This morning I went through the news on various sites as I usually do, when I happened across a Sydney Morning Herald header that caught my attention. The headline was ‘The ABC has flab to cut’ and it was written by Louise Evans. It starts off with “Good luck trying to change anything around here, there are too many lifers.” Ms Evans continues that this was the advice given to her when she started as manager of ABC’s Radio National (RN) in April 2013. Please note that the first sentence is the only one that has any quotation marks by Ms Evans, I’m assuming that the rest is paraphrased from Ms Evan’ initial advice and will bold the text for ease of reading. The next paragraph details Ms Evans experience as a journalist, foreign correspondent, editor and managing editor at media companies that included the Australian Associated Press, Fairfax and News Corp over the last twenty years. Ms Evans goes on to make claims that after working at lean, efficient and editorially robust media companies it came as a shock for her to see the culture, waste, duplication and lax workplace practices exercised in some pockets of Radio National. And that I was even more shocked by the failure of the executive to want to do anything about it.
The person who gave Ms Evans the “lifer” advice is referred to as “one insider pointed out” and that they told her that one of the problems was a pocket of predominantly middle-aged, Anglo-Saxon staff who had never worked anywhere other than the ABC, who were impervious to change, unaccountable, untouchable and who harboured a deep sense of entitlement. Furthermore that they also, didn’t have a 9-5 mentality. They had a 10-3 mentality. They planned their work day around their afternoon yoga class. They wore thongs and shorts to work, occasionally had a snooze on the couch after lunch and popped out to Paddy’s Market to buy fresh produce for dinner before going home. They were like free-range chickens, wandering around at will, pecking at this and that, content that laying one egg constituted a hard day’s work. It also infers that the “lifers” knew that they couldn’t be sacked or officially sanctioned because the executive didn’t want to make waves, take on the union or make a case for any more redundancies.
Next is a couple of sentences on the RN budget that touches on more “shock” and the wages of 150 people being tied up in it. I’m guessing 150 is considered a large number to her because there is no other detail as to why it’s a bad thing. There was precious little budget to do anything new or innovative and you couldn’t turn any program off, no matter how high its costs and how poor its audience share and reach. Again light on detail but she clearly believes there is no innovation and that she doesn’t think that RN understands programming that turns a profit. The media industry was actually surprised by Ms Evans appointment last year, as she had plenty of experience in print journalism and commercial media but not radio and public broadcasting. Six months later there was another surprise for the industry when former ABC’s Director of Radio Kate Dundas announced “I am writing to let you know that Louise Evans has decided she does not wish to continue in the Manager role at Radio National.” “While Louise has emphasised to me how much she has enjoyed her time with RN to date, the Manager’s role has not turned out to be one she wants to continue with over time. As such we both think it’s best for Louise to step aside now.” ABC insiders at the time said that she had not found her home in the bureaucratic, resource-limited world of RN. An ABC insider also said: “There was much more upward referral in the ABC than she was used to.”
Ms Evans also complained of “archaic systems” and “blatant waste”, citing taxi dockets being left in unlocked drawers for the taking and “elephantine” leave accrual as well as them not knowing what “constitutes work.” Allegedly attempts by herself to tighten taxi use and leave, the norm in the corporate world, were frowned upon by the ABC executive and actively discouraged as “not the main game”. Programming and content generation was another “shock”, with other media organisations living and dying by their ratings, circulation and readership figures, but some ABC programmers according to Ms Evans, consider ratings irrelevant. Some producers also allegedly strongly resisted editorial oversight and locked in segments lacking relevance.
The ABC can be “leaner” and remain editorially strong and independent as ABC’s NewsRadio proves, says Ms Evans. Note the introduction of “leaner”, which is one half of American media tycoon Rupert Murdoch’s and the current federal Abbott governments favoured term at the moment – “lifters and leaners.” It gets switched to “slackers” if it involves the unemployed or Mr Murdoch’s point of view on “young adults” that aren’t rich. Ms Evans waxes on lyrically that the winds of change that have swept through media companies around the world can reinvigorate our ABC. And that’s why these ABC budget cuts announced by Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull are not just necessary but vital to the ongoing health of the corporation. Pockets of the ABC have been allowed to get too fat, flabby, wasteful and unaccountable. And lastly that the same efficiencies and workplace practices that are the norm in corporate Australia need to be front and centre at the ABC so that it remains a strong, independent voice that is both editorially robust and reflects who we are – a culturally, geographically and socio-economically diverse nation that doesn’t believe anyone is entitled to a job for life at the taxpayer’s expense.
If we look at this article on a whole without much analysis it appears fairly unbiased however the line praising Mr Turnbull and the last line struck me as odd as they sounded familiar. A culturally, geographically and socio-economically diverse nation that doesn’t believe anyone is entitled to a job for life at the taxpayer’s expense. I noted that we had gone from critiquing RN after six months of working there which ended over one year ago to subtly commenting on job entitlements at the “taxpayers expense.” It does mention her past work history at the end of the article as – Louise Evans is a former manager at ABC’s Radio National and former managing editor at The Australian. It is deceptive however as nowhere in the article does it mention how long she was working there for and it gives the air of authority of more time than six months. The current manager Michael Mason, of RN today responded to Ms Evans piece saying that “RN undertook an efficiency review in recent years, which reviewed and reset production benchmarks and we believe it represents an outstanding return on investment. “We are very satisfied with the results and RN staff frequently tell us how we are producing a great deal more content, much more efficiently. One of our most respected presenters Dr Norman Swan recently remarked to me ‘people are unaware of just how much work is being done now with less resources’. And “the drive for efficiency at the ABC has an impact on all divisions and departments, RN included. RN generates an enormous amount of original, agenda setting influential content and staff work as hard in RN as in any part of the ABC. Lastly “we acknowledge some of the views expressed today were the result of a very unhappy period at RN for all involved.”
In conclusion, Ms Evans may have her sights set on working back there again in a position of more control, to steer it in the corporate way that she believes fit. The imagery of “lifers” and Anglo-Saxons going to yoga and wearing thongs to work, complete with the “organic chickens” comment, is only missing the oft mentioned main stream media (MSM) quote of left leaning voters as “latte sippers.” Ms Evans has worked for Mr Murdoch a lot in the past but I find the timing and apparent support for Mr Turnbull likely to be the motive behind this article. We should never accept things at face value, not now especially in the times that we live in. Why be told what to think? That is what this article is doing, “telling you” what to think, there are no links or any evidence to back up her claims just information from an alleged “insider.”