ABC veteren broadcasters express “profound concern” over restructure

A letter has been sent to the ABC Board objecting to the management restructure within the ABC’s Radio Division, reported earlier here on radioinfo.

The letter states “…the restructure will see an effective management merger between the ABC’s five radio networks Radio National, Classic FM, Triple J, News Radio and local radio”.
It’s signed by veteran broadcasters including Fran Kelly, Margaret Throsby and Robyn Williams expressing “profound concern” over the proposed restructure.
“We ask the board to pause on this and not approve anything until there has been further consideration and the new MD has had a chance to get into her stride.”
They are referring to Michelle Guthrie who is replacing Mark Scott.
At the time of her appointment as managing director, which take effect in May, the former Google Executive declined to rule out advertising on the ABC saying “…she would look at all options to raise money”.
The letter to Chairman Jim Spigelman says, “Given what we have been told about the state of the ABC budget, we find it difficult to believe that an expensive new structure will do anything but leach more money away from content-making and the very audiences we seek to serve”.

5 April 2106
Dear Chairman and other members of the ABC Board,
We are writing to express profound concern about the recently announced restructure of ABC Radio and wish to draw the Board’s attention to what we think could be serious consequences.  We hope you will value the opportunity to discuss the finer detail.  We would appreciate doing so.  In the meantime, for the purposes of this letter, we have attached our main points.
It is worth saying that one of the problems we as program-makers face in raising our voices is trying to minimise what Robert Hughes called “the Culture of Complaint”.  On a daily basis, the reality is that we are too busy and too proud to bang on about the effort required to produce strong multiplatform content as resources disappear.  But if truth were told, most outsiders would find the situation quite shocking.
Given budget pressures, it is thus surprising and worrying to see a new structure for ABC Radio that will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to implement and place yet another layer of management between content makers and the Director of Radio.  The more surprising in a week when Mark Scott told Media Watch that many more content-making jobs will go if funding cannot be found. The situation is grim.  If there is enough money in the system for new roles, our concern is that the need is for: a) more young bright people to prepare for new challenges and b) staff in the regions and the smaller capital cities beyond Ultimo and Southbank.
You may have been told that staff and content makers are change-resistant but this is not so.  We have moved with the times and continue to do so. We were the first to press for podcasting and on-line program availability and have adopted as standard delivery text-based online content.  The way we operate is agile and efficient but we are not happy with changes which divert resources upwards, away from frontline content-making into what can only be seen as a top-heavy management structure.  The results of the recent staff survey have brought to the fore that staff are seriously demoralised by the focus on increased layers of management rather than putting funds into strengthening content areas. The splendid ABC TV/Working Dog series UTOPIA is a warning to us all that preposterously named executives with cosmic responsibilities gobble up goodwill as well as resources. It is an experiment, in the tough broadcasting world in Australia, the ABC cannot afford.
We hope to have the opportunity to discuss these concerns with you further.
Anita Barraud LAW                                         
Wendy Carlisle EP BB
Damien Carrick LAW
Maureen Cooney MUSIC
Stan Correy A/EP LNL
Geraldine Doogue Sat.Extra
Andrew Ford MUSIC
Jane Jeffes RELIGION
Penny Lomax MUSIC
Gretchen Miller ARTS
Linda Mottram EP Breakfast
Kate Macdonald EP SE
Amanda Smith RN Vic
Norman Swan SCIENCE
Claudia Taranto ARTS
Margaret Throsby CLASSIC FM
Robyn Williams SCIENCE
• There has never been a time in the ABC’s history when content and audiences have not been ‘king’, whether or not the organisation itself has recognised that. 
• The current environment is different in the plurality of outlets and opportunities, which it has to be said the ABC has exploited well to engage existing and new audiences in new ways.  But it is important that the Board does not confuse the ‘revenue crisis’ in the free to air commercial sector with our challenges as a public broadcaster. 
• If we believe that content is king then we must structure and fund the organisation accordingly.  We feel the restructure will fail to do this.
• The new structure makes little sense in terms of content management and adds management layers when we should be pruning them to create flexibility and entrepreneurial opportunities, greater agility and efficiency. There has already been an increase in management positions recently.
• It is not at all clear what problem is trying to be solved. 
• There is little evidence that our existing outlets are dying and indeed they have done a pretty good job at developing new outlets, techniques and styles.
• For years to come, our free-to-air traditional outlets will continue to be powerhouses to attract and keep audiences, whether delivered via analogue or digitally.  The new structure significantly takes the ‘eye off the ball’ on network management especially when it comes to the National Networks but potentially across the Division.
• Given what we have been told about the state of the ABC budget, we find it difficult to believe that an expensive new structure will do anything but leech more money away from content-making and the very audiences we seek to serve.
• We are sure the Board is proud of the ABC’s digital and online development but when you talk to those running those outlets, they complain bitterly of money being squandered within their own areas which could be used to strengthen platforms and audience- and agenda-focussed content production and benefit audiences in traditional and online spaces.
• Networks continue to be seen as hollow logs by senior management for money to be redirected to other areas. This misses the point that we are the content producers.  This new structure is not at all reassuring that those designing it have understood this.
• Good content does not come cheaply, which is not to deny that efficiency is essential.  Having an inefficient management structure will flow down to content making.  The Board must be sure strategically that as much taxpayers’ money as possible is being put at the front line with as parsimonious a management structure as possible.
• And finally, we find it breathtaking that senior management announces such a restructure before the new Managing Director has commenced.
We ask the Board to pause on this and not approve anything until there has been further consideration and the new MD has had a chance to get into her stride.

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