Kim Williams on “unhinged” critics and seeking additional funding

ABC Chair Kim Williams has offered further public comment on the role of ABC, its critics and seeking more government funding.

Hot on the heels of a speech this week, ABC Chair Kim Williams has given an interview in which he described News Corporation’s obsession with the broadcaster as being “unhinged.”

Williams, himself a former News Limited CEO, told Radio National‘s Patricia Karvelas the Murdoch organisation lacked perspective “in actually standing back and looking at all that the ABC does.”

Here is an edited excerpt which begins with his thoughts on ABC’s place when so many people are looking to have their views reinforced by left and right wing media.

KW: I think people need to return to the ABC as, to use popular parlance, a ‘safe place’ where you’ll hear a variety of different points of view. Where you’ll hear the plurality of conversations that exist in Australia and perspectives that exist in Australia, freely exhibited and interrogated. It needs to be a place that is about a vigorous devotion to robust, intellectual interrogation.

PK: You argue that the fragmentation and dislocation over the last decade has altered the personality, chemistry and character of our national debates and sometimes, indeed, in often negative ways. Has the ABC contributed to that?

KW: I think from time to time the ABC is in many ways a reflection of Australia and is a reflection of the personalities of Australia and of many of the patterns that are evident in the community. It’d be an unnatural organisation if it was not reflecting those sorts of patterns. I think we probably need to have greater rigor and discipline, in fact-checking. Fact, checking in live circumstances in programs like this. And I know you’re always very resilient in pushing back when you think something’s incorrect.

PK: Let’s talk about that because you mentioned it. I often do receive pushback when I do that…there’s antagonism. ‘You’re rude. How dare you interrupt?’ How do you see that tension?

KW: There is a new fashion personality that you’re ‘with me’ or ‘I’m against you.’ And I think that’s to be regretted because that is not the way in which a respectful public conversation is conducted. I mean, this ‘friends and enemies’ approach that so often permeates dialogue between different people now is something to be regretted in my view and something that the ABC should avoid.

PK: How much additional funding do you want to see from the federal government?

KW: Well, that’s something that is obviously to be negotiated over time. I’m advancing advocacy for the role and purpose and performance of the ABC in Australian society. And I see the ABC as a very important coming-together place to celebrate and interrogate the creativity and intellect of Australia and the directions of Australia. All said and done, Australia has comparative competitive advantage in very few things. But the one thing it can really compete on is its people. Its people need to have recourse to a really major national institution that actually informs, educates, entertains and does so in a way that reflects the best elements of contemporary relevance.

PK: You will receive criticism, I think you already have, from some particularly, I think, in the right wing media who are very competitive with the ABC …think we are overfunded…. What’s your response to that?

KW: The view that is prosecuted with greater vigor and intensity by the News Corporation against the ABC is something that at times seems almost unhinged, in its lack a fairness or perspective in actually standing back and looking at all that the ABC does. You can’t be Australian and not have a sense of the importance of the ABC. You can’t live in regional Australia and have a sense of connection with the world, without the ABC. You can’t be a kid in Australia and have a sense of your own world without the ABC. You can’t be in a school in Australia without a really dynamic sense of the ABC. Australians rush to the ABC in any moment of domestic or international crisis because they trust the ABC. The ABC is the most trusted news organisation in Australia. These are not opinions. These are facts. And they’re important facts because they’re fundamental to those things that bind us together.

You can hear the interview in full here.

11 Responses

  1. I rarely watch ABC..i just dont see a balance of views, its mostly left of centre which doesnt represent all australians. I want all views presented not just those from the left or right…its also why i dont read the australuan newspaper anymore..its too right focused..jyst he fair and give me the news as facts , not opinions, so i can make up my own mind .

    1. Every week Q+A has politicians there is a conservative voice there. I file them all the time. How do people miss this? Insiders on Sunday has the Shadow Minister for Climate Change and Energy. SKY News is full of host opinion shows but on ABC they are moderators, Media Watch is one exception.

      1. Time and time again we see people on the left insisting that the ABC is pandering to the hard right. The right insist that the ABC is too “woke” and too left-focussed.

        They can’t both be correct. As I have said in the past, It probably means the ABC sits somewhere in the middle, which is what it should be doing. It’s just that people from each side are quick to point out examples to prove their point, but ignore examples that show the opposite.

        1. Allegations of bias in ABC News and Current Affairs have been going on for decades, probably as long as the broadcaster has existed. On the whole I agree it probably sits somewhere in the middle for the most part, although being pipped by SBS in that recent survey of the country’s most trusted news brands would be a worry to the hierarchy at Ultimo.

          Having said that, the amount of experienced talent that ABC News and Current Affairs has lost in the past few years probably should be a greater concern IMO. Now sure, everyone’s time comes to an end at some point. But it seems like most big names at ABC N&CA have recently gone for the exit door with fairly unfamiliar people being elevated into reasonably high-profile positions (eg, the latest weekend newsreaders in NSW and Victoria) earlier than you’d otherwise expect.

      1. … yep, again carefully phrased, where that “investment” would have to come from wasn’t explicitly set out and considering the “investment” by Screen Australia, the various state funding bodies and even the BBC in programs aired by the ABC, who knows?

          1. Tax payers are funding 30% of ABC dramas and comedies through offset to producers. Then Screen Australia and the state screen bodies put in more money to support the commissioning of shows. Now NSW has returned to competing against the other states in putting in more money in location subsidies to try and move production from one state to another. This means that the ABC could reduce it’s spend on scripted content and increase federal political op-ed on air, radio and online. When Dalton got pissed off and leaked the figures after the drama budget was reduced by Scott to fund the website it was $800m on op-ed and $26m on drama.

          2. … indeed, they don’t need to fund ABC News, that’s where the vast bulk of the appropriation goes, not to mention Gillard’s extra (now called “enhanced news”) funding and Morrison’s media bargaining funding from Meta and Google (as long as that lasts) … but given Kim’s excellent track record, I suspect the “investment” is most likely targeted from other than direct government appropriation … we shall see …

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