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October 05th 2014 print

Marc Hendrickx & Roger Franklin

An ABC Show We’d Like to See

The national broadcaster is under pressure to make its operations more efficient, which shouldn't be too difficult, given that its one-billion-dollars-a-year allocation suggests no small amount of fat available for trimming. Here's a programming suggestion Mark Scott might wish to consider

alfred e scott very smallEver since the election of September 7, 2013, the ABC has been reporting all the holes being ripped in Australia’s social fabric by Abbott & Co., with endless accounts of the Coalition’s war on pensioners, students, possums, Muslims, the unemployed, Muslims, the disabled, climate scientists (some of whom are probably Muslims), universities, more Muslims and boat people, who are being slow-grilled over hot mufflers by RAN personel.

Now, at long last, that punitive penny-pinching is being directed at the ABC itself, with Minister for Communications Malcolm Turnbull professing his peeved astonishment at the broadcaster’s tardiness in nominating areas where operations might be made more cost-efficient.

To help the ABC find those savings, Quadrant Online is pitching a new series, to be shot entirely on the broadcaster’s premises and featuring nothing but staff already on the payroll.

Episode 1. A Q&A Conundrum:

The show’s producers are in full-panic mode when a work-experience intern makes a total mess of the usual left-wing stack and invites a second conservative guest instead of the intended talking head, a gay and disabled environmental activist with a nuanced reluctance to condemn ISIS out of hand.

For the very first time the panel is in danger of striking a balance between conservative and left-wing representatives, but host Tony Jones rises to the challenge, even though he must now interrupt two conservatives, rather than the standard one, just as each is about to make a point. There is much hilarity as Jones’ efforts grow ever more desperate, climaxing with his impromptu exercise in interpretative dance inspired by an audience member’s query as to how much of his $355,789 salary he is prepared to forego in order to save Peppa Pig.

The episode concludes with the intern being fired for similarly neglecting to stack the audience with the requisite number of Greens, shoe-tossing militant vegans and modern-as-tomorrow Muslim women in burqas denouncing Tony Abbott for misogyny.

At the Catallaxy blog, where they run a weekly competition to guess how often Jones can interrupt in the space of a single hour, civil war breaks out amongst would-be winners debating whether Popper or Say would be more scathing in classifying Jones’ grand jette-with-splits as a full-blown interruption or, more fascinating, if it was the manifestation of  an externality borne of the national broadcaster’s lavish and largely unsupervised budgetary allocations.

Episode 2. Worlds apart.

The ABC seeks to add a new reporter to its environment team. The assorted candidates all demonstrate impressive credentials, but the field is winnowed to two: a former Fairfax Media “climate economy” roundsman who refused point-blank to report a word about the Climategate scandal and a neo-animist lesbian witch from Newtown whose partner, already on the ABC payroll, put in a good word for her.

As a challenge to decide who will get to throw Dorothy Dixers at go-to catastropharian David Karoly, the candidates are ordered to file competing reports on the extinction of the Australian pygmy squirrel, an unfortunate creature whose demise has already been attributed by RN Science Show host Robyn Williams to the coming 100-metre rise in sea levels. Seeing that the world is doomed, Williams explains, the entire squirrel population topped itself rather than watch in helpless horror as Mt Kosciusko became oceanfront real estate.

When one of the job candidates finds the squirrel alive and thriving in the High Country and attempts to report this scoop, his rival, the Newtown witch, is immediately hired. The science is settled, announces Williams, who rejects the furry evidence chittering in its cage on his desk with the explanation that it is not a squirrel at all but a chipmonckton and must therefore be ridiculed when not ignored altogether.

The failed candidate is not deterred, however. The episode fades to black with images of the ex-Fairfax staffer donning a burqa, brandishing a copy of Richard Dawkins’ collected works and being hired as the ABC’s religion correspondent.

Episode 3: The well-earned break.

The ABC is thrown into chaos yet again, this time by a clerical error that sees all but a handful of radio and TV hosts and journalists ordered to take their holidays at the same time. The most senior ABC staffer still on the job turns to her Twitter and Facebook friends to fill the reportorial void created by a depopulated newsroom.

That evening’s news broadcasts lead with the scoop that Tony Abbott cannot tell the difference between a burqa and a niqab and is therefore irredeemably opposed to every woman’s right to be oppressed in a liberated, post-modern sort of way.

A running gag in this episode features supremo Mark Scott, who learnt his journalism at Fairfax and bills himself as the ABC’s editor-in-chief. Eager to help out during the staffing crisis, he sets out to report a story on how the Navy is waylaying ships loaded with live cattle in order to torture their crews with hot engine parts. Sadly, just as he is about to start calling  favourite refugee advocates, the plumbers arrive to install a 14-carat executive toilet, obliging him to file countless Twitter updates on their progress.

