17 October 2006

Not the Mark Scott who robbed his own bank

The recently appointed ABC managing director, Mark Scott (not to be confused with his NZ namesake who robbed his own bank) has effectively conceded that the mostly right of centre critics of the ABC are correct. He has said in a speech to the Sydney Institute

I suspect the truth is that we are by no means as bad as our critics might suggest and not as blameless as our defenders might wish. My focus, however, is on the future and ensuring our performance is better in the future.

He proposes a number of changes, which are summarised in the ABC media release:

1. ABC Editorial Policies now [ or will from March 2007] require the ABC to be able to demonstrate impartiality at the platform level (i.e. the individual television or radio network, or on ABC Online) for opinion, topical and factual content. This means the ABC must provide its audiences a range of different perspectives on the subject under consideration.

2. A new content category called Opinion is being recognised within ABC content for the first time. This is content presented from a particular point of view about a matter of public contention. This content will be signposted and the requirement for impartiality will mean a range of views must be presented over time.

3. A new position, Director of ABC Editorial Polices will be created to report to the Managing Director in his role as Editor-in-Chief to provide independent assessment of editorial performance.

How effective will all this be? This morning on RN's
Breakfast (one of the programs which Scott praised in his paper), Fran Kelly quizzed him about how far the "Opinion" category might extend. Did it cover reviews of films such as An Inconvenient Truth which dealt with "matters of public contention"? Apparently yes. At the Movies will now, it seems, be "signposted". Is this Scottspeak for saying that there will have to be some kind of right of reply to anything which the DABCEP deems contentious or unbalanced? Sometimes circumstances change rapidly so that yesterday's perceived imbalance becomes today's middle of the road position: for example, Mr Howard and some of his ministers have shifted their ground considerably about climate change in the short time since An Inconvenient Truth was released here.

How too, will the "range of different perspectives" be provided? Point 1 implies that entries in online guest books and forums (which many radio and TV programs now have) will not be sufficient as they are on a different "platform". Will the guest books themselves have to reflect this "impartiality". Already these comments are usually moderated: will the ABC have to implement a quota system to ensure this?

Will the changes also encourage critics to whom Scott refers as "those who sound off against the institution but appear never to be reluctant to sound off before an open microphone and receive an endorsed appearance cheque" ? Will the "rigorous, intense and well-mannered discussion " which he asked for at the begining of his Sydney Institute speech be possible in his new world?

Other bloggers have weighed in to the debate Here , here , and here are some with whom I generally concur.

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