When the ABC ambushes a senior federal minister on Q&A, its flagship current affairs program, by having a prepubescent girl ask him a question about ABC funding, as it did this week, you know the national broadcaster is totally off the leash. ABC managers and producers know that Coalition MPs are reluctant to go on Q&A because they well know the shoddy treatment they will get. So you would think that when a Coalition minister – the luvvies’ own paymaster, no less – agrees to appear, they might see that as an opportunity to metaphorically ‘bury the hatchet’.
Regrettably, they did it literally.
That ambush was more than a cynical ploy; it was also a serious mark of disrespect for someone who, on the strength of the last election, represents a majority of voters. Communications Minister Paul Fletcher should have responded ‘I am not here to answer gotcha questions from children, of any age’. But given the almost universal deference shown by world leaders to climate goddess Greta Thunberg that was probably a step too far. If he is not in his office right now working out ways of relieving the ABC of further cash, then he is a fool.
That episode of Q&A was preceded by a self-serving rant from Paul Barry on Media Watch, also on the subject of ‘funding cuts’. This rant lasted almost the entire show and, of course, had nothing to do with calling errant media to account. Barry ran through a litany of ostensibly worthy programs that had been cut. Laughably, that list included ABC Life. Strangely, he never once mentioned that these cuts represented the decisions of ABC management, not the government. There is enough material in just these two programs for Chris Kenny, tireless chronicler of the ABC’s inanities and outrages, to write an entire book.
Barry clearly believes that everything is sacred at the ABC and nothing should be axed. But perhaps, if he could put aside his ideology for a moment and exercise some discretion, if such exists, he might consider the case of a little gem called At Home Alone Together, the tail end of which I stumbled across while channel surfing in a Sydney hotel room recently. This is a new series of which eight episodes have been made, all hosted by Ray Martin.
This is funny?
As I watched, in horror, the last five minutes or so, I wondered if the rest of the program could be this bad. So I watched it next morning in iView. And yes, the whole thing is unutterable crap. A series of unfunny sketches — a trendy couple build a time machine to warn their past selves not to have kids; a stir-crazy middle-aged woman gives herself a make-over prior to coming out of lockdown; the unspeakably painful drek in the clip above — a gigglefest it most certainly isn’t. I watched in astonished incomprehension as Ray Martin claimed to have invented COVID-19. Whatever the ABC is paying for him to make a spectacle of himself it cannot be enough.
Of course, the whole thing is littered with references to funding cuts, Donald Trump and so on. I have no particular fondness for Ray Martin but he has achieved a certain eminence in the media world. Why he would lend his name to this dross is a mystery. I’m tempted to say I watched this taxpayer-funded humour deficit unfold so you, dear readers, don’t have to. But in this case I urge everyone to check it out it person. You will only need to endure five minutes to get the ‘vibe’ of the thing.
That ABC staff and management believe they should be immune from any of the financial vicissitudes that have been visited upon every other media organisation in the country, both public and private, speaks of an Olympic arrogance.
This incessant lobbying about funding cuts is totally political and therefore contrary to the ABC Charter. Chairwoman Ita Buttrose would put a stop to it were she up to her august appointment. Certainly, her job is to help ensure the ABC’s independence, but that includes accommodating government policy inasmuch as it concerns the ABC and is not in breach of the ABC Act. She is a government appointee. If the government legislated to abolish or privatize the ABC it would be her duty to oversee the implementation of that decision. So it is with these funding freezes. If she cannot accept that, she may choose to lobby privately, but failing that she should resign or be sacked.
Anyone who allows At Home Alone Together to be funded, produced and broadcast is clearly not up to the job.