Written on August 30, 2011 by ken
ABC TV reported in 2008, that they had their most successful ratings year ever.
A long list of ABC TV’s home-made favourite programs achieved their highest audience ever that year, including Media Watch, Gardening Australia, Collectors, Can We Help and At The Movies.
Kim Dalton, the ABC’s Director of Television said in 2008 that, “…our audience has clearly demonstrated their love of Australian programming, with 7 of the top 10 programs on ABC1 being locally made.”
Mr Dalton had been with the corporation for five years, having joined in January 2006. He was previously Chief Executive of the Australian Film Commission. Other roles included Manager of Acquisitions and Development for Beyond International Limited, General Manager of the Australian Children’s Television Foundation, Investment Manager for the Australian Film Finance Corporation and principal of his own production company, Warner Dalton Pty Ltd. In June 2007, he was awarded an OAM for service to the film and television industry.
It is now under Mr Dalton’s watch, that many shows produced in-house have been cancelled.
On August 2nd, 2011, ABC executives handed redundancy notices to dozens of staff across the country as it axed arts programming in Melbourne and production units in Adelaide and Perth.
Production has been cancelled on the Melbourne-based Art Nation and on all the internally-produced arts documentaries which air under the Artscape banner.
It is understood 15 staff from Art Nation, presented by Fenella Kernebone, will be made redundant in Melbourne, as well as 13 in Adelaide and Perth.
The Artscape program will be outsourced.
The Sydney-based New Inventors ceased to exist after its grand final was broadcast on August 17, the Tasmanian-based Collectors will be “rested” – its staff will be redeployed on a new show, Auctions – and staff will be cut from the production pool in South Australia and West Australia as a result of two new series in each state being commissioned from outside production houses.
There will also be redundancies in the Northern Territory.
The Perth-based Can We Help? was a factual Australian television series hosted by Peter Rowsthorn. It was in its sixth season in 2011, being broadcast on ABC1 at 6.00pm on Saturdays. The farewell episode was aired on Saturday June 25, 2011. The program was driven by viewer questions and requests for help in regards to a wide range of subjects and specialised in reuniting families and loved ones and granting simple wishes to those in need. Over the years it introduced other segments which had a strong sense of history.
ABC Director of Television Kim Dalton issued a statement saying…
“Television is not a static business. Planning is ongoing around programming, the production slate and the management of resources. Programs may be cancelled such as Talking Heads or Can We Help?. Key talent may decide not to proceed with ongoing series such as Maggie Beer and The Cook And The Chef or Adam Hills and Spicks and Specks,” he said
Mr Dalton sent a memo to staff confirming the circulating rumours. He Cited “falling audiences”, “increasing financial pressures on ABC TV” and a “strategic commitment to focus its limited financial resources on prime-time programming.”
Meanwhile, Communications Minister Senator Conroy has challenged the claim of financial pressure, saying he was “surprised” by Mr Dalton’s statement. He now wants answers from ABC managing director Mark Scott over the national broadcaster’s decision to axe television programs The New Inventors and Art Nation.
“I would say they haven’t had any cuts in funds; these are programs that have been going a long time,” he told ABC News Breakfast.
“I will be seeking information from Mark Scott and the management of the ABC around their statements that financial issues led to the closing of these programs.”
“They had a three-year funding package put in place. It’s coming up for a new round of funding into next year but as far as I’m aware there’s been absolutely no cuts in funding at all from the government to the ABC.”
(Left to right) Retiring ABC Chairman Donald McDonald, Paul Newton and Australian Prime Minister John Howard unveiling portrait sketch at the Chairman’s Farewell dinner
Mr McDonald, chairman from 1996 to 2006, chides ABC management for citing funding problems to justify the cuts to staff and programs after launching television channel News 24.
“The claim that ABC 24 could be established and operated with existing funding was not entirely credible and the case for having a 24-hour news channel has never been made convincingly,” he says.
“News is probably bleeding all other programming.”
ABC managing director Mark Scott has addressed staff on his recent cuts to programs and jobs, telling them he understands their disappointment.
“In television, we have announced the end of New Inventors and Art Nation for the 2012 calendar year, made some adjustments to sports programming and are looking at other elements of the schedule as part of our commitment to deliver, later in the year, a television production strategy for the next three to five years,” Mr Scott said.
“There are a number of reasons why the ABC does co-productions. In particular, it allows us to deliver more programming by making a smaller financial contribution to the shows we air than if we funded 100 per cent of the budgets,” he said. “Importantly, in commissioning co-productions, we exercise strong editorial oversight to ensure these productions meet our Charter and conform to ABC editorial standards.”
Mr Scott said many of the corporation’s most popular and distinctive programs on television were co-productions including The Gruen Transfer and Adam Hills In Gordon Street Tonight, Paper Giants, Rake, Angry Boys and Laid.
