The Australian’s fundamental misunderstanding: Mark Scott

Launching a new book on journalism, ABC Managing Director Mark Scott took the chance to address criticism from The Australian newspaper about what it calls the ABC’s “singular world view,” and to throw a few barbs of his own towards the Murdoch newspaper along the way. He began by joking that three things have happened since he agreed to launch Matthew Ricketson’s new book Australian Journalism Today.



Firstly, it appears that virtually every author of a chapter in this book has been attacked in one way or another in recent weeks by The Australian.

Secondly, the ABC itself has suffered a further tickle up from Rupert Murdoch’s broadsheet, accused of being an epicentre of groupthink.

And finally, we are in the midst of unprecedented speculation about the nature of job cuts and restructuring set to descend on both News Limited and Fairfax, our largest and most significant newspaper organisations.


The Australian recently gave Scott and other leaders at the ABC “several thousand words of free advice on the subject of groupthink.” He used his speech to responded:

I must say it is a little difficult to know where to go with this, being lectured by The Australian about a certain narrowness in editorial perspective and a singularity in worldview. I was reminded of the wonderful American satirical singer and MIT maths professor, Tom Lehrer, who retired from recording in the early 70s. He remarked at the time that awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to Henry Kissinger made political satire obsolete.

I think there is a fundamental misunderstanding at The Australian of the way an organisation like the ABC must operate. I am Editor-in-Chief of the ABC and am finally responsible for all the content that goes online, all that goes to air across five 2

television networks and six radio networks, including 60 local radio stations across the country. And at times, I will talk with our leading content directors about the stories and issues of significance, how we are covering them, angles we might be missing. And we will discuss our performance and the quality of our work.

At The Australian, they seem to think I should operate in the same way as their own Editor-in-Chief. I have no doubt that at The Australian, the senior editorial team run a tight news conference, with a clear editorial line emerging about the stories they will be pursuing, the people they are supporting, the agendas they are setting, the philosophy they are advancing. The paper executes accordingly, making Mitchell, without doubt and for a long period of time, the most personally dominant editorial executive working in the country.

The ABC is not like that. We are not a single masthead like The Australian. In fact I think the ABC is more like a large chain of newspapers or separate editorial products, though not seeking to deliver for profit or shareholder return, but for the public good. We have clear policies and guidelines, clear expectations about standards and levels of performance, but finally we entrust our journalistic teams to execute. We do not have a point of view or take an editorial stance. More than ever, I think we can demonstrate a wide range of perspectives, forums for vigorous debate and a culture that can deliver for our audiences – from the fastest, most accurate tweet, to the finest and most vigorous investigative reporting. 


The ABC delivers balance, diversity and impartiality, the full range of voices and perspectives as set out in our new Editorial Policies and says “Australians regard the ABC as Australia’s most trusted media organisation for news and information. By a long stretch… I think our team is doing very well.” 



Turning to the topic of the newspaper industry he said, people who work inside and have full insight into the performance of the mastheads speak with a genuine shock and fear about what the numbers are now telling them about the precarious print business model.”


Newspapers are not the only industry facing tough times though, according to Scott, who said “more tough decisions” about money are also ahead for the ABC.

“We have limited funds and new demands. It would be easier not to cut programs, nor create new ones; easier not to reallocate priorities and re-examine the way we work. But we must to ensure we deliver the very best service we can to audiences today. We must focus on what we do best and what is best for the people who own us, fund us and use us.”


He particularly highlighted the increasing cost of delivering streaming services. “It is a storm driven by increased audience demand: educated consumers, with smarter devices, cheaper broadband with much higher caps – and a desire to watch right now. But delivering services this way is exactly what we must do to be relevant and compelling to our audiences.”


But despite the dramatic changes being faced by all media, Scott has a positive view of journalism’s future:

“There has never been a larger and more accessible audience for news and information. More than ever, people want to be informed and know what is going on. And as you look around the world and across our own country, the stories have never seemed to be bigger or of more significance to our lives.

And as new forms emerge, new ways of connecting and communicating with audiences, like Twitter – which is a personalised wire service and news agency for everyone – the demand and importance of old forms continue…

And whilst print is clearly challenged, text is not. People are reading more than ever, in vast numbers. And not just short tweets: detailed analysis, commentary, investigation and reporting. A Quarterly Essay can shake the Prime Ministership.

Of course, we can ask where the jobs will be – but the reality is that journalism was never the easiest profession to get into…

But now of course, with the right energy and ideas, there are so many more platforms where you can tell your stories, reveal your ideas and showcase your talent: where you can try to connect with and grow an audience… the most energetic, the most creative, those who work the hardest will find a way and that journalism will be a marvellous journey.”  


Matthew Ricketson’s new book is available at the link below. It is published by Pan McMillan.