media, which the Fabians are organising in conjunction with Friends of the ABC. Unfortunately we are unable to mail hard copies - too costly as the event will occur before our next newsletter - but you can phone FABC if you miss taking details now. The forum is 'State of the 4th Estate'. Mary Delahunty will act as moderator for the speakers - Michael Gawenda, Eric Beecher and Ramona Koval. It will be held on Wed 3 Dec, 6-8pm, at the State Library Theatrette (entrance via LaTrobe Street). Thanks Before I conclude, I would like to thank some people. . Firstly, I would like to thank all of those who contribute so much to FABC - for their time and effort in the valuable work they undertake, and to pass on to you all here today the thanks and appreciation that FABC not infrequently receives from ABC staff for the support that FABC gives. . There are a couple of long-term members of FABC's committee of management who have contributed greatly to FABC and are not seeking re-election at this AGM, whom we would like to especially acknowledge: Michael Kinnane who travelled regularly from Geelong over many years, and Membership Secretary Peter Milton, also a regular helper in FABC's office, who has recently developed health problems. We also wish to thank Judith Rodriguez for her contribution. Judith retired from the committee in April this year after two and a half years as president. . Two people we would especially like to recognise at this time are Shirley Parkes and Rosie Spears. Rosie and Shirley have organised and conducted countless FABC stalls over many years. This is one of FABC's most important tasks - getting the word out to the community and encouraging them to act.
Shirley and Rosie are wanting to take a break, and looking for others they can train and recruit to share this important work. FABC office is keen to hear from any of you interested to be involved in a stall working group.
Conclusion . FABC must continue as a strong and active organisation - to keep the new government, and the ABC on track. . To be effective, a major campaign like Friends of the ABC needs members. Numbers equal influence - when speaking with politicians and with the ABC. And members keep the organisation operating. On each seat today is a membership form and a past newsletter. I urge everybody here to use these to recruit at least one new member. Perhaps, post them to someone you know, suggesting they may like to consider joining. . The ABC's significance - to Australian democracy and culture - grows as the quality of other mass media declines, and as the cost of other services, like education, increases. I look forward to continuing to work with you - to ensure the ABC thrives as a producer of information, ideas, education and quality entertainment, and to ensure the public broadcaster remains commercial-free, and accessible to all Australians.
Radio National plans cuts to 10 programs. Specialist programs gone in 2009 will be: The Media Report, The Religion Report, The Sports Factor, Radio Eye, The Ark, In Conversation, Street Stories and Perspective. Short Story will rely more on repeats from the past. Australia Talks will be cut back to three days a week.
With only one new program to be produced, and existing programs to be rescheduled to fill most gaps, there is a danger that some specialist subjects will be diluted within generalist programming or lost altogether.
The reason given by the ABC is the need to extend RN’s online content. Without sufficient funds, that means diverting production resources from radio.
. RN’s importance is in producing specialist programs that provide in-depth consideration of issues and events.
. Stephen Crittendon, The Religion Report presenter, has been stood down from his job following his revelations and critical comments on-air about RN’s cuts. Stephen is an excellent broadcaster who deserves support.
3. Distribute & collect signatures for FABC’s petition to the ABC Board to STOP the commercial drift of the ABC (FABC’s petition can be downloaded on this site)
4. Talk with & pass this information on to others
5. Secure the ABC’s Healthy Future: Submit to the Govt Consultation on Public Broadcasting Let the Federal Government know the ABC must be well funded, a producer of high quality programs, commercial-free and accessible to all Australians without fee in a submission to its consultation on public broadcasting. FABC is in the process of developing information to assist submitters. In the meantime, you may wish to read the Govt’s consultation paper or phone 1800 025 145
ABC Must Not Decimate Radio National
Friends of the ABC is outraged at ABC plans to axe nine specialist Radio National programs next year, and to increase the number of repeats.
"These cuts amount to a major downgrading of Radio National,” said Glenys Stradijot, a spokesperson for Friends of the ABC (Vic).
“Radio National is the essence of what public broadcasting should be. It produces programs of depth that are informative and stimulating.
“It is inconceivable that the ABC would cut Radio National.
"With other parts of the ABC having become more populist and lightweight, audience interest in RN has never been greater. Nor has the community’s need for quality content.
"Audiences are fed up with the huge number of repeats already broadcast on RN. They don’t want more.”
Friends of the ABC fears the ABC is cutting RN to divert funds to newer services.
“While it is essential the ABC keeps up-to-date with new ways of delivering content, the public broadcaster’s future lies in its production of quality content. Moves to increase content delivery options must not be at the expense of traditional services that are needed and are accessible to all Australians.
