ABC Chairman James Spigelman AC QC addressed the 30th anniversary of Conversazione in Melbourne.
I have been invited to address you on the same topic as my predecessor, as Chair of the ABC, addressed the first Conversazione 30 years ago. Dame Leonie Kramer was one of the most formidable women it has been my privilege to know. She was, in so many ways, a pioneer, notably of the teaching of Australian literature. She broke through more glass ceilings than any other woman of her generation – as a professor, as chair of NIDA, as chair of the ABC, as Chancellor of my own university, as a director of Western Mining and of the ANZ Bank.
Her political and social persuasions were not such that she sought, or received, recognition from the feminist movement as the first woman to occupy a range of significant positions in our society. Indeed, during her tenure at the ABC she insisted on being called “Chairman”. I am very pleased to reprise her topic after three decades.
It is necessary in an address such as this to adopt a confined approach to a topic as broad as “Australian Culture”. I intend to focus on the sphere of discourse often referred to as “the Arts”, rather than on any anthropological concept of “culture”.
Such a topic must be approached with sensitivity. There has never been a time in the history of the ABC, and I suspect there never will be a time, when one or other aspects of the arts does not feel that it is not receiving its fair share of ABC funding or broadcast time, a standing complaint which it shares with virtually every other sphere of discourse. In our first year of radio broadcasting, 80 years ago, a controversy arose because the ABC offered a fee for radio dramatists which was about half what was then offered to music composers. There have been many such since.
Every change of programming has always attracted complaint from those who have appreciated those programs. Artists and art lovers appear to be more ready to take offence and to fear the worst than some other communities with similar complaints, for example scientists. I must tread warily, remembering the instruction of Sir Thomas Beecham as to how to conduct an orchestra: “Never smile encouragingly at the brass section”.
I believe it would be generally accepted that the ABC, throughout its 80 year history, has been, and remains, one of the most important cultural institutions in this nation. Indeed, a case can be made that it is our most important, single cultural institution. Its capacity to make this contribution has dramatically expanded since Dame Leonie’s address. She spoke in the ABC’s 50th year in radio and 25th year in television.
In 1982 there was one national analogue television station. Today, ABC 1 has been joined by three additional digital channels: ABC 2, ABC 3 and ABC News 24, providing a second general channel, a specialist children’s channel and a 24 hour news channel.
Thirty years ago ABC radio had 110 radio transmitters providing limited national coverage. There were two “national”, in name, radio services–Radio National, available on AM in the six state capitals and two regional centres, and ABC FM, broadcasting to the six capitals and eight regional centres. There were 38 local radio stations. The rock music station, triple j, was available only in Sydney.
Today the ABC has 700 radio transmitters providing extensive national coverage. There are 60 local radio stations. Radio National, ABC Classic FM and triple j are available nationwide, as is a new service, ABC News Radio. Furthermore, all four national networks are available on digital radio in the mainland capitals, and there are five digital stations for specialist audiences in jazz, country music, and contemporary music for the over 30s, triple j Unearthed for amateur “garage” bands and an additional “ pop-up” station for special events like writers’ festivals and solar eclipses.
Technology has enabled all of these programs to be accessed in ways that could not have been predicted 30 years ago. A wide range of radio programs are available as podcasts and numerous television programs are available as vodcasts. Many television programs are accessible on our highly successful iview service, online and via mobile devices – on your computer, iPad, iPhone or Android phone or gaming console. iview has about 250 hours of TV content for on demand streaming about two weeks after broadcast. There have been 2 million downloads of the iview app on iPad and iPhone.
The four national radio networks, the digital stations and ten local stations are also streamed online, and are accessible on ABC Radio’s iPhone and Android Apps. There have been over 2 million downloads of the ABC iPhone app, almost 1 million downloads of the ABC iPad app and 120,000 downloads of the Android app. The triple j app has been downloaded almost a million times.
Accessibility is also extended on the hundreds of websites that have been created by the ABC to service the full range of its audiences. These include general website gateways for the ABC as a whole, for television and radio, as well as individual station sites and topic or program specific sites. Although many offer only a short program synopsis, others offer rich art and artist related content, cultural news, features and events, to view, to listen online or to download.
