Features Australia

RAP artists of the ABC

14 December 2019

9:00 AM

14 December 2019

9:00 AM

Our household switches on ABC TV at 6pm and checks how long it takes to sight an Aboriginal-identifying Australian. Typically, it’s under three minutes but sometimes one is there as the screen powers up. Australia has about as many Buddhists as Aboriginals, and half as many Hindus. For that matter, we’ve three times as many Chinese Australians as Aboriginals, but no quotas for them on the ABC.

Is it racist to count the ABC’s Aboriginals? Certainly not, because the ABC itself meticulously tallies ‘the perceived numbers of Indigenous characters, guests and presenters in ABC content’. My latest broad figures are for 2017 when more than a hundred Aboriginal-focused programs, perspectives or issues ran ‘across ABC, ABC Comedy, ABC Me, ABC Kids and iview.’

ABC last month signed up for ‘Elevate’, the most stringent of four Reconciliation Action Plans (RAPs) and pledged to tally progress. Its all-powerful Bonner Committee, chaired by Scripted Productions head Sally Riley, a Wiradjuri woman, monitors any backsliding and reports direct to MD David Anderson and over to Reconciliation Australia’s CEO Karen Mundine.

Progress is hard-won. A decade ago the ABC was missing its RAP target for Aboriginal staffing and content and in 2014 it ordered a fix. Bosses in mid-2015 whipped the 7pm ABCTV Bulletin journos into shape. The Sydney hacks boosted content from eight stories (first half 2015) to 50 (second half); Melbourne hacks from 14 to 33; Canberra from ten to 35 and even little Hobart’s bureau discovered 15 Indigenous stories (first half, only nine).

Counting Aboriginality on ABC radio proved challenging even with intros in local languages at Horsham and Orange ‘interspersed and backed by Indigenous music’. The ABC Radio crews gybed at the pressure to run Aboriginal stories and mentions, declining to measure ‘Indigenous participants in content, [because] measuring the total number of Indigenous guests/talent across ABC Radio’s numerous, mostly live outlets is impractical and may be culturally inappropriate.’

ABC News also revolted, ‘noting that relevance to the stories it is covering is the primary determinant of the persons that will be included; its ability to ensure numbers of Indigenous subjects, interviewees and commentators is thus dependent on events.’

Shocked ABC executives had to rediscover this ‘news value’ thingo. As a double shock, their bonuses involved a ‘key performance indicator’ to show ‘a visible and measurable increase in the ethnic diversity of our on-air and off-air creative talent.’

Here’s more from 2015’s RAP report:

– ABC News Online posted 1,525 Indigenous articles (up from 805 in 2014), as well as 141 videos, 232 audio clips and seven photo galleries.

– Nearly 30 Aboriginal writers, 12 directors and seven producers helped put out The Secret River drama series employing ‘70 Indigenous media professionals, including 63 cast members and seven crew.’ (The Secret River is about ‘the murder and displacement of Aboriginal people’ by British settlers, ABC says). Likewise, ABC’s film Spear used 44 Indigenes.

– ABC Radio tracked music by ‘artists that identify as Indigenous’. For music lovers I should do a spreadsheet analysis. Radio National had 1 per cent Aboriginal tracks; local radio 3.6 per cent (well done!) and ‘Triple J Unearthed’ had 1.6 per cent (573 artists and 1,023 tracks).

Six panellists were mobilised for Q&A; Comedy Up Late episodes had an Aboriginal host and talent; and multiple comedians featured in ‘key commentary and content roles’. Three Aboriginal presenters were talking heads at the New Year fireworks; and four starred in the Doctor Blake Mysteries.

‘Their’ ABC’s chair Ita Buttrose and MD David Anderson have endorsed this ‘diversity’ push, which excludes conservatives like Andrew Bolt: ‘Sorry, Andrew, but there are no job offers here,’ she said (13/9/19).

The pair want 3 per cent Aboriginality in content-making, editorial decision-making and management roles, including 3 per cent Indigenes at Executive Level by end-2021. (Alert for Ms Buttrose: also inspect your white-board).

From 2010 the ABC used its RAP to take up the white persons’ burden of ‘cultural awareness training’ for all staff. ‘Training’ sounds Pavlovian to me. The program has run like Rob Sitch’s Utopia comedy, meriting an ABC tut-tut in 2014 of ‘low completion rate [and] too time-consuming and too general to be effective.’ The ABC People battalion did ‘significant work on improved approaches’, hiring IT people to tart things up on-line, but ‘several delays’ halted roll-out till 2016. The task was also disappearing down the cracks between ABC People and state executives. Last month the ABC yet again lamented ‘significant underperformance’ and delivered troops a RAP over the knuckles:

‘The number of staff receiving the training was consistently well below the target of 30 per cent in the first two years of the RAP but met the 30 per cent in the third year. While a variety of factors reduced the number of cultural awareness training sessions, it is clear that cultural awareness training did not receive the same focus, high-level support and coordination as other areas of the RAP. Accordingly, the ABC will make cultural awareness training mandatory for all staff and institute a coordinated online and face-to-face programme in late 2019.’ Lucky ABC staff!

Meanwhile the ABC mandates welcomes to country at all major events, with optional smoking ceremonies. These ancient ceremonies date from a Perth arts festival in 1976 – performers now charge north of $500. In contrast, ABC talent freely mocks Christians, calls conservative politicians ‘c—s’, and on Q&A urges murder and arson.

If you’re wondering how Reconciliation Australia defines ‘Reconciliation’, RA includes fealty to a black arm-band history of wrongs, and partisan support for self-determining treaties and constitutional recognition. By signing on, the ABC seems to forget its impartiality charter, whatever its new RAP waffle about incorporating Aboriginal languages into mainstream Australia.

In 2010 the ABC’s annual report said reconciliation would take ages. A decade later and Ms Buttrose says it’s still going to take ages.

Memo to self: Update her Reconciliation Journey in 2030.

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