ABC boss flags move to outsourcing, defends independence and derides ‘clickbait’

Mark Scott Source: @creativeindust Twitter.

Mark Scott Source: @creativeindust Twitter.

The head of the ABC has this morning given a fiery speech in which he defended the public broadcaster against increasing government interference and demands for it to look at options for greater commercialisation.

Speaking in Brisbane at the QUT Faculty for Creative Industries, Mark Scott told the audience the budget cuts handed to the broadcaster this year will lead to more outsourcing, but also defended the independence of the broadcaster.

He said: “We face the immediate future knowing that funding cuts are coming, but their size has not yet been determined. At the ABC we must develop cost-effective and audience-focussed solutions to both these challenges: the renewal of a media organisation in light of pressures created by technology, audiences, markets—and the reduction in funding.”

Scott also signalled that the public broadcaster would resist growing attempts to influence decision making and editorial line from outside forces. “As the ABC Act demands—the ABC Board, not Government—will finally control the ABC’s decision-making and destiny,” he said. “Yet, the final shape and detail of our response to these challenges will inevitably be influenced by Canberra.”

The strong statement of by the managing director comes at a time when the Federal Government appears to be attempting to influence the direction of the broadcaster. Last month the government appointed right wing culture warriors Janet Albretchsen and Neil Brown to the selection panel for ABC board members, with Brown on the record as having called for the sale of the ABC.

The ABC boss also spoke about the recent Lewis report examining backroom efficiencies and argued that the document should not be seen as a “prescriptive list” of cuts to make at both the ABC and SBS.

“Contrary to perceptions in some quarters, Lewis is not designed to be, nor has it been accepted by the ABC, as a prescriptive list of ways to cut spending within the Corporation. Nor is it designed to put a figure on what the national broadcasters need to save,” he said.

“Lewis has simply pointed out what the ABC has always understood—the fact that we have always done things one way doesn’t mean we have to keep doing them the same way. With an eye on efficiency, with a need to reinvest—and with the reality of reduced resources—difficult choices must be made.”

Scott then went on to argue it is not the role of the public broadcaster to “maximise online traffic” or chase “clickbait”.

“The ABC represents a continuing public commitment to programming that informs, educates and entertains, that tells Australian stories, and which increasingly opens up our airwaves and our websites to the voices in our community and the views of our audiences,” argued Scott.

“And all without having to make a profit, boost the share price or exceed  market expectations. All because we are for Australians—for the citizens of the nation. We aren’t  seeking those who want to purchase products, so we can attract advertisers.”

“We are not about maximising online traffic or dreaming up clickbait to drive profitability.”

The ABC saw $35m in cuts earlier this year along with the slashing of $223m Australia Network contracts and Scott signalled that in the face of further cuts the broadcaster would need to look at greater outsourcing and cooperation with multicultural broadcaster SBS.

“There is a strong argument that in an era of scarce funding, the default position should be that unless there is a compelling financial —or importantly, editorial—reason for an activity to remain in-house, or unless it relates to an
area of core competence for the ABC, outsourcing must be looked at,” he said.

“We’re reviewing support activities like property and IT, procurement, HR and finance activities in a robust fashion. Are there activities that we can drop,  automate, do differently? We are working with SBS to see if, by working more  closely together, we can make backroom savings, while remaining  independent editorially.”

Nic Christensen 


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