Government backs away from war on ABC in election year; CHEP reboots; Paul Henry - Breakfast was Ten's poison chalice
Aunty's funding will be unfrozen - for now. It's all about the politics. Plus CHEP moves on, and Paul Henry on why Breakfast never stood a chance
Welcome to Unmade, mostly written in the departure lounge at Sydney Airport, and completed this morning as the sun was coming up at beautiful Sisters Beach, Tasmania. It’s good to be back.
On the way though, it was a big nerdy thrill to finally see my book on display in the airport bookshop, seven months since publication.
Happy National Cut the Cord Day. I could Google that to find out whether it’s a reference to the rise of streaming at the expense of bundled US television services, or a way of involving partners in the birthing process, but that would spoil the mystery.
So that’s one topic that won’t be an election battleground.
Three years after removing indexation of the ABC’s budget, the Coalition government will - no doubt through gritted teeth - commit to increased funding over the next three years.
It’s not because Scott Morrison’s government feels any particular fondness for the ABC. The 2020 Four Corners “Inside The Canberra Bubble” episode which focused on the behaviour of ministers Christian Porter and Alan Tudge was among the grudges on the scorecard.
It’s a pattern that occurs with Coalition governments.
Despite a testy relationship, Liberal PM John Howard and Treasurer Peter Costello (whatever became of him?) gave the ABC an unexpectedly generous settlement in the May 2006 budget. The then chairman Donald McDonald believed at the time that the reason was the government wanting to “get a monkey off its back” before the 2007 election, over perceptions from the public that the Coalition wanted to destroy the ABC.
Similarly on the night before the 2013 election, then opposition leader Tony Abbott made a promise during a live interview with SBS’s Anton Enus of “No cuts to ABC or SBS”.
It was a promise quickly broken. Malcolm Turnbull, who was Abbott’s communications minister after the election win, would later reveal in his autobiography A Bigger Picture that the Coalition leadership had already been discussing “a rigorous efficiency review of the ABC and making savings where we could”. They soon implemented it.
Turnbull sums up the Coalition’s mixed feelings towards the ABC rather well: “For many of my Liberal Party colleagues, the ABC was a nest of dangerous, mung bean-munching, latte sipping lefties out of touch with the world beyond their inner-city elitist conclaves.
“The Nationals (and some rural Libs) generally had a more nuanced view. They recognised the ABC did an outstanding job in its coverage of rural and regional Australia. To them there were good programs (Landline) and bad ones (Q&A, The 7.30 Report… pretty much everything that wasn;t hosted by people wearing akubras).”
And the public likes the ABC better than some politicians do, so there are no votes in being too aggressive in any funding cuts.
There’s also a third, influential, constituency, with the commercial media in general and News Corp in particular unhappy when the ABC strays onto their territory. Doubtless there would be more digital subscribers if the ABC’s online news service was not so good.
Not that the rest of the media would want to see the ABC defunded altogether. The commercial networks have always been twitchy about public broadcaster SBS competing for advertising revenue. None of them want the ABC to be in that pool too - they’d just prefer it to be a little weaker.
Once Turnbull knocked off Abbott as party leader, he was not the friend of the ABC that many had anticipated. Beholden to the right wing of his party, in 2018 he worked with then treasurer Scott Morrison to freeze the ABC’s annual indexation of funding. It left the broadcaster $84m worse off.
It’s a similar dynamic to that currently being experienced by the BBC in the UK, where embattled PM Boris Johnson, desperately trying to shore up internal support, has pledged to end the organisation’s licence fee funding as a piece of “red meat” for the right wing of his party.
In Australia, the most noticeable consequences of Turnbull and Morrison’s indexation freeze included the axing of 250 ABC jobs, the end of the 7.45am radio news bulletin and the winding down of the ABC Life lifestyle website.
Under shadow communications minister Michelle Rowland, Labor has been positioning itself as a safer steward for the national broadcaster. In November last year Rowland announced a plan to shift away from a three-year funding cycle to five years.
As the Labor announcement put it: “In addition to five-year funding terms, a Labor Government will review options for delivering a greater level of financial stability and certainty to the national broadcasters to safeguard against arbitrary ideological cuts and political interference.”
So this week’s announcement is about politics. If the government had settled scores with the ABC in the budget, it would have cost votes. Already trailing in the polls, it cannot afford that.
New CHE Proximity boss Justin Hind has this morning revealed the reworked agency brand as CHEP Network, with the tagline “New Economy Creativity”, along with a new website featuring a reel of recent client work
Special looks to Japan
Creative agency Special Group is gearing up its work in Japan, with Sydney based partner Cade Heyde taking to LinkedIn looking for account staff to be based in Tokyo. Special Group masterminded the Uber Eats “Tonight I’ll be eating…” platform in countries including Australia, NZ and Japan.
New role for ex-Mumbrella boss
Content marketing agency Big Splash Media has appointed former Mumbrella publisher Chris Greenwood as its commercial director. Greenwood left Mumbrella after six months as publisher, following December’s now notorious office Christmas party.
Expensive 60 Minutes not so special for Nine
Nine’s 60 Minutes interview with the family of abducted four-year-old Cleo Smith - reportedly obtained at a cost of $2m, the biggest cheque ever paid by Australian media - rated just 750,000 overnight metro viewers on Sunday. However, along with Nine’s Married at First Sight, the lineup reduced ratings for Seven’s coverage of the opening of the Winer Olympics in Beijing. Seven won the first night of the official ratings year with a share of 26% to Nine’s 24%.
Henry: Breakfast never got a fair shot
Broadcaster Paul Henry claims that his short lived show for Ten - Breakfast - could have succeeded if it had been given a better chance by management. The show was commissioned prior to the arrival of James Warburton as CEO in 2012. Henry told the Crawford Media podcast: “The program was handed over like a poison chalice before it even started, to a new management team who didn’t want to do the program, who didn’t believe in the program but more importantly who knew if the program was successful it would not be their success.”
Unmade Index: Smoother sailing
After the gyrations of recent days, it was a calmer day on The Unmade Index yesterday. With earnings season due to kick off next week, the index nudged upwards by 0.31%, although it remains below its 1000 point opening to the year.
Southern Cross Austereo - which announced a deal on Monday to offer exclusive national sales representation for fellow regional player WIN in northern NSW and Tasmania - rose by 3.45%.
Time to let you go about your Wednesday.
If you’d like to hear more about the back story of the ABC and its complicated relationship with the government and News Corp, I’ve covered it in audio chapters from my book Media Unmade.
You can hear those chapters here:
As ever, I welcome your thoughts.
Have a great day.