Furthermore, by the use of social media – particularly Facebook and Twitter – ABC programmers have new tools for interacting with their audiences, both to receive and provide information about art news, events and programs. triple j has over 500,000 Facebook “friends”– an extraordinary number in a nation of our size. It tells you most of what you need to know about the comparative demographics of two of our national networks, when I tell you that Radio National has struggled past 10,000 “friends”.
However, when it comes to time shifted listening, the “oldies” hold their own. triple j has about 1 million podcast downloads per month, whereas Radio national has almost 2 million. That may reflect the greater range of access to particular music tracks, rather than to whole programs, used by younger listeners. Nevertheless, I find the comparison reassuring.
Of particular significance for our cultural heritage is the ABC’s audio and audio-visual archive. Digitising this extraordinarily rich resource is proceeding, despite the expense, particularly in collaboration with other institutions like the National Library and the National Film and Sound Archive. Next year, the richness of that archive will be revealed on our new educational portal, linked to the national education curriculum. The unlocking of our archives has barely commenced.
An example of what the future holds for the arts is our co-production with the Sydney Opera House Trust of a multi media documentary website telling the story of the Sydney Opera House from inception through design, construction and the past forty years of performances. It draws on the extraordinary reach of the ABC archive, with separate chapters on design and architecture, events and performance, including by Dame Joan Sutherland and the Bell Shakespeare Company. The Opera House Project will be launched online tomorrow and will be added to in the following months.
None of this was available 30 years ago. These developments also represent challenges, and perhaps threats, to all broadcasters. It may well be that our most robust competitor in television will be You Tube and in radio will be iTunes.
The availability of information of all kinds over the internet, almost without limit, including in the form traditionally broadcast on radio and television, has exploded the range of choices available to all audiences beyond comprehension. We all luxuriate in this expansion of the options available to us. Nevertheless, the very profusion makes choosing more difficult. If you Google the words “information overload”, in quotes, you get the self satirical answer of 3.8 million hits.
When you need a quick fix Google is a good place to start, and we all do it. However, if you want depth of any kind and quality, then you need intermediation by a real person who has applied a mind, not an automatic algorithm, to screen and select from the extraordinary profusion of available content. Perhaps most significantly, if you want the selection to be trustworthy, then you need institutional structures which have a justified reputation as a reliable and intelligent source. Neither algorithms nor the blogosphere can give you that.There remains a critical role for the performance of editorial or curatorial functions by broadcasters of training and experience, to select and organise the super abundance of material.
In this address, I will attempt to summarise the range and diversity of the ABC’s cultural programming. I do so because, whilst most persons interested in such programs are aware of some of what the ABC delivers, I do not believe there are many, including many full-time employees of the ABC, who appreciate the depth and range of what we do.
The ABC contribution can be analysed in terms of two interconnected but distinct themes: promoting and presenting. Of course, presenting performances and other forms of cultural expression, is itself a form of promotion. However, by “promoting” I intend to encompass news, interviews, criticism and analysis. Because of the ephemeral quality of much broadcasting, no one knows how much is done in this regard. However, I am quite confident that without the ABC’s contribution, Australian cultural life would be greatly impoverished.
I begin with music.
Historically, music has been the most pervasive of the ABC’s contributions to Australian cultural life, particularly through radio. Although there has always been, properly, considerable emphasis on performance by Australian musicians and of works by Australian composers, this is not a context in which one can be parochial. Music and mathematics are the only two global languages. Exposure to the best of world music is as important for our music makers as it is for our audiences. It has always been thus, and it remains so.
Despite all the technological changes of recent decades, radio broadcasting remains central in the lives of musicians and music lovers. This is so for both the promoting and the presenting roles of the ABC.
Every day, on every distinct program on ABC Classic FM – such as Breakfast, Mornings, Midday and Drive – in varying proportions, listeners hear, not only performances, but also news, stories and interviews from the world of classical and jazz music, including background, features on music history and the careers of musicians and composers, as well as information about concerts and other music events throughout Australia.
