Hands Off Radio National Music Campaign
0419 487 060
30 November 2016
An Open Letter to Members of the ABC Board and ABC Managing Director Michelle Guthrie
As musicians and music industry professionals, we are appalled by the decision taken by ABC management to scrap The Daily Planet, The Inside Sleeve, The Live Set and The Rhythm Divine, and to remove Jazztrack from Radio National. This decision was taken without proper industry and public consultation and must be reconsidered and reversed.
The cuts deliver a fundamental blow to diverse, vibrant and independent sectors of the Australian music industry, which receive minimal national radio coverage elsewhere.
These programs are among the remaining windows for Australian artists to tell their stories about Australian life, for people to hear and learn from those stories and for all Australians to hear the songs and stories of other cultures from around the world.
Further, they support and underpin a music sector that, according to Music Australia, contributes between $4 and $6 billion to the Australian economy annually and which generates close to 65,000 jobs, over half of which are full-time.
They are essential listening for those working in this vibrant industry and should not be discarded on the grounds of ratings.
We do not believe that the proposed additions to Double J in any way compensate for Radio National’s losses, especially given that Double J is only available in digital format. We are deeply concerned about listeners in regional, rural and remote areas where the Internet and digital radio access is problematic at best. Many of these listeners rely on linear broadcasting.
It is clear that the cuts contradict the intent and spirit of the ABC Charter, which outlines two of “the functions of the Corporation” as:
- “broadcasting programs that contribute a sense of national identity and inform and entertain, and reflect the cultural diversity of, the Australian community;”
- “to encourage and promote the musical, dramatic and other performing arts in Australia.”
Collectively, The Daily Planet, The Inside Sleeve, The Live Set, The Rhythm Divine and Jazztrack provide specialist, linear broadcasting of diverse music that is not broadcast nationally elsewhere with equivalent depth, breadth and expertise.
This music is often outside the mainstream. It includes folk, roots, world, blues, jazz and adult contemporary, among the many genres. It champions unique voices, small communities, alternative perspectives, story telling (particularly of Australian stories), experimentation, live performance, improvisation and excellence.
Much of this music is released independently by highly-respected Australian musicians who have developed enthusiastic audiences through extensive touring, depending on RN’s Australia-wide reach for promotion. Many perform regularly in regional, rural and/or remote areas.
The shows set for axing also provide promotion and national live broadcasting of numerous Australian music events, including major festivals, such as Byron Bay Bluesfest, Woodford Folk Festival, the National Folk Festival, Port Fairy Folk Festival and Wangaratta Festival of Jazz and Blues, as well as small festivals and community gatherings. These provide regional, rural and remote areas with opportunities for place-making, musical education, tourism and economic growth.
While we value and admire Double J, we do not believe that it can fill the hole left by the cuts, despite additions proposed for 2017. These additions are limited to a four-times weekly (rather than weekly) programming of The Beat Eclectic, which covers “post rock, punk and pop, ambient and acoustic sounds”; the introduction of Fat Planet, which ran on FBi from 2003-2008 and “showcases new music from around the world, such as Scandinavian folk, Japanese dubstep and Chilean post- punk”; and a “new live music show” to feature “new recordings from local and international artists”. Meanwhile, Triple J’s primary focus will remain the youth market.
Without The Daily Planet, The Inside Sleeve, The Live Set, The Rhythm Divine and Jazztrack, how will ABC Radio possibly “reflect the cultural diversity of the Australian community”?
We also emphasise the importance of RN Music’s expert broadcasters. Lucky Oceans, Paul Gough, Geoff Wood and Alice Keath are some of Australia’s most experienced, knowledgeable, passionate and intelligent musical minds. The casting off of these irreplaceable staff members contradicts RN’s commitment to “specialist content across arts and culture” broadcasting, as outlined on RN’s website.
We are far from alone in our opposition. A petition to save RN Music, launched on November 14th, has already attracted over 12,000 signatures, and numerous high-profile figures – both Australian and international have officially endorsed the petition statement. These include Paul Kelly, Missy Higgins, Archie Roach AM, Gurrumul, Kate Ceberano, Tim Winton, Neil Murray, Sarah Blasko, Megan Washington, Mike Nock, Shane Howard AM, Don Walker, Tim Freedman, Lindy Morrison OAE, Glen Hansard, Andy Irvine, Gina Williams, Paul Grabowsky AO, Rob Hirst, Deborah Conway, John Butler, Iva Davies AM, the Waifs and many, many more.
