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February 04th 2014 print

Roger Franklin

Mark Scott’s Gold-Plated Uselessness

Mark Scott bills himself as the ABC's "editor in chief". So why doesn't he shoulder the burdens traditionally associated with that lofty title -- responsibilities like disciplining underlings who screw up and making sure his reporters and editors cover the news with a straight bat?

alfred e scott very smallI was chatting over the weekend and drinks with another newsroom veteran, one of the many to have been bought out, paid off and cast aside as the news business continues to impale itself on the idiocy of its guiding executives. As I and Catallaxy File’s Sinclair Davidson had been talking on Radio National’s Sunday Extra that morning about Mark Scott with Jonathan Green (not a bad fellow; it’s just that he has fallen in with bad companions) my interlocutor remembered the ABC managing director’s remarks from some time ago that the national broadcaster should be viewed as a “market failure” outfit providing what the commercials do not.

“So why doesn’t the ABC hire me and others like me?” my unemployed cobber wondered, the logic being that the commercial market has failed to make use of sober minds, instead ceding control of its newsrooms to overgrown children. The fact that the excitable Ben Cubby, climate catastropharian extraordinaire, has been elevated to the SMH’s deputy editorship pretty much tells you everything you need to know.

Alas, I told him, Mark Scott’s working week is dominated by the need to find a wheelbarrow large enough to get the latest installments of his $770K per year salary to the bank, lamenting his underlings’ undergrad exercises in bad taste (while pointedly declining to do anything about them) and sending tweets, lots and lots and lots of tweets.

Sunday Extra, dominated by talk of the ABC and Mark Scott’s inert leadership, can be heard here

If that burden wasn’t enough, the poor man also must invest a lot of mental effort in rationalising why, as editor-in-chief, he cannot discipline the reporters and editors who whipped up that toxic confection about RAN rescuers torturing illegal aliens with hot engine mufflers. That last chore really requires some serious effort, but make no mistake, Scott is up to it. Having learned all about modern management techniques while carrying Fred Hilmer’s handbag at Fairfax, he holds the equivalent of a post-grad degree in the art of dressing failure as achievement. None of this would have surprised Paddy McGuinness, the late Quadrant editor who warned in 2006 that Scott would go native as soon as he settled into his nice new office.

When Scott is retired — his term expires in 2016 — maybe the ABC will stop hiring mates/spouses/partners/Crikey alumni and actually take on some real journos, like my unemployed friend. There’s enough of them out there — and if one or two professionals had been on the news desk the night the muffler beat-up arrived from Indonesia, it wouldn’t have gone to air.

We all know the ABC is biased. What most people don’t appreciate is that it is biased because it has abandoned the journalistic principles that stood my craft in good stead for many years. You know, check your facts before you broadcast them. Fix the journalism and you won’t have to worry about bias because adults on the staff will spike dud stories before they can do any harm, especially to the ABC’s reputation.

Meanwhile, while Scott addresses charges of bias by re-vamping the old Richard Pryor gag about the man whose wife finds him in bed with another woman — “Who you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?” — the ABC is giving voice to yet another child with a Twitter account and the sort of opinions guaranteed to go down smooth as fair-trade coffee in the national broadcaster’s lunch rooms. Gerard Henderson reports in the first 2014 edition of his Media Watch Dog:

While on the topic of ABC appointments, an avid MWD reader has advised that a certain Daniel Golding has taken the familiar route from the left-wing Crikey newsletter to the public broadcaster where he has joined ABC Arts.

Fancy that. And here is what Daniel Golding tweeted on 22 January 2014:

@dangolding I also genuinely mean that Australia’s refugee policies should be compared, regularly and specifically, to Nazism and the Holocaust.

This demonstrates that Aunty’s new man in the arts is totally ignorant about Nazi Germany and contemporary Australia. Fancy that.

That tweet has now vanished from young Master Golding’s Twitter trail. What ails the ABC is proving far more difficult to hide, Mark Scott’s best efforts notwithstanding.

Roger Franklin is the editor of Quadrant Online