Every one of the ABC’s 60 local radio stations promotes and discusses local music events and receives calls from or interviews participants in those events, particularly on Breakfast, Mornings and Drive programs. In the capital cities, this occurs virtually every day.
Radio National programs like Into the Music and The Music Show broadcast conversation and analysis about the history, practice and experience of music makers and musicians. Furthermore, there are discussions and announcements throughout the other music shows on Radio National such as the Daily Planet, The Inside Sleeve, Music Deli, Sound Quality, Rhythm Divine and Quiet Spot.
Similarly, triple j promotes every aspect of contemporary youth music on every one of its daily programs, featuring interviews with musicians and other artists together with news, analysis and discussion of music events and concerts. The digital music stations–DIG Music, Jazz and Country Music–perform similar functions for more specialised musical tastes.
The promotion of music, covering recent as well as future events, is accessible at the time of any listener’s choosing on the specialist music station websites – perhaps, particularly those of ABC Classic FM and triple j – which are wide ranging, detailed and in some respects, comprehensive. For those wedded to the print format ABC Classic FM’s monthly magazine Limelight and the bimonthly triple j Magazine are similarly wide ranging, the latter also being available in digital format, accessible on your IPad or android device.
The breadth and depth of ABC Radio’s engagement with the Australian music community is such that it is impossible to imagine Australian musical culture without it. However, it is the role performed in presenting international and Australian music across the full spectrum of kinds of music that is our primary contribution.
ABC Classic FM broadcasts at least one Australian concert for, every day of the year, as well as many international concerts and operas. Last year the network recorded for broadcast almost 600 performances. This included performances by all the capital city orchestras – orchestras which were originally incubated within the ABC and with each of which we maintain a close relationship, especially in Melbourne and Brisbane where we share premises. The broadcast of musical events extends to specific partnerships, such as with the Sydney International Piano Competition and the Wangaratta Jazz Festival.
This contribution is reinforced by programs on the digital “pop up” station, for example the Musica Viva Festival, and on each of the specialist digital stations.
Radio National presents a wide range of music on Daily and Weekend Planet and The Inside Sleeve, with live music from festivals, gigs and concerts on Music Deli, experimental music on Sound Quality, spiritual music on Rhythm Devine and music to relax by on Quiet Spot. Last year Radio National recorded 55 live concerts and 20 studio performances for broadcast.
triple j’s playlist covers the full range of contemporary youth music. Its specialist programs include new Australian music, heavy metal, punk, rock, blues, folk, DJ mixes and electronic. Last year triple j recorded 116 live concerts and 49 studio performances.
Local radio stations, in addition to broadcasting music, also frequently invite small music ensembles to come into the studio to perform live for the radio audience.
There is nothing parochial about music on ABC radio. Nevertheless, Australian music is actively promoted. On the latest available figures, Australian music constitutes about 46% of music on Radio National, 33% on Local Radio, 30% on Classic FM, 47% on triple j, 41% on Dig Music, 30% on Jazz and 32% on Country, including recorded or live concerts. Furthermore, ABC classic FM has a target of 10% work from Australian composers and last year achieved 9%.
Perhaps the most innovative programming, with 100% Australian music, is the digital station triple j Unearthed, which broadcasts undiscovered Australian bands. triple j Unearthed commenced life as an annual competition, then became a website and then a radio station as well. This is where “garage” musicians can upload their music. Unearthed allows unsigned and undiscovered, young Australian musicians to establish an audience.
An invitation to perform at a triple j-organised concert, or Unearthed High, for high school musicians and, by selection, to be included on the website archive, accessible online or via the Unearthed app and broadcast on the digital station, is now an established part of the career path of young Australian musicians. That website now hosts 84,000 tracks from 45,000 artists and has 340,000 registered users. The Unearthed app has been downloaded 850,000 times.
The confidence of the Australian music industry in the curatorial ability of triple j staff is manifest in the fact that the record labels no longer feel they need to attend gigs in pubs to discover new talent. They can simply listen to tracks on triple j Unearthed.
