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The Forum > Article Comments > A better process, but what about the product? > Comments

A better process, but what about the product? : Comments

By Darce Cassidy, published 8/4/2009

The selection process for ABC directors has improved, but is it enough?

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Opponents of the proposed licensing agreement between the ABC and Telstra proposed by Brian Johns enjoy peddling selective facts distorted by memory. It was never a sale of the ABC, or a closet commercialisation of the national broadcaster, it was simply an attempt to replicate the licensing of television drama that had been happening for decades into the online environment. For years the ABC had paid the BBC millions of dollars to license its programs, Johns wanted the ABC to be able to generate revenue, and secondary audiences, by licensing some of its content for reuse at a fee. Johns realised that companies providing what, in those days, were called 'pipes' didn't want to pay for content. The proposed arrangement turned this accepted wisdom on its head. It would have given the ABC a revenue stream for content it had already published. It was to be a reuse agreement.

At a time when newspapers are going out of business every day because they can't get income for content that is freely available online this thinking and the proposal agreement was ahead of its time. Media organisations all around the world are now exploring such licensing agreements with internet providers., The horse has already bolted. What the proposed Telstra-ABC deal did was to put a value on the reuse of journalism commissioned and originally produced and presented by the ABC. Once that was explained to the Senate Committee it endorsed the proposal.

Had it gone ahead the ABC would have had significantly more revenue with which to produce even more content and even deeper online experience a decade on. Many still working at the ABC regard Shier's greedy rejection of the licensing arrangement as little short of a tragedy.

Ken Inglis in Whose ABC? (Scribe), brought a sceptical eye to the proposal and described it neutrally - p 461 :
'Brian Johns took to the board in that last month an initiative which he believed as significant as any in his whole five years.
Posted by boyd23, Wednesday, 8 April 2009 1:06:14 PM
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Before he went Johns hoped to seal an agreement with the telecommunications carrier Telstra which would enable the ABC to benefit from its new presensce on the internet without any of the dangers the board had found inherent in Michael Kroger's plan for partial sale of ABC Online. Since mid-1999 a team of executives had been negotiating for an arrangement by which Telstra would be licensed to take material from ABC Online. Licenses granted to Yahoo, AOL and other companies for use of matieral from ABC Online were already yielding modest returns. Telstra was keen to strengthen and diversify its own offerings, at a time when investors all over the world were being persuaded that the future lay with 'media convergence'. In Australia, so it seemed to executives of the ABC and Telstra, both parties could benefit by a an arrangement which licensed Telstra to send material from ABC Online to the computers of its subscribers. Telstra could expect to attract more customers. The ABC would gain a vastly enlarged audience without having to spend the money otherwise required to enhance its own website.
'Subject to board approval, wrote Johns in a paper for its meeting on 2 February [2000], the ABC had negotiated a landmark deal. Telstra would be licensed to use specificied content of ABC Online for five years. The licensing arrangement would not exclude supplying the service to other providers. The ABC would retain entire editorial control of all content. Telstra would pay the ABC $13.5 million a year for five years. After a lively debate nearly all directors approved. The one chosen by staff, Kirsten Garrett, was not convinced that reliance on a commercial source of revenue was compatible with the chartered indepence of the ABC. The board deferred a decision and some opponent of the plan leaked its deliberations to the papers. Stephen Smnith, Labor's shadow minister for communications, said that the deal would be an act of commercialisation compromising the national broadcaster's independence, provoked by a government which was starving the ABC of funds. The plan would be scrutinised by two Senate committees.....'
Posted by boyd23, Wednesday, 8 April 2009 1:07:04 PM
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A bit late here, but, Boyd 23's comments, on top of the article itself, really adds exponentially to my concerns, especially given the deplorable state ofpublic broadcasting at this time.
Boyd 23 put his finger on it when (s)he conceded in the second post that the a public broadcasting organisation should be beholden to No out side influence ( lest the unique didactic emphasis is compromised ).
We must, must, MUST get back to the adequate funding of public broadcasting through government revenues alone. The ABC and SBS are not luxuries; they are necessities. Commercial sponsorship does not remain separate from editorial content and programming, as some dishonestly claim. That much has become clear over the last five years: the whole thrust of public broadcasting is captured and turned by the need for compliance to vested interests, due to the new dependence on self-generated revenues thru advertising and promotions seeping thru to mode of presentation and deterioration in content, to dumb down for an audience tuned to the commercial/presentational imperatives of sponsors and marketers.
Posted by paul walter, Wednesday, 22 April 2009 11:51:04 PM
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