“It’s time the ABC’s managing director told the government and the community how much funding the ABC really needs to remain a quality national broadcaster,” said Glenys Stradijot.
Friends of the ABC is delighted the ABC has released an ideas paper to promote debate and discussion around the vital role of public broadcasting in the digital media age. The ABC's vision is outlined in a paper titled 'The ABC in the Digital Age – Towards 2020' which was unveiled in the leadup to the Australia 2020 Summit.
The good … The ABC's paper reiterates the ABC's responsibility for innovation and diversity, and the need to be accessible to all Australians. It includes many more wonderful things the ABC is well-placed to do if it is adequately resourced: - additional TV channels that can cater for niche interests - for news and public information, children's programming, education, and the best of overseas content - an extension of radio stations, supported by broadband sites providing additional content - including more local radio, specialist music, children's, sports and health information radio - an expansion of broadband content - including internet TV and radio, archival audio video content, emerging music, video and multimedia talent, local broadband sites with community participation, constantly updated news, and partnerships with universities, research and govt agencies to deliver websites providing public access to in-depth content around key genres - an extension of the reach and operations of the ABC's international services to deepen Australia's engagement with its region
The bad … The ABC's independence from political influence has often been under threat. The broadcaster's independence from commercial influence is being undermined by its own expanding commercial operations. Missing from the ABC's vision of the public broadcaster in 2020 is an expressed interest in the ABC remaining independent. 'Independence' is not listed in its principles for public broadcasting. The only reference to commercial-free broadcasting pertains specifically to the proposed dedicated children's television channel. Worryingly, the paper and Managing Director Mark Scott refer frequently to Australia's great information and cultural institution as a 'brand'. In recent years, we have also seen the ABC's production capacity wound back. Missing from the ABC's vision for the future is the ABC's important role as a 'producer' of quality content. The paper talks only in terms of the broadcaster's role in content 'delivery'. Perhaps the omission of these two critical aspects of Australia's national public broadcaster was an oversight. But perhaps it was not. The ABC Board appointed by the former Coalition government which was hostile to independent public broadcasting is still substantially in place. Increasingly, the ABC is taking on a commercial outlook.
The unknown … The ways in which the ABC delivers content must expand to meet the changing needs of the community if the ABC is to remain relevant. But in the end, it is the quality of the content which matters. That will depend on the funds available to the ABC. It is also the outcome of the ABC's operations which, with the winding back of in-house television production and specialist program units in recent years, is resulting in less distinctive programming.
Let the ABC & the Government know what you want . 'The ABC in the Digital Age – Towards 2020' can be accessed at www.abc.net.au/corp/pubs/media/s2219354.htm . Let the ABC know what you think of its vision for 2020. Tell them what sort of ABC you want and what you would like it to be doing in the future. Write to: Maurice Newman, Chairman, ABC Board, GPO Box 994, Sydney 2001. . Work has already commenced on ABC funding for the next Budget. Write to Kevin Rudd MP, Prime Minister, Parliament House, Canberra 2600. Let the Labor Government know you expect the ABC's funds to be increased - so that the ABC can be rebuilt, at the forefront of technological change, and remain commercial-free.
The Hon Kevin Rudd, MP Prime Minister Parliament House Canberra 2600
Dear Prime Minister
I am extremely disappointed that the ALP Government's first Budget failed to demonstrate an appreciation of the ABC's importance as a major Australian information and cultural institution, and an educator of all Australians. ABC funding has declined out of proportion to all other major areas of government expenditure since 1985-86. The ABC is increasingly engaging in commercial activities that undermine the integrity of its programming, threaten universal access without cost to services that a public broadcaster should provide, and detract from the audience's experience. I wish to know what your government will do to rebuild the ABC, restore its independence and ensure the national broadcaster is at the forefront in a technologically changing media environment. I urge you to: 1. implement Labor's promise to restore the staff-elected director position and to introduce a new merit-based appointment process to the ABC Board; 2. increase and deliver to the ABC all operational funding through the ABC's triennial base funding, to give effect to Labor's commitment to ABC independence and adequate triennial funding; 3. stop the creeping commercialisation of the ABC and extend the prohibition on advertising to all ABC websites; and ensure that services a modern public broadcaster should provide remain accessible to all Australians without direct cost; and 4. resource the ABC so it can rebuild Radio Australia which promotes positive relations with neighbours in our region. I look forward to your response to the matters raised, and to learning how a Labor Government will ensure our treasured ABC thrives as Australia's independent and comprehensive national public broadcaster.