ABC music programming on television is not as comprehensive as on radio. Music features often in the two scheduled arts slots on ABC 1: Artscape at 10 pm on Tuesdays and Sunday afternoons from 3-5 pm, which, recently, has featured Lang Lang and the SSO, the Sydney International Piano Competition, the Art of Chopin and the Last Night of the Proms.
In addition there are occasional documentaries, sometimes in prime time, e.g. Mrs Carey’s Concert but more often in late night timeslots. The program Rage plays music videos, both new release and from the archive and, after midnight, guest programmers on ABC 1 present specials featuring a particular band or genre. Although perhaps not everyone’s choice of time, the facility with which programs can be time shifted means that timing does not matter, except for sport and so-called big budget “reality” TV shows, of the latter of which, I am pleased to say, the ABC has none.
ABC2:Live features musical events and triple j Live on ABC2 presents filmed concerts, for example, the Nick Cave triple j Tribute. ABC2 is also the network to broadcast the product of our partnership with Australian Opera, under which fifteen operas will be broadcast in full over three years. This year featured Lakmé, Don Giovanni and La Boheme.
The ABC’s involvement with music extends beyond broadcasting to producing, for sale, music by Australia’s leading orchestras and artists. ABC Classics is Australia’s premier producer of classical music. Since the inception of the ARIA awards 25 years ago, ABC Classics has won 23 of the Awards for Best Classical Album, including this year, when the ABC won all four Fine Arts ARIA Awards.
Last year ABC Music released 238 titles, including 101 ABC Classics, 105 ABC Contemporary and 32 ABC for Kids CDs. Furthermore, ABC Music Publishing represents a number of Australian songwriters and composers, as well as commissioning screen music for ABC programs and platforms.
ABC Classic FM is one of 6,000 radio stations available on iTunes and 50,000 stations on the Tunein site, both accessible on the internet. I have no doubt it can hold its own with any other classic music station, to so many of which our listeners now have access.
Let me conclude this overview with a specific example of how modern technology brings us to the world. Earlier this year, when the Australian soprano, Greta Bradman (incidentally the granddaughter of Sir Donald) sang Gorecki’s Third Symphony with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra in a live broadcast, she arrived home that evening to fan mail from a listener in the composer’s hometown of Cracow in Poland. Music is truly an international language and the quality of our cultural offering, like ABC Classic FM and the cultural content of Radio Australia and the Australian Network, is a form of soft diplomacy enhancing our international reputation.
I move on to the ABC’s contribution to the Australian cultural landscape beyond music. Again, I will divide my remarks into the two broad themes of: promoting culture and presenting culture.
On television, on radio and over the internet, the ABC presents a range of general and specialist programs, some exclusively devoted to the arts and others of which the arts are a component.
The most comprehensive coverage of Australian and international culture is to be found on Radio National, one of the jewels in the ABC crown. There are more than 20 individual arts programs–some 30% of the network’s weekly schedule. In addition to specialist music programs, to which I have already referred, RN provides dedicated coverage of literature, film and poetry, together with general programming covering these and other forms of artistic expression.
Programs such as Books and Arts Daily and its companion Weekend Arts, together with other programs such as By Design, broadcast interviews, debates, news, documentaries, stories and features on the life and work of artists and do so every day of the week. Other general interest programs on RN, such as Big Ideas, often feature cultural topics.
As with the other ABC radio networks, Radio National programs are available to Australian and international audiences through live streaming and podcast downloads on ABC websites, including Radio National’s own website, and ABC Apps for iPad, iPhone and android phones, as well as on third-party services such as Tunein radio and iTunes.
As I have mentioned, presenters on every one of the 60 stations in the Local radio network promote local arts events, in many cases on a daily basis, encompassing every aspect of Australian culture – literary, performance, screen, visual, design as well as music. They cover news, events, interviews with artists and broadcast live and recorded performances, including from regional festivals such as Capricornia Arts in the Park and the Tamworth Country Music Festival, where performers will visit the studio to perform live. These programs are also available on the 54 ABC Local Radio websites, both as podcasts and as live streams.
