Flat White

ABC frontliners drowning in their own sycophancy

30 August 2021

6:12 PM

30 August 2021

6:12 PM

Just how stupid do ABC marketers and presenters believe their audience actually is? On the evidence, the answer is very.

The trend this year of self-styled ‘celebrity’ presenters from Virginia Trioli to Annabel Crabb offering weekly online wraps for their adoring fans is really just another form of advertising. It’s tawdry, unwelcome, insulting and succeeds in diminishing the journalists along with the national broadcaster itself.

For an organisation which claims to be implacably opposed to advertising — which is prohibited under its Charter — ABC radio and especially television sure does a lot of it, particularly of the self-promotion hybrid.

Those smart young ABC marketing communication grads (known affectionately as ‘marcomms staff) apparently see merit in repetition as a vehicle for reputation enhancement. 

The idea is simple (about as simple as the proponents of the idea). Tell the audience what you want them to know, then tell them again and then tell them a third time what you have already told them.  All forms of pernicious institutional propaganda follow this time-honoured practice. Demand attention, up the volume and repeat what has already been said and then do it again for good measure.

Not content with her ‘starring’ role on the overtly stilted Q&A weekly talk show, Trioli now wishes to regale the ABC audience with her reflections on the show with a weekly summary on the marvellous insights uniquely available on Q&A, courtesy of Ms Trioli.

Are we going to die?  This question from a seven-year-old who happened, conveniently, to be in the vicinity of a microphone on last week’s Q&A program.

On goes Trioli, “you only ever try to bullshit a kid once. After that, you experience their directness, blunt questioning and reasoning as a tonic: it becomes something you crave as you return home from a working world of jargon, cant, spin and weasel words. It’s a relief.”

You can say that again, Virginia. Jargon, cant, spin and weasel words have become the staple diet of ABC presenters and increasingly, it turns out, of ABC management. The echo chamber of the ABC is in fine working shape – mainly because ABC folk are far too busy talking to actually listen.  They don’t hear what we hear.

Trioli concludes; ”each time a younger person related their experiences, asked a question, threw out a challenge, the frustration, fear, stress and sometimes outright anger could be heard sizzling beneath their words.  I imagine it must have been heart-stopping for some parents around the country to realise they’ve been feeling ignored for this long.”

The obvious, eye-glazing, brain-numbing point being made is that had it not been for Trioli’s genius and the magical artifice of Q&A the nation would be none the wiser on the pandemic-related anxieties of young people.

Crabb also went with the kiddies theme in her weekly wrap — imaginatively titled ABC Politics with Annabel Crabb. As always with Crabb’s ‘arm chair’ observations, this one was saturated with cynicism and frequently barely conceal direct attacks on people who actually do things. You know, people in high-risk positions of responsibility frequently of a life and death nature.

So little respect for their own audience do people like Trioli and Crabb apparently have they see nothing amiss in spoon-feeding their devoted fans with program ‘explainers’ of what their contributions (and sometimes other presenters too) were actually bringing to the national stage. Crabb’s online offering is peppered with interweaving links to the astounding work of other ABC presenters. Nothing wrong with cross-promotion by Annabel.

While on the subject of respect, Leigh Sales lack of respect for the 7.30 audience was centre-stage last week in her ‘interview‘ with NSW Premier, Gladys Berejiklian on the management of the pandemic. In airborne zealotry mode, Sales ploughed on with her list of pre-prepared questions frequently cutting across the individual she’d invited on to the program. So used is she to saying “sorry to interrupt,” Sales managed to say this even on the one occasion she hadn’t interrupted the Premier. In the end, it was Premier 10, Sales 0. This stuff is not journalism and it’s not worthy broadcasting.  

It’s widely accepted now that the ABC’s policies in relation to on-air advertising, promotion, cross-promotion and social media usage are a shambles. ABC Managing Director, David Anderson makes ABC policy on the run (as he did recently with regard to staff usage of Twitter and other social media platforms).  

Victorian Senator Sarah Henderson, along with many other prominent and less prominent people hopeful of seeing a more professional ABC, have repeatedly highlighted how ambiguous, contorted and frankly idiotic existing policies are. This is especially true for social media usage by ABC journalists and presenters. If the policy directives aren’t clear – why should anyone follow them?

Anderson seems to wish long-suffering ABC audiences to accept that the, at times, highly politically partisan online views expressed by his journalists and presenters are divisible from their supposedly impartial views expressed when actually doing their jobs. Can anyone explain how this can work in practice?

So comprehensively useless are the current ABC management determinations regarding promotion, blatant self-promotion and ‘look at me’ tweets that staff simply make it up as they go. If the practices are brought to Anderson’s attention he will occasionally wander into the space with some flimsy, ambiguous edict making it appear as though some mitigating actions have been made. In truth, the impression beyond the ABC is that no one in management could care less about this stuff.

The online weekly propaganda of journalists, Trioli and Crabb, is a form of toadying which is especially repellent to longtime consumers of ABC radio and television programming — which once warranted the attention and respect of audiences.

Everyone with an interest in these matters, and with a genuine wish to see our country produce public broadcasting worth consuming, is well aware that the editorial departments of television in particular shows such as 7.30 and Four Corners are laws unto themselves.

The large numbers of people employed upfront and behind the scenes of these shows are impervious to criticism. They know, as was evidenced earlier in August, that if programming or content matters are litigated and end up in court, the taxpayer will paying the penalties. In other words, the ‘let it rip’ mentality at the broadcaster is free of consequence for producers, presenters and management.

So lacking in confidence in the editorial oversight of the ABC, audience members, along with the millions of taxpayers who never tune to the ABC, have every right to ask whether David Anderson remains suitable for the high paid job he currently occupies.

Anderson started with the broadcaster on 6 May 2019.  His term is due to conclude on 6 March 2024.

There are many asking whether the opaque ABC governance processes (with their inherent ambiguities) the overtly offensive behaviour of certain presenters (in the name of ‘tough’ journalism) and the out of control promotional and cross-promotional activities of various presenters, make the time right for leadership change perhaps a little closer to 2021.

John Simpson is a former ABC reporter and presenter

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