Propriety, and the laws of defamation, prevent me from writing about ABC TV’s The Drum that which so richly deserves to be written.
This show takes smug, self-righteous, self-aggrandising broadcasting to a level not even attempted by unwatchable commercial networks’ current affairs shows.
If you’re unfamiliar with it, as I fervently hope you are, The Drum is a prime-time, hour-long space-filler, hosted in turn by Ellen Fanning, Julia Baird and occasionally by Stan Grant. Surprisingly perhaps, the show succeeds in one way at least. It makes its ‘cousin’ current affairs show, Q&A, appear distantly respectable.
The Drum is an execrable production which, in a single episode, declares the intellectual vacuity of contemporary public television and the degree to which the national broadcaster is prepared to indulge woke, sectoral interests in its quest to attract a new audience.
Nobody at the ABC being good at maths, they haven’t yet worked out that the desired ‘new’ audience is gained at the expense of repelling another. The exercise is a zero-sum game.
The core idea of the show is to provide a platform for self-promoters, lobbyists, idiotically self-titled ‘social influencers’ such as the perpetually aggrieved Jane Caro, Peter Fitzsimmons and the oh so virtuous Wesley Enoch, along with others ‘on the make’ in one field or another. The panto is designed to make the ABC appear ‘in sync’ with the woke exponents of leftist dogma from arts funding to education.
So fixated is the broadcaster with what it charmingly calls ‘good talent’ they keep asking the same people back provided you ‘tow the party line’ and can riff about anything.
Consider how well the piercing insights of the regulars from the politically skewed Sydney City Council go over with viewers in the outback Northern Territory or on the west coast of Tasmania? The announced relocation of a handful of ABC flunkies to a new broadcast hub in Parramatta is likely to do little to challenge the view that the broadcaster is of Sydney, for Sydney, by Sydney.
The galling, insulting monologues by Ellen Fanning (occasionally dressed as questions) must be seen for what they are. Fanning doesn’t wish to encourage the audience to think. She wishes to tell viewers ‘what to think’ and does so with a haughty and overt ‘pleased with herself’ arrogance.
Somehow the viewer gets the distinct impression that the nonchalant Fanning is better than everyone else in her orbit. She isn’t. For proof just take the briefest of looks at the show and you’ll get the drift. Both Fanning and Baird appear to have forfeited careers as broadcast journalists to become ‘entertainers.’ Fanning recently made a nauseating appearance on that other outstanding ABC panel production ‘Win The Week’ confirming, it seems, her days as a serious journalist are behind her.
The ABC has experienced budget cuts, it’s true, but even these cannot alone explain the miserable depths to which the broadcaster’s television output has sunk
The question of precisely to whom ABC current affairs television is appealing has never been adequately explored or articulated.
Is it rural and regional communities trying hard to make a living in a Covid ravaged economy? No. Could it be factory workers, mine workers, train drivers, crane operators, carpenters or bricklayers – people who work physically hard for a living? Hardly. Could it be inner city (read Sydney) elites in search of an audience to express their narrow, risk-free, doctrinal views about how shocking politicians are and how bad life is? Almost certainly.
The message is obvious. Anyone over the age of 55 has reached their ‘use by’ date and anyone with an opinion based on actual knowledge, experience or research is an anachronism due for cancellation. Such people are not welcome on the show.
So-called current affairs programs such as The Drum, Q&A and several notable woefully sloppy episodes of Four Corners are not enhancing the ABC standing as a once quality broadcaster but damaging it. Each episode of The Drum is an Exocet into the hull of decent, respected, researched television journalism.
Even more dispiriting than this is that the ABC Board, management and its programmers know this to be true. But what the heck; it fills five hours a week of prime air time and nobody can remember a single episode from the next. This river of anti-intellectual, spoon-fed drivel disappears down the drain as quickly as it appeared.
The television arm of our national broadcaster has become a flag-waver for post-truth, lowest common denominator journalism where once it was a recognised bulwark against both. ABC radio, by contrast, continues to produce high-quality current affairs content (mostly) stimulating its audience to think for themselves. As Radio National’s content gets better, ABC television content heads rapidly south.
It is to the ABC’s eternal shame that it produces and puts to air garbage such as The Drum — while serving the interests not of hard-working Australians — but of tut-tutting elites enraptured with the sound of their own voices, determined to reproduce the world in their image. All they have on offer is their voice – and the ABC willingly provides them the microphone.
John Simpson is a former ABC news journalist.
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