Furthermore, electronic newsletters are available by e-mail about many of our arts programs, not only the national networks, such as triple j, Radio National and Classic FM, but also local programs, such as the Perth Book Club and the Adelaide Book Club.
In the case of television, there has been a long, and not always happy, history of successive program formats. The cancellation of the magazine program, Art Nation a year ago, caused controversy, the last of a number of such transitions. This difficult history is in large measure a function of the expense of television production and the size of the audience. The balance the ABC must find between its statutory obligation to present both programs of general appeal and of specialist appeal, is necessarily different in the case of television compared to radio.
In terms of promotion, ABC TV programming includes:
- Artscape, a half hour documentary program focusing on different art forms with themes such as “In Conversation” and “Artists at Work”.
- The Sunday afternoon arts slot from 2-5 pm, features a range of documentary-type programs across the full range of art forms, e.g. Tropfest, The Sydney Theatre Company Wharf Revue.
- A new slot for this summer on Sundays from 10 pm will include feature length arts documentaries, short run series and one-off specials.
- The Movie Show, the classic forum of cinema criticism on ABC 1, is repeated on ABC 2 and accessible by vodcast and on iview. Its program website is the second most popular ABC website, after Gardening Australia.
- First Tuesday Book Club, Jennifer Byrne hosts a panel focusing on literary themes.
- Jennifer Byrne Presents, features interviews with literary figures.
- Big Ideas, broadcast on Tuesday and Wednesday at 11 am on ABC 1, repeated on ABC News 24, available online and on its website, features lectures and interviews and debates, often on arts and culture topics, for example, recently, on Francis Bacon, on the film industry, The New Yorker and a range of events from the Melbourne Writers Festival.
- Special documentaries are broadcast from time to time, e.g. Art and Soul, a 3 x 1 hour series on indigenous art.
- Reports appear on ABC News and current affairs programs, including two programs on ABC News 24: The Arts Quarter and Extraordinary Curiosities.
- Finally, there is the promotional content of the programs which I will discuss under the heading of “presenting”.
Specialist programs to highlight and celebrate the arts of indigenous Australians are presented on both radio and television. Awaye! on Radio National, Speaking Out on local radio and, until recently, Message Stick on ABC 1. These programs promote all aspects of indigenous music, art, dance literature and theatre.
Finally, with respect to the promotion theme, a special website, entitled ABC Arts, is an edited, curated space that gives access to ABC content and information about arts events. The website also commissions magazine type three to four minute videos about artistic events. This feature has recently included several stories from the Melbourne International Arts Festival and the red carpet opening of The Sapphires at the Cannes Film Festival, which was rebroadcast on the 7 PM News, News Breakfast and ABC News 24. This Arts gateway or portal needs further work to fulfil its potential, work which is in train.
A large number of station and program specific websites, many of which are rich in content, provide information and analysis. Some program sites, e.g. for Mabo, have downloadable pages that teachers and students can use in an education context.
I turn now to the presentation of cultural expression. The most significant development for the ABC in recent years is the major expansion of first release Australian drama on television. In this, as in every other respect, ABC capacity is in the gift of the Commonwealth government. Four years ago the government made available significant additional funds, the product of which is only recently appearing on the nation’s television and computer screens, both fixed and mobile.
Successive funding constraints imposed over a period of time had reduced the ABC’s capacity to commission Australian drama to something like 20 hours a year. Now we are able to produce about 70 hours a year.
The impact in terms of our ability to tell Australian stories, has already been dramatic in programs like The Slap, Rake, The Straits, Crownies, Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, Paper Giants, Mabo, the stories of Betram Wainer and of Bernie Banton. Of particular social significance is the series Redfern Now, the first television series produced, directed, edited and acted by indigenous Australians.
Furthermore, television drama expands the readership of Australian writing when a program is based on a published work, for example, The Slap or Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. The Slap, like Rake and a number of our recent narrative comedies, is under consideration for an adaptation in the United States.
