Ambivalence About The ABC

The Problem With Aunty

I used to work for the ABC in Gore Hill. I was a lowly TOPO, filling in hours, doing the most menial of audio jobs. I worked long hours, being bullied by producers and directors and editors and sound mixers. I made their coffee, I sat around watching the reels turn in the machine room of the dubbing theatres, I got bullied around by people who were largely contemptuous of the guy at the bottom of the rung. It was the place where I made one vow: that I would never ever mistreat that guy in the back room when I got to be the director. It’s a vow that I have kept.

I ran away to AFTRS as soon as I could. When I got to AFTRS, EH the editing lecturer said bluntly, “You probably have bad habits from having worked there,” without ever actually seeing any of my own work. When I quizzed EH about what she meant, she said she meant that the ABC crew are often given 3 times the schedule to do a job compared to the commercial stations and that this led to a certain lax-ness in how an ex-ABC person approached the work.

It was a preposterous claim.

The people I knew who worked in drama at the ABC worked like demons. They worked around the clock and pursued details like nobody’s business. I didn’t like what they worked on – it all looked like pretentious shite to me, but then again, so did most of the short films we made at AFTRS  – Nonetheless I have to say everybody worked until they dropped. If it took 3 times as long, it was probably because they needed all of that time to make it technically ‘good’. they were all sticklers for correct production procedures and protocol.

Thus, in my estimation from personal experience, I thought EH was being way too harsh about the ABC, even if it were true that I had no talent for editing. In any case, in accordance with her prejudices, EH marked me pretty harshly on my editing assignments, saying really subjective unjustifiable things which I’ve never forgotten. Including: “you have no talent for this.” – Thanks EH, I’ll never forget your instructions. It felt so unfair because all the while I could never escape the suspicion that she was tarring me with same brush she used to tar and feather the ABC of her imagination.

After I graduated AFTRS, I never went back to the ABC. I didn’t see the point of going back to the bottom rung again to be bullied around by those people, after having been bullied around by people who didn’t like those people. I still have very mixed feelings about my time there.

With that I want to link to this article sent in by Pleiades:

One senior ABC executive told me the ABC was unlikely to get into anything like a popular commercial series such as Home and Away in the extra 70 hours of Australian drama.

“Why not,” I asked. “A lot of people might like the ABC’s take on that style of show before the news.” It seems to work for the BBC.

“We’ve been there, done that,” he said. “It was called Bellbird.”

So it was. And wasn’t it great?

In a submission to the 2020 Summit last year, ABC boss Mark Scott outlined his view of the corporation’s digital future as six channels under which ABC1 would be 80 per cent Australian content, ABC2 on 50 per cent local and ABC3 a dedicated children’s channel with at least 50 per cent Australian content.

“In an environment of almost limitless choice and multiple delivery systems, the current reliance on Australian content quotas on analogue channels will be obsolete, and will fail to deliver the cultural outcomes they were designed to achieve,” Mr Scott said.

“Australians will be swamped with foreign content at the same time as fragmentation of audiences and revenue reduces the profitability of high-cost Australian content for the commercial media. “The ABC brand, synonymous with quality Australian content, will be an even more important source of Australian content in this environment, and a key mechanism for achieving cultural policy objectives.

“It will be the means by which Australian audiences can find quality Australian content, and the connection between the creators of Australian content and a mass audience.”

If the Rudd Government meets its election promises, Mr Scott will soon have the opportunity to live up to those words.

His 2020 address gave a brief glimpse of what he had in mind — and Bellbird, or anything like it, doesn’t seem to be in the picture.

What he saw for more drama content was “telemovies, mini-series and longer form drama”. This was explained as “a landmark series of dramas based on the great canon of Australian literature, providing an educational resource as well as content for TV and broadband”.

It’s tough to figure out just where the ABC should position itself. I would prefer to see them be a little more accommodating towards a broader television market without sacrificing their technical superiority. I can’t remember the last time I switched on the ABC to watch one of their dramas, but I watch so little television in general these days.

I still feel ambivalent about the ABC. I’m not a cultural elitist enough to accept its claims to better quality, and I’m not yobbo enough to demand they make reality shows or cop shows. I still feel an affinity with the organisation even though it has been years since I worked there, and yet when I reflect on what that time was like, I really don’t have much positive to show for it. It’s a funny thing that time has not dulled that sense of disappointment.

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