Classic FM may yet be safe from cuts, but it’s important to keep an eye on the whole picture at “our ABC”. A petition to the ABC Board is asking it to engage in a public debate about the benefits of public broadcasting and the ABC, in the wake of Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s comment that the ABC can afford to cut its budget by as much as $200m and still maintain a quality service (The Guardian 19/9/14).
Classic Melbourne joined with our colleagues at www.soundslikesydney.com.au to present our concerns in a recent editorial for our combined newsletter, Sounds Classic. Here’s the gist of it, followed by some reassurance from Classic FM itself …
Where ABC News was instrumental in reporting allegations that Australia was spying on the Indonesian President, a commercial TV channel has a “reality show” called What really happens in Bali? A randomly chosen promotion for a recent episode gasps: “Four Perth girl’s (sic) day of dune buggy fun ends in disaster.” Which would you rather watch? And which is more properly the business of “our” ABC?
The Australian’s media and entertainment writer Michael Body reported recently (18/8/14) “ABC TV has a philosophical conundrum around whether the public broadcaster should move into areas such as reality TV in order to attract broader and younger audiences. The recent hiring of reality TV guru Adrian Swift, who is credited with shaping programs including The Voice and Big Brother, on a salary believed to be in the mid-six figures, presages a major programming shift for ABC TV.”
Body reports that “Radio is expected to be squeezed, despite a successful recent push to lower the average age of listeners to Local Radio, Triple J, Radio National and even Classic FM.” We do not think age is the central issue – but in any case young people do feature on the ABC, mostly recently with news that 16-year-old violinist Grace Clifford had been named Young Performer of the Year. Classic FM had followed the competition with broadcasts, interviews and news and the same interest it gives to all noteworthy performers. It was, after all, the best possible kind of “reality” show.
Classic Melbourne does not believe that ditching specialist programs in favour of crassly commercial, cheap genres is justified. It is ironic that it was in the same week that Grace won with an exceptionally mature performance of the Beethoven Violin Concerto that ABC managing director Mark Scott spoke of such “wholesale changes to the new ABC”, according to Body’s report.
However, ABC Classic FM Manager Richard Buckham suggests that all is not lost for this vital ABC service, drawing our attention to a speech made by Mark Scott at QUT on August 15 in which he said:
“The wider media ecology remains a relevant consideration to the ABC. While we are not and never have been solely a broadcaster of market failure, the number of content areas in which commercial media organisations will not invest is growing. The unprofitable gets left behind.
“This is one of the reasons you frequently hear people say that in this era, the ABC is more important than ever. The ABC is willing to make the investment around serious prime time investigative programs like Four Corners; celebrations of Australian achievement and ingenuity through Australian Story and Landline. Willing to maintain local reporters and a rural reporting team in centres across the country.
“Willing to develop drama and documentaries and news programs for Australia’s children. To schedule and commission stories on religion and science and arts. To provide a radio station devoted to classical music.
“We are willing to create content in all these different areas and seek to find the best way to deliver it on the platform our audiences choose.”