In a public statement, author Tim Winton writes:
“At a time when it seems every element of home-grown culture is under siege, it’s bewildering to see Radio National stripping music shows from its programming. To musicians, composers, producers and listeners alike, this retreat feels like a betrayal, a signal that ABC management feels no need to repay the loyalty of its audience. For years Radio National has been a defender of Australian culture and a means by which new writers, players and composers find an audience.”
Also in a public statement, Katie Noonan writes:
“I simply can not fathom how anyone would have thought this was a good idea for the Australian people ... In regional Australia these radio shows are literally the lifeline for cultural connectivity ... Having been lucky enough to tour this great big country of ours many times, I know how absolutely vital these programs are to people’s lives ... The catastrophic effects of these cuts will be enormous on multiple levels - this decision has simply not been thought through properly and absolutely needs to be reversed”.
We urge the Board and management to respond to the following questions:
(1) Can you assure the listening public that the changes will not reduce the diversity of music styles played, the amount of new Australian music promoted, the number of Australian musicians profiled and the resources devoted to these activities?
(2) Will the changes reduce regional access to Australian music?
(3) Is the ABC confident the changes won’t reduce audiences for the genres covered by RN Music, or adversely impact the live music ecosystem for these musicians and their audiences?
(4) Has the ABC considered, in delivering on its charter, its responsibility to the broader music community and to the country, to contribute to an original, national musical culture and identity, to support viable careers and to support an important national industry, culturally and economically?
We also ask the board to look at the thousands of comments on the petition as well as others on social media.
Finally, we again call on the ABC to review this ill-considered decision, as outlined in the petition statement, and to return The Daily Planet, The Inside Sleeve, The Live Set, The Rhythm Divine and Jazztrack to Radio National in 2017. It’s our ABC.
We would be happy to discuss these issues further.
Link to petition: https://www.change.org/p/michael-mason-hands-off-radio-national-music
Ruth Hazleton & the ‘Hands Off Radio National Music’ campaign team.
Adrian Jackson - Artistic Director Wangaratta Jazz & Blues Festival Andrew Legg - UTAS Director, Conservatorium of Music
Andy Irvine (Ireland)
Archie Roach AM
Association of Australian Musicians (AM)
Australian Independent Musicians Association (AIMA)
Barney McAll - Peggy Glanville Hicks Resident
Ben Northey - Associate Conductor MSO
Black Market Music
Bob, Margaret & James Fagan
Cameron Undy - Owner Venue 505
Chong Lim - MD John Farnham/Dancing with the Stars
Craig Scott - Chair of Jazz Studies Sydney Conservatorium of Music Country Music Association of Australia (CMMA)
David Spelman - Artistic Director NY International Guitar Festival Dan Sultan
Elizabeth Rogers, CEO Regional Arts NSW
Folk Alliance Australia
Glen Hansard (Ireland)
Helen Marcou & Quincy McLean – SLAM & Bakehouse Studios
Iain Grandage - Artistic Director Port Fairy Spring Music Festival
Iva Davies AM
James Morrison AM
Jamie Oehlers - Coordinator of Jazz Studies, WAAPA, Edith Cowan University Jack Charles
Joe Henry (US)
Jonathan Dimond - Head of Program/Senior Lecturer, Melbourne Polytechnic Julian Burnside AO QC
Dr Jon Rose (Don Banks Award)
Kate & Phil Ceberano
Katie Noonan - Artistic Director Queensland Music Festival
Ken Stringfellow (US)
Kerrie Glasscock - Artistic Director Sydney Fringe Festival
Lindy Hume - Artsistic Director Opera QLD
Lindy Morrison OAM
Lyn Williams OAM - Director Gondwana Choirs and Sydney Children's Choir Marcia Howard
Marc Ribot (US)
Mary Black (Ireland)
Melbourne International Jazz Festival
Melbourne Jazz Coop (MJC)
Michael Franti (US)
Michael Tortoni - Owner Bennetts Lane Jazz Club
Mike Nock (Don Banks Award)
Miroslav Bukovsky - Distinguished Artist in Residence, School of Music, ANU Missy Higgins
Mullum Music Festival
The Music Trust
Nannup Music Festival
National Celtic Festival
National Folk Festival
Nick Bailey - General Manager, ANAM
Dr Nick Haywood – Coordinator of Contemporary Music, UTAS Conservatorium Paul Dempsey
Paul Grabowsky AO
Dr Paul Williamson - Coordinator of Jazz Ensembles and Honours, Monash Uni Peter Noble OAM - Artistic Director of Byron Bay Bluesfest
