With ABC in a pickle, chairman Justin Milne breaks silence | The Weekly Beast

ABC Life gives staff a taste of what is to come. Plus: Sky News takes content on to free-to-air

It has been seven months since Michelle Guthrie unveiled the winners of her pet project, the Great Ideas Grant. The managing director created a new content fund by axing about 200 jobs, then asked staff to “think about reach, audience gaps, scalability and applying digital-first thinking” and put forward an idea.

One of the winning pitches was ABC Life, a new website for health, work, personal finance, pets, family, sex, food, gardening, travel, fashion and creativity under one banner.

Back in December ABC Life lead – yes that is his title – Scott Spark advertised for 18 new positions for the digital project, so it’s a sizeable operation. This at a time when hundreds of jobs were cut – the Senate was told last week that since 1 July 2014, 939 ABC employees had been made redundant.

The lifestyle site hasn’t gone live yet but the team did share a video with staff to give them a taste of what they’ve been up to: pickling carrots and cucumbers.

“One of the ways the team plans to engage new audiences is to give them new ways to use food, which traditionally may have been seen as complicated or time consuming. This video sits alongside other digital content about pickling, such as how it can help reduce food waste and the health benefits (and risks) of pickling.

“ABC Life believes that Australians deserve informative and engaging content about things that matter to their lives (things like food) that is independent, and not about driving brand awareness of food companies or supermarket chains.”

No one is arguing the ABC can’t do lifestyle content, after all Gardening Australia on TV and Life Matters on Radio National are classic ABC fare. But as the government continues to slash the ABC budget and resources are diverted into digital programming, priorities come into sharp focus. The question for ABC management to consider is whether it is wise to axe 22 newsroom jobs, cut The World Today and PM in half and take Australian Story off-air for eight weeks to make pickling videos, among other lifestyle content.

Milne steps up

It took a while but the ABC chairman, Justin Milne, finally went public in defence of the ABC, which has been under sustained attack from the Coalition, Pauline Hanson and News Corp.

“Australians should not be fooled by the current battle being waged against public broadcasting,” Milne wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald on Wednesday. “Fringe political interests, populists and commercial media all have a shared interest in weakening the ABC and confining it to market failure activities.”

The article came five days after Crikey’s Bernard Keane asked “where is Justin Milne?” in the face of unrelenting attacks on Emma Alberici and others.

ABC Chair Justin Milne on the battle against public broadcasting and why the ABC remains one of Australia's most trusted public institutions.https://t.co/sLkS6HHDJ2

— ABC Communications (@ABCMediaComms) May 30, 2018

WIN-win for Sky

There was big news this week from Sky News, which struck a deal with the regional TV broadcaster WIN to broadcast the pay TV channel on free-to-air television, in the form of a mix of live TV and program highlights. They were a little over the top claiming viewers would be able to “watch a dedicated 24/7 news channel on a free-to-air network for the first time” as the ABC News channel got there first.

"Television viewers will soon be able to watch a dedicated 24/7 news channel on a free-to-air network for the first time..."

ABC News 24 launched in July 2010. pic.twitter.com/0C3kMEqmQ3

— Matthew Doran (@MattDoran91) May 27, 2018

In return, Sky will have access to WIN’s regional news operation and a chance to promote a Foxtel subscription to a wider audience.

But we couldn’t help wondering how those rightwing presenters who populate the evening shifts at Sky will fare under the restrictions of free-to-air TV. While you can say pretty much what you like on pay TV, broadcasters have to abide by the commercial TV industry code of practice when presenting news.

The code has strict rules for impartiality, accuracy and fairness, presenting factual material accurately and ensuring “viewpoints included in the program are not misrepresented”. We can’t wait to see how Andrew Bolt, Peta Credlin and Paul Murray fare under those rules.

Still on Sky, presenter Samantha Maiden remains on ice following complaints about her office behaviour. Public support from Laurie Oakes and Annabel Crabb does not appear to have changed the situation. Now the Queensland double act of former premiers Peter Beattie and Campbell Newman has been spiked. Beattie and Newman had a show on Monday nights on Sky, until Beattie pulled the plug due to the stress of his day job.