Although the ABC insists it is committed to a mixed-production model, the only shows not to be outsourced are: news and current affairs, religion (Compass), science (Catalyst), indigenous (Message Stick), education (Behind The News), pre-school (Play School), literature (First Tuesday Book Club), food (Poh’s Kitchen), film (Margaret and David) and Gardening Australia.
The Union speaks out
The ABC union has warned that the national broadcaster’s decision to cut programs including Art Nation and the New Inventors, sack staff and further outsource production, is a breach of its Charter and may jeopardise its ongoing funding.
The union is calling for an immediate audit of all TV production costings, both outsourced and in-house, to ensure taxpayers are getting value for money. Graeme Thomson, ABC Section Secretary of the Community and Public Sector Union said: “Taxpayer have the right to be outraged by the dismantling of their ABC.
“This announcement raises serious questions about whether the ABC is delivering against its legislative Charter, Parliament’s justification for the ABC’s one billion budget.
“ABC staff have been gutted by this decision. They are personally committed to delivering the quality content that has made the ABC one of Australia’s most important and respected cultural institutions.
“The cutting of Art Nation, the ABC’s only remaining TV arts program, is an act of cultural vandalism. “The ABC is at its best when it broadcasts the best international and domestically produced material available. This has meant maintaining a balance between in-house and private sector production. “Under Head of Television Kim Dalton ideologically driven approach, this balance has been lost. The ABC TV has been reduced to a mere transmission tower broadcasting the same material from the same production houses used by commercial channels. This threatens the ABC’s distinctiveness, rationale and ultimately, its funding.
“The national broadcaster is required to provide quality programs that reflect the diversity of Australia, its cultures and regional perspectives. The announcement that regional TV producers are to be sacked destroys this important arm of the ABC Charter. The union has also criticised Managing Director Mark Scott, claiming he has overseen the destruction of the ABC’s television production.
“Mr Scott claims he supports a ‘mixed model’ of internal and external production. But on his watch we have seen more outsourcing than under Jonathan Shier,” Mr Thomson said.
“What angers ABC staff is that they have been set up for failure. The internal programs have been starved of funds and promotion budgets, while external productions have had funds lavished on them and have been heavily marketed by the ABC.
“ABC program-makers, eager to rebuild in-house production have been repeatedly told by Mr Dalton to leave the ABC and pitch the program ideas from outside because he is not interested in producing them inside. Australian taxpayers are entitled to be angered at this arrogance and waste,” Mr Thomson said.
Perth staff are concerned over a continued scaling back of television program production in WA. ‘Rollercoaster’ was de-commissioned in 2009, ‘The Hopman Cup’ in 2010 and ‘Can We Help?’ as of June this year. The number of operational TV staff are likely to decrease further this year and next year. If WAFL is cancelled – which is expected – even more TV staff will be gone. There’ll be a few folk left to crew News and that’ll be it. The branch is very depleted. A recent sentiment expressed by those who built the new facilities in WA is that, “…the cost and blood sweat and tears that went in to the provision of studio 61 will be completely wasted by its lack of use.”
A Senate committee will undertake an inquiry into the ABC’s recently announced decision to scale down internally-produced programming and lay off employees.
The probe will examine several issues raised by the broadcaster’s cuts, including the impact on the ABC’s in-house production capabilities – with particular reference to Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth and Hobart – and the broader implications for the quality and diversity of Australian film and television production.
Other issues to be explored by the environment and communications references committee include the ABC’s previous decision to replace the internally-produced Bananas in Pyjamas with an externally-produced animated series.
The inquiry was proposed by the independent senator Nick Xenophon and approved by the chamber on Wednesday August 17, 2011.
Senator Xenophon wants the committee to examine “the decision by the television management of the ABC to significantly cut the number and amount of ABC-produced programs, jobs (including through forced redundancies) and potentially affect resources, as announced on August 2, 2011.”
The environment and communications committee is due to report on its findings by October 12 this year.
Inquiry into recent ABC programming decisions
Terms of Reference
That the following matter be referred to the Environment and Communications References Committee for inquiry and report by 12 October 2011:
The decision by the television management of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) to significantly cut the number and amount of ABC-produced programs, jobs (including through forced redundancies) and potentially affect resources, as announced on August 2, 2011, with particular reference to:
the implications of this decision on the ABC’s ability to create, produce and own its television content, particularly in the capital cities of Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth and Hobart; the implications of this decision on Australian film and television production in general and potential impact on quality and diversity of programs;
whether a reduction in ABC-produced programs is contrary to the aims of the National Regional Program Initiative;
the implications of these cuts on content ownership and intellectual property; the impact of the ABC’s decision to end internal production of Bananas in Pyjamas and to outsource the making of a ‘Bananas in Pyjamas’ animation series to Southern Star Endemol Proprietary Limited; and the future potential implications of these cuts on ABC television’s capacity to broadcast state league football and rugby; and any other related matters.
Submission deadline is September 9th, 2011.
For further information, contact:
Senate Standing Committees on Environment and Communications
PO Box 6100
Canberra ACT 2600
Phone: +61 2 6277 3526
Fax: +61 2 6277 5818
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