Port Fairy Folk Festival
Richard Letts AM - Founder, Music Council of Australia, President, International Music Council
Associate Professor Robert Burke - Coordinator of Jazz & Popular Music, Monash Uni
Dr Robert Vincs - Head of Jazz & Improvisation, VCA, Melbourne University
Rod Vervest -Program Manager Perth International Arts Festival
Shane Howard AM
Simon Burke AO
Slava & Leonard Grigoryan
Steve Nieve (England)
Sydney Fringe Festival
Sydney Improvised Music Association (SIMA)
Truckstop Honeymoon (USA)
Which Way Music Woodford Folk Festival
TO THE MEMBERS, ABC BOARD
Dec 6, 2016
To ABC Board Members
Thank you for the response to the letter from our campaign, delivered electronically on Wednesday Nov 30th and addressed to Members of the ABC Board, including the Managing Director.
We note, at the outset, that the response was written and signed not by the Board itself, but by two of the ABC’s managers who were closely involved in the original decisions, the implementation of which sparked this campaign.
We are not a professional campaign organisation but a small, concerned volunteer group that has received quite extraordinary support from colleagues in the music, musical events and festivals industries and over 16,000 individual ABC listeners. We also note, in passing, that another petition, from the campaign organisation, GetUp! (with which we have no association) has reached over 26,000, though it is logical to believe that there is some duplication between the two.
We have received thousands of letters, emails and comments from some of the most influential people in Australia’s music industry, numerous festivals, events’ organisers and from the listening public. The following key points have been made by many people supporting this campaign and, we believe, deserve very careful consideration.
The Board has a responsibility to uphold a Charter that calls for the “innovative and comprehensive broadcasting services of a high standard”, as well as “programs that contribute to a sense of national identity and inform and entertain, and reflect the cultural diversity of the Australian community”.
In ABC Management’s own words, “not all genres and artists will be covered in the same way...and some artists and areas of music won’t be consistently covered by Double J or local radio”. This is a clear diminution of the ABC’s commitment to reflecting Australia’s cultural diversity. Where will one regularly hear the music of Australia’s diverse ethnic communities, traditional Indigenous music of extreme importance to our cultural heritage and Australian stories within the contemporary musical works of Australian writers and composers?
The argument that digital platforms such as Double J are a suitable primary carrier for Australian and independent music is extremely problematic in terms of both audience and industry. Evidence suggests that access to digital radio in regional Australia is non-existent, and internet access in many parts of remote and regional Australia is very slow and unreliable and often costly for the user. Access via TV is impractical. Digital solutions are not – at this point in time - an adequate replacement or substitute for current linear broadcasting of music content on Radio National.
ABC RN Management has shown a lack of respect for the multi-billion dollar independent music, festivals and events industry by not engaging with them prior to making decisions which, they all say, will have an immediate and, in some cases, significant economic impact on their businesses.
RN Management has demonstrated a lack of understanding of, and failed to investigate how, the industry operates and how important it is to have regular and easily available access to expertly curated, diverse music offerings.
The ABC is facing on-going reputational damage with a large and vocal group, the majority of whom would normally be strong supporters of, and advocates for, a robust, diverse and engaged national public broadcaster.
To elaborate on some of these points:
We do not doubt that Board Members take the ABC Charter seriously. There is also no doubt that they are aware that the proposed axing of these shows – which promote cultural music diversity – follows the scrapping, since 2012, of 13 other music programs on RN and the proposed moving of Saturday Night Country (Local Radio) to a digital platform, thus making it inaccessible to a large number of its followers in remote, regional and rural areas. Does the Board consider this to be a contribution to cultural diversity?