In terms of the development of Australian literature, an exciting program in development is based on Tim Winton’s collection of short stories “The Turning”. The series will bring together some of Australia’s most talented visual, theatrical and performance artists to create an anthology of seventeen films that will be screened theatrically, on television and online.
In the past, and again now, the ABC slate of television drama, narrative comedy and entertainment programming, including specialist children’s programs on ABC3 and ABC4Kids (broadcast during the day on ABC2), has engaged a wide range of Australian creative talent including directors, editors, actors, cameramen, musicians, writers, visual artists, choreographers etc . The ABC’s capacity in this respect has historically been central to the development of new creative talent. ABC’s unique range of original children’s programming is particularly significant for new, young talent.
This contribution is continuing via partnerships with other cultural institutions. I have already referred to the presentation of music performances. To give a few other examples: a series of half hour short, prime-time films is being prepared for the ABC, entitled “Opening Shot”, in partnership with Screen Australia. Pursuant to our partnership with The Australia Council – to present the full range of art genres and practice on television and digital platforms – a number of programs have been broadcast on ABC 2, including live performances by the Sydney Dance Company and the premiere of the joint Sydney Dance Company and Australian Chamber Orchestra performance of “The Reef”. Our partnership with the Adelaide Film Festival and the Australia Council in the Hive, cross pollinates artists and filmmakers to create new works for the screen.
In addition to live and recorded music programs, already referred to, the two hour Sunday afternoon arts slot on ABC1 has this year shown a three-part series on the art of Germany, another three-part series on the art of Russia and programs on Australian, African and Indian art and on Manet, van Gough, Margaret Olley, William Kentridge and Daniel Liebskind. It will be supplemented this summer with an additional two hour slot on Sunday night, permitting more adult arts programming to be shown.
ABC2 programming manifests the benefit of a second network for serving specialist audiences. ABC2Live presented performances by the Sydney Dance Company and the Sydney Theatre Company’s Wharf Revue. It also presents Good Game, a popular series devoted to the new forms of gaming, a growing part of our creative community. The ABC partnership with Screen Australia has supported the development of games, some of which can be played on the website of ABC3, our children’s channel.
Radio National has long been, and remains, the ABC’s provider of the most diverse range of arts related content. It has a loyal and articulate audience and, to some extent, an audience that resists change. That is in part a reflection of what, in the argot of the industry which I have recently joined, is called the target demographic. In the case of RN, that is my own age group, sometimes unkindly referred to as God’s waiting room.
The changes in RN programming last year and this year have, to a significant degree, been driven by a long standing policy to target, in part, a younger demographic. By “younger”, they mean down to 40 years old. I am not entirely sure why, but it is a policy that can reasonably be pursued and about which reasonable people can have different opinions. It does, however, mean that programs with a loyal, generally older following, may change. It does not mean any “dumbing down” or even a reduction in the number of arts programs. In fact there has been an increase.
As recently announced, the traditional programming on Radio National of radio drama and book reading will not continue. They will be replaced by new forms of narrative programming on radio, prepared by a new team of producers and presenters in the program time slots of two of the discontinued programs. Other niche programs, such as poetry reading, are not affected. Understandably, these decisions are controversial among persons who listen to them or have received the benefit of participating as artists in the course of their own creative development. However in this business, if you do not change, you die.
I conclude with an outline of the arts related programming that has or will appear this month, November 2012, on the ABC:
- This is Australian Music Month on both ABC Classic FM and triple j. Both these national networks will feature Australian musicians and composers on an almost continuous basis throughout the month.
- On classic FM, there will be programming celebrating the music of teacher and composer Miriam Hyde and a season of concerts by young musicians from the Australian Academy of Music. Christopher Lawrence’s Mornings program will feature an Australian composer every week and New Music Up Late will focus on contemporary Australian composers.
