More Docos, Drama, Comedy, Arts: Kim Williams outlines programming priorities for ABC

"It is through our actors and film makers and artists and writers that the world knows us, knows our values," says ABC Chair.

ABC Chair Kim Williams has flagged his first programming priorities for ABC since his appointment in March.

Delivering the Redmond Barry Lecture at the State Library of Victoria last night, Williams said ABC needed to improve its creative program offerings.

“I will be having a lot more to say about this topic in further speeches, but for me a few programming priorities stand out for consideration,” he said.

  • “Remaining the most trusted source of news and truth; recognising that the ABC will always be judged first and foremost for the quality, integrity and reliability of its news and current affairs services. We need to be on a never ending quest to ensure those services are always striving to improve and remain as a relevant, stable ‘first partner’ for Australians when it comes to objective reporting and thoughtful analysis and commentary on Australia and the world.
  • “A renewed Radio National as a flagship and standard bearer for the Corporation’s ethos, purpose and intellectual ambition. We deserve a great national audio service, one that demonstrates the power of the spoken word, the importance of clear thinking, and the sublime force of a wide range of Australian intellects. In this world of contested ‘truths’ and aggressive opinion, such a trusted source of analysis and pluralist deep thinking is sorely needed.
  • “An increase in serious television documentaries on national and international subjects of relevance which challenge Australians to think widely and respond with delight and wonder. This is something I regard as crucial for the ABC’s intellectual credibility and the fulfilment of some central elements of our charter. Frankly more ambition is required to refresh a sense and understanding of Australia’s great national institutions – our parliaments, our courts, our regulators and public policy processes. And of course, the independence and security offered by the world’s best electoral system.
  • “Expanded drama and comedy production to restore pride in our national creativity and to allow us to discover a new generation of creative spirits. A new generation of brilliantly creative Australians are out there seeking the chance. We have to provide it. This is vitally important – because it is through our actors and film makers and artists and writers that the world knows us, knows our values, and knows what we are capable of. Partnering with the independent production community is crucial for giving invigorated life to national storytelling, that matters.
  • “More coverage and coherent programming for the arts. Books, theatre, dance, music . . . Australians crave more and are voting with their podcasts. We must rank higher and deliver superbly in this league. It is a challenge to enjoy.
  • “And then there is the precious territory of Children’s and Education programming where the ABC is the major, invariably sole provider of a remarkable range of exceptional programming which provides unique Australian ‘ballast’ against a tidal wave of non-Australian content which is consuming the minds and value sets of the young of this nation. No other media organisation of substance stands up for Australian accents, values, plurality and aspirations which are planted firmly in, and dedicated to, this nation. Make no mistake, without that precious education and children’s material the outlook for Australian knowledge and values is really quite grim. We need to defend and expand those categories of programming in response to the dramatic incursions we have seen from numerous mighty offshore providers.
  • “Making iview into an even better streaming platform with a heavier ballast of Australian-produced content. Ditto with ABC curated podcasts. We can offer better propositions in parallel to the commercial streaming services. Given the direction of technology and citizen behaviours and preferences, this is non-negotiable for the future of the ABC.
  • “Finally, ensuring a revitalised ABC as a respected agent of soft power diplomacy and programming in our region.  The continuing work of the ABC’s International Services team across the Pacific, in Indonesia and in other major Asian nations, is something of which all Australians can be proud. We now have correspondents or partnerships with local media in all the Pacific nations, where we are also actively offering training to numerous journalists and media operations across the region, all with the support of our colleagues at the Department of Foreign Affairs. We are also delivering a variety of audio and video services which are vital sources of international news and commentary for our Pacific friends. The ABC is the most trusted international media service in the Pacific.”

Williams also spoke of rapid decline in commercial newsrooms, fragmenting audiences, loss of advertising revenues to Google, Facebook and others, and market failures in “Truth and Trust.”

He reiterated the need or good management, great creative energy, imagination, good judgement and courage as well as accountability.

“There’s an unfortunate tendency for organisations like ours to indulge in an excess of self-congratulation. This oftentimes takes the place of robust assessment of underperformance. No one enjoys being critical, but well-run organisations must be honest about their performance. And if we’re honest, there are important areas for improvement,” he said.

He also flagged “greater investment will be needed.”

“The ABC is an investment in Australia’s future because a revitalised ABC will be a source of great national strength. A great national campfire around which our stories can be told and can coalesce into a renovated national narrative about our future. A narrative able to draw all Australians a bit closer together to face up to and make sense of the disrupted times we are in,” said Williams.

“Such an investment will repay itself over and over and over again.”

You can read the speech in full here.

13 Responses

  1. Please sort out your ‘once great’ news service. It’s so biased and one-eyed filled with parliamentarians sprouting rubbish that goes unchallenged. I speak of Insiders and Q&A, and oh, please bring back The Drum. People watched it!

    1. In the past I’ve asked people to cite specific bias examples but then very few seem to return comment. At the moment Hard Quiz replays rate higher than The Drum, so I doubt it will return soon.

      1. Unfortunately, Talkback radio and SkyNews (after-dark) do not furnish that information to their consumers, so they’re never able to reply with any details. It’s a key point I make to my Dad when he sprouts that the ABC is the media department of Labour, despite 20398428 reviews stating they pretty much sit with a splintered backside.

  2. Kim Williams speech fills me with hope. It is time for Aunty to shift her focus away from cost savings and ‘efficiency’ to quality and integrity. I don’t believe the ABC brand is damaged, it’s just dull and boring. They need to sideline the bean counters and roll out the red carpet for artists, academics and ratbags.

  3. Except they’ve already lost most trusted to SBS by 1% so would have to get that back.

    The ABC outsources almost all it’s production except for News and Current Affairs and breakfast. So they can’t put Australian content on iView because they don’t owe it, and haven’t for over twenty years. Most of their docos and light entertainment have gone extremely popularist and are highly targeted at innercity audiences, because that also gives the producers the most sales into London and Toronto.

    ABC makes a lot of kids TV but again in cooperation with CBC, BBC, Netflix, Disney+ and foreign owned and controlled production companies so the content is targeted not at Australian suburbs and regional areas but international markets. Bluey is 30% of Disney+’s streaming revenue now the BBC have on-sold streaming and merchandising rights to them.

    Even the BBC is not able to make the UK specific content it used to and is not going to keep a regressive and punative license fee system forever.

  4. If they are his goals he has a lot of work to do. The ABC is so far away from being trusted by so many Australians these days. More traditional ABC content without the bias would be most welcome.

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