The new ABC Chair, Kim Williams AM, has called for a “refreshed purpose” for the ABC to “keep our enlightened, liberal-democratic society strong”. He wants to defend and enhance the ABC, the “most trusted media organisation in our country”. And he wants more investment in the ABC in order to implement his eight-point agenda for improvement.

The ABC Chair gave a strong Redmond Barry Dinner Address at the State Library of Victoria on 19 June and followed it with radio interviews on RN and 774 the next day. He was eloquent and direct about what he saw as the problems besetting the ABC and how to deal with them. And he articulated a vision for the ABC as a place where we come together to share and pursue our common sense of purpose – a national “campfire”:

I want to issue a challenge to all who love the ABC, and to all who have the responsibility for resourcing it, to get behind the renewal of our great national broadcaster. Help us create this new National Campfire.

In his speech the Chair noted the importance of the ABC Charter in clarifying its purpose, and the importance of understanding ABC audiences. He wants to see a well-run organisation with better creative program offerings. He wants the ABC to be open to and responsive to criticism. In particular he wants to see:

  • The ABC become again the most trusted source of news and truth
  • A renewed Radio National
  • An increase in serious television documentaries
  • Expanded drama and comedy production
  • More coverage and coherent programming for the arts
  • Defence and expansion of children’s and educational programming
  • Even better iview streaming and curated podcasts, and
  • A revitalised ABC as a respected agent of soft power diplomacy and programming in our region.

Having laid out his agenda, the Chair called for the ABC to be accountable and honest about underperformance. And he called for greater investment:

Such an investment will repay itself over and over again. I am confident that we at the ABC can make the case for it.

Read the address (pdf)

The next day the Chair expanded on some of his views in live (friendly) interviews on RN and 774. While the Nine newspapers praised the speech, commentators on News Ltd and 3AW canned it, particularly the request for more investment. But the speech has been widely welcomed, and is a major step forward for the ABC. A few days later the Saturday Paper editorial noted that “it is almost thrilling to hear a chair defend the ABC so clearly”.

A telling moment in the RN interview was when Kim Williams, questioned about some of the criticism, noted that News Corp was “almost unhinged in its lack of fairness and perspective”. Many ABC friends would agree with that – see Marcus May’s piece on Murdoch, also in this newsletter.

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