“Beattie and Newman has ceased production following a request by Mr Beattie to reduce his hours at Sky News due a heavy schedule of other commitments,” a spokeswoman told Weekly Beast. Beattie has been under pressure to quit because of his role as NRL commissioner. Newman told Weekly Beast he remained a busy guest of other Sky shows, including Paul Murray Live, Outsiders, Bolt and Credlin. In case there weren’t enough ex-pollies on Sky, the former Northern Territory chief minister Adam Giles is now fronting a one-hour Sunday night discussion show.

Quill complaint

At its meeting this week the board of the Melbourne Press Club discussed criticism from News Corp about the Quill awards, which saw a combined team from Fairfax Media and the ABC win the coveted Gold Quill. The joint multi-platform entry had many authors: the Age’s Nick McKenzie, Richard Baker and Daniel Flitton, the Herald’s James Massola and Philip Dorling, and the ABC’s Chris Uhlmann and Sashka Koloff. For the managing director of editorial for News Corp’s Victoria-based ­Herald and Weekly Times, Peter Blunden, this was “totally inappropriate”.

“I don’t think it is right that the MPC should allow two organisations to combine their resources – one of them using taxpayer funding to commercially benefit the other – and to put their ­combined work up for awards,” he told the Australian.

“Our journalists have every right to feel that they don’t have to beat one other competitor – they have to beat two. I think it sends the wrong cultural signals … I want our journalists to be focused on producing the very best work they can for Australia’s top-selling newspaper, not worrying about what they can do for the ABC. That’s not a good culture; it’s not the culture I want.”

The chief executive of the MPC, Mark Baker, told Weekly Beast a board sub-committee would consider Blunden’s concerns along with a number of other proposals relating to the management of the Quill Awards for Excellence in Victorian Journalism and report back later in the year.

Fairfax’s dud deal

Chris Janz, the managing director of Fairfax Media’s Metro Publishing division, had some good and some bad news for staff in his latest missive. While trying to convince them to accept a significantly downgraded employment deal, he told them they had “the best pay scale in the industry: a grade five Metro journalist earns 40% more than the equivalent industry award grade”. Janz, a digital native, also said the huge wave of Fairfax redundancies was over: “We are pleased to have moved out of the cycle of sweeping voluntary redundancy rounds.”

The bad news: “In just six years, newspaper industry revenue has fallen from almost a quarter of the Australian advertising pie to just 8%.”

‘Newsworthy’ again

The disappearance of two opinion pieces on Palestine from Fairfax this month may well be a stuff-up rather than a conspiracy, but the writers remain disappointed and perplexed. Israeli sociologist Na’ama Carlin and her friend, Palestinian academic Lana Tatour, were commissioned by the Age to write companion pieces for Nakba Day . But a few days prior to publication the pieces were pulled because they were “not newsworthy enough”, the Age told the women. Carlin told Weekly Beast she did not accept that excuse as they were very timely pieces.

Then without warning they were published online where they remained for about 15 hours until an editor spiked them both. Fairfax editors maintain they were published online accidentally due to a technical glitch.

I'm in the @smh I guess? https://t.co/7xrdBBN7Qp

— na'ama נעמה (@derridalicious) May 19, 2018

A Fairfax Media spokesperson said: “Decisions were made in the normal course of the editing process to hold the stories and run other news content. The stories were unintentionally published online for a brief time. The stories may still get a run at some stage depending on news events.”

Unhappy returns?

After a break of a couple of years, SBS is bringing back Go Back to Where you Came From, with a significant twist. The show, produced by CJZ, is going to be a live version. With scheduled television under pressure from Netflix and other streaming services, the programs that attract bigger audiences are live events. Think sport, Stargazing and reality TV like The Voice. So CJZ producer Michael Cordell told Weekly Beast he had accepted the huge challenge of taking 50 Australians with “strong views on immigration and asylum seekers” to war-torn countries in a live broadcast. Can’t wait to see how that one works out.

Contributor

Amanda Meade

The GuardianTramp

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