The odd thing is that no viewer notices the slightest difference between normal ABC news coverage and the stream of undiluted social-media ranters that replaces it.

Episode 4. Well-worn media.

When Paul Barry succumbs to food poisoning caused by a dodgy salad from the ABC’s $18 million organic permaculture rooftop garden at its sustainable Ultimo HQ, the job of hosting Media Watch falls to the broadcaster’s newest recruit, gun reporter Fatima el Baksheesh-Namatjira.

An Indigenous transgender Muslim and stellar graduate of Wendy Bacon’s University of Technology journalism course, she ignites controversy by wearing a burqa while lambasting News Corp.’s opinion-page lamentations about the slow pace of Islamic integration. Arranged marriages, along with bookshops selling Mein Kampf and Protocols of the Elders of Zion, are part and parcel of multiculturalism’s rich mosaic and therefore to be treasured, she asserts. To represent the Jewish perspective, the ABC taps Anthony Loewenstein.

Subsequently criticised in an Australian editorial, Baksheesh-Namatjira is backed by the ABC’s  feminist collective and their XX-chromosone staff representative on the board, who don the burqa en mass to protest unenlightened Western attitudes toward every woman’s right to wear whatever her man tells her. Anne Summers sends a message of support, but regrets she is too busy penning an updated version of her sermon on the injuries inflicted by male-mandated high heels to take up the burqa issue.

All ends happily when when Baksheesh-Namatjira and the ABC win a global media award sponsored by Saudi Arabia’s minister for media and seventh-century couture.  At an awards ceremony televised by SBS she denounces Rupert Murdoch as media revellers dine on Pygmy Squirrel au jus avec artichokes au Jerusalem occupe

Episode 5: Not-so-settled science

Shocking news! The scientists at Bolivia’s Climate Change Research Institute for Appropriate and Sustainable Excellence check the data and discover that the global climate’s sensitivity to carbon dioxide is less than a hundreth of that assumed by the IPCC.  The ABC’s enviro desk goes into meltdown, too shocked at first to make mention of the breakthrough. But when even Fairfax Media makes passing mention of the research — a tweet dismissing the report as the mischief of scientists who cannot even tell a burqa from a niqab — the ABC is forced to act.

One of the offending scientists, relentlessly grilled on camera, is confronted by evidence sourced to an NGO, but never identified as an activist NGO,  that leaves no doubt he was once observed standing next to a man smoking a cigarette. As a known lackey of Big Tobacco, he is asked when he stopped beating his wife?

The scientist seems poised to answer the charge, but is interrupted just in time by Tony Jones, who dances in tights and overstuffed-sausage mode across the set, rendering the guest speechless. Turning to the camera, Leigh Sales, brow creased with concern, reads from a script provided by Tim Flannery’s Climate Council, which has discovered a new threat — and a fresh theme for direct-mail fund-raising campaigns.

“You may never have heard of Dihydrogen Monoxide,” she gravely intones, “but the CSIRO certainly has and its experts are worried, very worried, that the Abbott government will cut funds for the  front-line PR operatives promoting this new peril and the needed increases in the agency’s budget.”

On Twitter, Flannery endorses Jones’ taste in leotards and suggests, courtesy of his new girlfriend’s former occupation, that dress-up games are a carbon-neutral way of adding some spice to ho-hum boudoir antics. Mrs Tony Jones, aka Sarah Ferguson, tweets back that she is one jump ahead, and has already bought a burqa to make for a really swinging evening.

The episode concludes with Q&A plant and proud Muslim woman Rebecca Kay tweeting that Ferguson is a racist for not knowing the difference between a niqab and a burqa and, by logical extension, must be another of the ink-stained shaytans on Rupert Murdoch’s infernal payroll.

If anyone with deep pockets is interested in funding a TV series based on the above, please contact Mark Scott! Tell him there might be opportunities for current ABC staffers’ spouses, partners, mates and domestic pets to pick up a little additional income and the green light will be all but assured.

Alternately, Turnbull could launch a simple and sweeping review of the ABC operations, its hiring practices, what sums might be raised if the ABC were to be sold in part or whole, and whether, in this age of instant mass communication, Australia needs an ABC in any form.

Realistically, though, there is a greater chance of enjoying Tony Jones in a tutu than living long enough to see that second option being taken up.

Marc Henrickx is an avid camper. Roger Franklin is now overdue at the golf course.