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The commercialisation of the ABC

  • 05 August 2011

I begin with a confession: when I worked for the ABC I participated in the 'axing' of a couple of programs, one of which was very popular with a dedicated group of listeners. So I don't come to this story as a complete innocent.

ABC TV recently confirmed it is cutting The New Inventors, Art Nation and Collectors.

Is this just an example of programs having run their course? Well, no, according to Director of TV, Kim Dalton. The reasons are 'falling audiences ... increasing financial pressures ... and a strategic commitment to prime-time programming'. He also said that the ABC 'proposes to reduce the level of staff' in all states except, apparently, the ACT.

Most viewers will probably shrug their shoulders and say 'Well, it's sad to see my favourite show go, but that's the way it is.' But the reality is that there is a deeper agenda running here and it is important for those who value the ABC to bring it into the light.

The clue is in Dalton's comment that the ABC has not abandoned so-called 'factual entertainment'. He mentions two new 'initiatives, one with Screen West and one with the South Australian Film Corporation'. In other words, non-internal ABC productions, but outsourced material that the ABC simply broadcasts. Here lies the rub.

What we are actually seeing is the ABC 'outsourcing' more and more material to commercial production companies who make programs that, after their ABC broadcast, can be 'on-sold' to pay-TV and other channels, both here and overseas.

Increasingly the ABC makes few of the programs it broadcasts; it transmits material made by outside interests rather than produce its own.

This is why we are seeing so much lightweight 'infotainment' now on the ABC — that is, when we're not watching endless re-runs of British cop shows. Commercial interests, by definition, don't make risky programs or explore unpopular issues. So the ABC regularly broadcasts programs that are neither cutting-edge nor different to commercial TV. It's essentially the same old pap you can get anywhere.

Yet, as a public broadcaster, the ABC has an unequivocal legal obligation as a publicly-funded organisation to produce material that is not produced by commercial operators, especially in areas like culture, art, religion and science.

Glenys Stradijot