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The ABC goes downhill at a gallop

By Peter West - posted Thursday, 22 February 2018

The ABC is being dumbed down. Here and there the message is trickling out. It appeared in a forum hosted by the ABC recently in Sydney, reported on ABC TV. You see it in letters in the thoughtful newspapers. Friends ask each other "What's happening to that program? It's trashy now". It's more and more like its commercial rivals.

Anyone can see that what we get on commercial TV is about ninety per cent trash. Solid issues don't rate a mention when it comes to the stuff served up by the commercial TV programs in the usual nonsense about kitchens, celebrities, dieting and so on. And so often, it's all about them, media 'celebrities': what Mary Muppett said to Jimmy Gronk, what Dotty Dingaling wore, whose dress blew in the wind or whose top was too low. And we get heroes, villains and victims paraded endlessly for the titillation of the ignorant and brain-dead.

The whole recent saga about Barnaby Joyce went on and on, on the commercial channels, because there was a juicy sexual scandal at the core of it. There were several more serious issues, like why his mates in the National Party decided to look the other way. Or whether the deputy Prime Minister of Australia spent sufficient time running the country while he was involved in so many personal entanglements. Meantime, important issues have been neglected. Such as our water crisis and the future of the Murray-Darling. And the Chinese who seem to have gained undue influence over our political parties. The paralysis when it comes to finding any solution to the rocketing price of a house in our capital cities. And the failure to use any of the solutions suggested by economists to that problem. Such as to limit foreigners buying up housing stock. Or expose the tax concessions enjoyed by people - usually well-off - who are making big profits by negatively gearing housing. Or what tax companies really pay. So commercial media ignore issues of substance, and just dish out more and more circuses for the masses.


We expect the ABC to be a bit better than this. But then, ABC TV is not what it was. Almost everywhere we look, we see tired old stuff, such as wearisome repeats of old Pommy quiz shows. And in brief - a general dumbing-down. Let's sample a few choice morsels.

7.30 used to be a serious and thoughtful program. Now, any kind of standard has been lost. Amid all the pap, grammar goes out the window. It's 19th February, and some earnest young fellow on 7.30 tells us that a refinery in North Queensland is "laying idle" (lying idle, please!) and some reporter "sprung" (sprang, thanks) someone at the airport. Yes, I had a good education, and I expect the ABC to maintain a standard of correct English, even as almost all the other stations succumb to laziness and Americanisms. As if there was much to be proud about in Trump's America, with a leader who apparently doesn't bother to read intelligence briefings, and whose kids can't sit safely in their classrooms without expecting some madman to come in at any moment with high powered guns.

Commercialism is infecting the ABC. On 7.30 we do get Leigh Sales grilling a politician or two: to her credit, she's one of the few who does. These days on the show we're more likely to get supposed celebrities, features on sportsmen, and any kind of populist tidbit that might normally appear on the short-lived commercial TV 'current affairs' programs like Hinch or Real Life. Some rock star will be featured and then - surprise! - he is about to issue a CD or a book.

We are used to the cunning ways that commercial stations sneak in plugs for other programs. So now ABC seems to be aping this atrocious habit. Ads for ABC appear with monotonous regularity. And that's in addition to the station promos. They tell us what's coming up, over and over again, as if anyone doesn't know with numerous guides in newspapers, journals and on the built-in TV guide. The same tedious jokes are shown. Look, here's a really funny show! And we get the same clip. Someone is farting! Maybe it's the dog! Ha ha ha. This kind of humour belongs in American comedies. Let's face it, it's much the same joke that we saw in Blazing Saddles years ago, but now done a whole lot more heavy-handedly. And I've already seen these 'really funny' bits some dozen times (why do they do this?) before the show will be presented. ABC used to be known for good comedy, but recent attempts have been gut-churning, and nothing will make me watch them, especially when they advertise them again and again, insisting on how funny it all is.

What on earth have they done to ABC Classic FM Radio? It used to have a number of well-loved hosts who knew their stuff. Now we get legions of people who hardly seem able to do the job. Someone should explain that many people work at home with the radio, and need to think. Classic FM used to be something you could turn on to have music while you worked. These days we seem to have a series of girlish, giggling, gabbling young women. They struggle with the most rudimentary names: Dvorak, Smetana, Rimsky-Korsakov. Heaven help them when they get to Dmitri Hvorostovsky, Mstislav Rostropovich and similar. Oh, but there are more women on the station. That must be a good thing. The ABC has become more diverse. Groan. Who on earth cares? This station is supposed to give us good music, not the latest political correctness. Give me strength! My friends and I find that in Sydney, a serious listener does far better with a station like 2MBS-FM: a station run and hosted by amateurs. It doesn't say much for the ABC.

Australian Storyused to be something worth catching. Lately there's barely one program in eight that's worth the trouble, and we all go off to Netflix or similar. Yet look at the way the ABC puffs itself up like a bullfrog, full of self-congratulation:


For over 20 years Australian Story has been telling the stories of everyday and extraordinary Australians with intimacy, candour and integrity. We explore firsthand the diversity, complexity and challenges of modern life.

Oh really? Get a grip on reality, guys. Did we really need to hear more stuff about same-sex marriage after all the hoo-ha last year? There's been little enough lately showing any of what you boast of. A tad more modesty would be advisable.

Even the presentation of the weather has changed. Have you noticed? It shows more and more of the presenters; and less and less of the information we want. Someone's elbow hides the forecast for tomorrow. The week-long forecast is flashed up and taken off in a moment. But we see the presenters again! I give up, and go to The same story as we said before: it has to be all about them.

As Thomas Jefferson said - a democracy needs a thoughtful, insightful media. Liberty is guarded by a free press read by the whole population. Where are we getting this in today's Australia? State and Federal Governments are getting away with far too much. And the ABC- which used to be so steady and reliable? It's letting us down. If the ABC wants to be taken seriously, it must raise its standards.

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About the Author

Dr Peter West is a well-known social commentator and an expert on men's and boys' issues. He is the author of Fathers, Sons and Lovers: Men Talk about Their Lives from the 1930s to Today (Finch,1996). He works part-time in the Faculty of Education, Australian Catholic University, Sydney.

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