Without question, the worst response by a business or organisation facing declining support is to engage in fraud. Followed by a (possibly unconscious) decision to throw the switch to denial.
In recent weeks, both News Corp and Nine newspapers have been reporting the decline in ABC ratings, particularly with respect to radio. This followed the release of GfK’s latest survey on metropolitan and major regional radio stations. A few examples illustrate the point.
In Sydney, ABC Mornings on 702 (hosted by Sarah Macdonald) has lost 37,000 listeners in one year. In Melbourne, the comparable figure on 774 (usually hosted by Virginia Trioli, currently Ali Moore) is 99,000. Meanwhile, the ABC Radio National Breakfast program presented by Patricia Karvelas is also losing listeners at a rapid rate.
Such ABC stars as Sammy J (Melbourne) and James Valentine (Sydney) are also experiencing an embarrassing decline in audience share. Meanwhile, 2GB in Sydney and 3AW in Melbourne are doing relatively well.
What to do? Well, in a commercial organisation management would be expected to identify the problem and seek to remedy it. Including by considering the performance of presenters and producers alike. However, this has not been the response of ABC management or the high-profile ABC supporters.
In Nine newspapers last Monday, Zoe Samios quoted anonymous ABC sources as saying ABC management has commissioned an eight-week project aimed at looking at ways it can improve local radio ratings and avert the decline in audience share.
Apparently, this group is led by James Millar, the taxpayer-funded public broadcaster’s head of corporate strategy. He is to speak to other radio managers plus presenters and employees across the country. Millar’s review is to be incorporated in the ABC’s five-year plan. Sounds like an extract from a PG Wodehouse novel.
So, according to the Nine report, a senior ABC manager will be seeking advice from ABC employees about why ABC radio is losing listeners. It’s as if it’s someone else’s fault.
Meanwhile in The Australian last Monday, Sophie Elsworth reported that live ABC support groups – ABC Alumni (president Jonathan Holmes) and ABC Friends (president Cassandra Parkinson) – have approached Communications Minister Michelle Rowland.
Both organisations are seeking a substantial increase in ABC funding, which currently runs at over $1bn a year. They have expressed grave concerns the ABC is in danger of becoming less effective unless it is provided with more money.
It would seem that to Holmes and Parkinson, the solution to the ABC’s poor performance in recent times, reflected in its audience decline, is to give the public broadcaster more taxpayer money.
According to Elsworth’s report, ABC Alumni and ABC Friends understand Australia’s debt is high and calls on the public purse are many. But they want more taxpayer-funded handouts all the same.
Holmes, who moved from the BBC to take up key roles on such programs as Four Corners and Media Watch, would be well advised to check his own past writings before suggesting to senior Albanese government ministers that the ABC is becoming less effective due to lack of adequate funding.
On April 5, 2016, The Age published an article by Holmes titled “ABC radio personalities need to tune out their left-wing bias”. He had just stepped down as Media Watch presenter and been replaced by Paul Barry. Since its commencement in 1989, Media Watch has only had left-of-centre presenters and never a political conservative.
In his article, Holmes dismissed the critique of the ABC, proferred by Andrew Bolt and myself among others, that the ABC lacks political diversity.
However, Holmes did say this about ABC presenters: “It’s … undeniable, as the likes of Bolt and Henderson have complained about for years, that the ABC’s capital presenters come across, overwhelmingly, as leaning more to the left than the right. I say undeniably, but senior ABC managers for decades have chosen, if not to deny it, then to ignore it, and they’ve certainly failed to do anything about it.”
Holmes added: “The leftiness of ABC radio output is doubly problematic when it comes to Radio National … If I were a supporter of Tony Abbott, or even of John Howard, I would feel that the vast bulk of RN’s output was not for me.”
That was written seven years ago. The ABC then was a conservative-free zone without one conservative presenter, producer or editor for any of its prominent television, radio or online outlets. It remains so today. In 2016, Holmes acknowledged the ABC management was in denial about this. It remains so today.
In 2016, Holmes acknowledged many of the ABC’s problems were homegrown. Now he reckons the ABC’s problems will be mitigated only if it can obtain more public funding.
What ABC managers and senior staff, along with such boosters of the broadcaster such as ABC Alumni and ABC Friends, will not concede is that declining ABC ratings are due substantially to the fact it has lost many of its one-time traditional conservative listeners/viewers.
One-time Howard staffer Grahame Morris once described the ABC as our enemies talking to our friends.
Some two decades later, many of the Coalition’s friends have junked the public broadcaster along with some right-of-centre Labor voters. Primarily because the ABC has become increasingly an outlet for the inner-city green left with presenters who oppose both Coalition and Labor governments, but invariably from a left-wing perspective.
Once upon a time, the ABC was an important news source. In this time of social media this is no longer the case. Conservatives have many alternative sources of news and current affairs. Including Sky News, which, by the way, exhibits more political diversity than the public broadcaster.
As the ABC increasingly cancels conservative and other moderate talent, so the conservative listeners/viewers cancel the taxpayer-funded broadcaster. ABC management should not need five-year planners to work this out.