- On triple jand triple j Unearthed, the full range of specialist shows like Home and Hosed, Roots N All, The Hip Hop Show, Soundlab, Friday Night Shuffle, The Racket and Short. Fast. Loud will feature Australian Music specials. The network will also present special events, including live broadcasts of concerts at South Bank Piazza in Brisbane, of the J Awards in Melbourne, celebrating the musical output of Australian artists, and an Unearthed ARIA showcase from the Oxford Arts Factory in Sydney.
- All of the Radio National programs, which I have mentioned, will continue to feature arts programming several times on every day of the month.
- The 50th anniversary of the Australian Ballet was presented as an historical review documentary on Artscape, and the 50th Ballet Gala was broadcast on Sunday afternoon, with a live feed provided to the Australian Ballet for screening in Federation Square, in Martin Place and in a number of select cinemas.
- The collaboration between the Sydney Dance Company and the Australian Chamber Orchestra, The Reef, was broadcast live on ABC2 and was the subject of an Artscape feature.
- Artscape also featured a special on Eddie Perfect, last night.
- The Sunday afternoon television spot will broadcast the Young Performers Awards.
- Peggy Glanville-Hicks’ hitherto unperformed 1963 opera, Sappho, written with Lawrence Durrell, was broadcast on ABC Classic FM and her life and work was surveyed on Keys to Music.
- Patrick White’s centenary will be marked with a broadcast of the opera Voss on ABC Classic FM.
- ABC Classic FM’s Jazztrack program will broadcast from the Wangaratta Jazz Festival .
- Michael Harvey delivered the annual Peggy Glanville-Hicks’ address, broadcast on Big Ideas on Radio National and on television.
- The special pop-up station, ABC Extra, will feature Pacific Break, showcasing musical talent from across the Pacific, presented by Radio Australia.
- Regional arts programming this month includes the Northern Territory Short Film Festival on the Stateline program; new work by John Rodgers, recorded at the Four Winds Festival, featured on Bega local radio, which also supported the local Film Festival; in Tasmania local radio supported the Tasmanian Craft Fair and the Works Festival in Glenorchy; in Western Australia regional radio supported the regional simulcast of the Black Swan Theatre’s Managing Carmen; ABC Classic FM supported the Huntington Music Festival from Mudgee, New South Wales and 612 ABC Brisbane is supporting the Ipswich Art Gallery’s new exhibition.
I realise that listening to lists is not the most endearing form of a speech. I’ve done so on this occasion to highlight the scope and depth of ABC arts programming. It is the case, as it was for me before I acquired this role, that ABC listeners and viewers will not generally be aware of programming beyond their own areas of interest.
Changes in programming are, and must always be, a frequent occurrence. That will inevitably disappoint someone. ABC funding is finite. Its allocation will also inevitably disappoint someone. ABC broadcasting hours are also finite. Their allocation will also necessarily disappoint someone. The making of these decisions calls for professional judgment in contexts where there is ample scope for differences of opinion and approach. That is plainly so in the context of arts programming. In this context in particular, the statutory obligation of the ABC, to balance programming of wide appeal and specialized programming, does not lead to a single, correct answer.
These are all matters on which reasonable persons can and will differ. Accordingly, every change in ABC arts programming has given rise to some level of controversy. There are, however, certain repetitive themes which I have discovered in my recent, perhaps limited, research for this address which require correction.
The absolute size of, and trends in, the audience for a specific program is a relevant factor in the decision-making processes. To take such matters into account is not a manifestation of a preoccupation with ratings. The resources required for a particular program, in comparison with those required for other kinds of programs, is also a relevant factor to be taken into account in these decision-making processes. To do so is not a manifestation of managerialism or of an accounting mentality. Nor is every reallocation of resources a “cut”. Nor is every change a “dumbing down”.
The ABC exists to provide broadcasting and related programming for audiences. Some of the critics of ABC decision-making processes in the past do not begin with this perspective in mind. Some critics appear to believe that ABC audiences exist for the purpose of providing jobs to creative Australians. The reverse is true. Those jobs exist to provide programs for audiences. Once we get the perspective right, the significant contribution that the ABC has always made to Australian cultural life becomes less a matter of controversy and more a matter of congratulation.