Statistics and comments garnered from reputable sources suggest that digital services are in general extremely narrow in range of delivery and problematic at best. The Government’s very own Communications and Arts Department stated in a report released in 2015 that: “...the cost and complexity of rolling out Digital Audio Broadcasting Plus (DAB+)-based digital terrestrial radio services across regional Australia1 present major challenges for the industry”.2
Currently, DAB+ radio is only available in five capital cities, which means that access to a service like Double J forces rural and regional listeners to rely on internet access. A study of 13,000 Australians surveyed in regional areas (released this year) also tells us that: “... 48 per cent of respondents said their internet was inadequate, or did not meet their current needs”.3 This also suggests that access to ABC digital radio for regional listeners is necessarily a costly user-pays service. Digital radio on TV? The argument that this is suitable access for the lover of diverse music who traditionally listens in the car, in the workplace or outdoors is absurd. This scenario also puts pressure on resources in a family home where there may be only one television available. Of the seven networks the ABC says will feature music, just two are linear, and most will not deliver curated programs with artist backgrounds or cultural context. Another blow for diversity and an attack on listeners outside of the city.
On our website www.savernmusic.com is a link to detailed, evidence based analysis of the economic contribution of the industry. We will not repeat that argument here but refer you again to the website.
Our supporters are the listening public, who appreciate curated, diverse musical genres; thousands of professional, semi-professional and amateur musicians, music producers and educators, sound engineers, publicists, record producers, festivals and events’ organisers and the thousands of volunteers who make these festivals and events happen every year.
Among these supporters are a number of major festivals – like Byron Bay BluesFest and the Woodford, Port Fairy and National Folk Festivals - which generate and contribute many millions of dollars to regional economies each year.
Importantly, our supporters are, by a clear majority, strong advocates of public broadcasting and desirous of an engaged and thriving ABC. They are people who would not willingly cause any damage to the ABC’s reputation; something that has been built up over many years but which can be damaged in a few days of bad decisions.
When important decisions are made by the national broadcaster that affect their livelihood and well-being, our supporters say they want to understand why and they deserve to be treated with respect.
These people know their businesses and they are sending a clear message to the ABC, through us, that the loss of access to thoughtfully curated musical diversity through these program cuts and the moving of some programs to a digital service, will cause quantifiable damage to them and their businesses and even their personal health and well-being.
Their concerns deserve to be acknowledged and addressed.
Today, we are asking that you take the time to read and consider the comments and other material on our website www.savernmusic.com; appreciate the level of expertise and knowledge among our supporters and the concerns they have made; examine and understand the short and long term risk and dangers of reputational damage; and, finally, seek a more complete analysis of their impact after discussions with a wide range of industry experts.
The music industry is often at the forefront of technological change and it would be hypocritical of us to oppose this in other industries. We recognise that change is inevitable and that the ABC must stay abreast of both technological change and cultural adoption. However, this should be done while preserving the core value proposition: expert curation, high quality musical content, and a vibrant and engaged listener audience supporting cultural diversity.
We ask the question: “has this change been managed effectively or explained sufficiently thus far?” If it’s the case that Radio National management has made a value judgement that music is peripheral to the new roadmap, the alternative being offered should at least match what is being lost. Suggesting that Double JJ might provide a suitable channel is demonstrably incorrect and we challenge management’s judgment.
We would enthusiastically embrace the opportunity to connect the ABC Board and Management to primary stakeholders and major industry representatives before these changes are cemented.
As a group, we have enormous respect and admiration for the work of the ABC, particularly in the light of cutbacks by successive federal governments. We know that the job is not easy and that tough decisions have to be made.
We also understand the complexity and difficulty of a board intervening in a decision by management, but failing to seek answers to these questions would be an abrogation of responsibility, particularly when it comes to the reputation of the organisation.
We have heard first hand and in passionate detail from the industry about how much is at stake. We ask that these concerns be treated with respect.
Save RN Music Coordinator, and core campaign team:
1 Unless otherwise specified, references to regional Australia include remote licence areas. 2Australian Department of Communications, ‘Digital Radio Report’ (2015, p. 4).
3 See http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-06-21/almost-half-of-regional-australia-reports-internet- very-poor/7529734, accessed 5 December 2016.