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Mark Scott defends the ABC’s editorial policy

The managing director of Australia's public broadcaster says recent attacks against the ABC are unfounded while launching a new book on journalism.

ABC Managing Director Mark Scott says The Australian newspaper has a ‘fundamental misunderstanding’ of how the public broadcaster works.

In a speech delivered to Melbourne University’s Centre for Advanced Journalism last night, Mr Scott said: ‘…it appears that virtually every author of a chapter in this book has been attacked in one way or another in recent weeks by The Australian.’

The book he was referring to was the one he launched at the Centre last night, titled Australian Journalism Today, by Canberra University Professor Matthew Ricketson.

‘The model The Australian seems to want the ABC to adopt would be akin to Chris Mitchell being forced to attend a daily news conference, convened by News Limited CEO – and the man finally editorially responsible for all product – Kim Williams, where Kim Williams instructs Chris and all other editors on the News Ltd line to be run across all papers and mastheads the following morning,’ Mr Scott said.

‘Where your local team on the ground was not trusted to make editorial judgments and deliver the best product possible to their audiences. I am not sure how Chris would react to this.’

Mr Scott also spoke about public funding of the ABC, saying the broadcaster has tried its best to do more with less money.

‘There are some who would have preferred us to remain snap-frozen: to just keep doing what we were always doing, in a very traditional sense, on radio and television. Who would have urged us not to move into a world of round-the-clock news, delivery online and through apps, not going near Twitter and Facebook.

‘Instead we have looked to rigorously engage – not simply rely on what we have always done – but what we can uniquely do and how we can service our audiences most effectively in this digital age. We have limited funds and new demands. It would be easier not to cut programs, nor create new ones; easier not to reallocate priorities and re-examine the way we work. But we must to ensure we deliver the very best service we can to audiences today. We must focus on what we do best and what is best for the people who own us, fund us and use us.’

Mr Scott said that despite the challenging times facing journalism, there is still a strong appetite for quality story-telling.

‘But for all that – despite all the gloom and the prospect of bleak news, I hope that those who will most use this book, the journalism students, can be excited about what still lies ahead for them if they get the opportunity to find and tell Australian stories. In our experience at the ABC, from the smallest town to the biggest city, there is an endless appetite for Australian stories, well told.

‘I think there are still marvellous journeys to be had down the road of journalism.’

‘Of course, we can ask where the jobs will be – but the reality is that journalism was never the easiest profession to get into. Throughout my career, the number of applicants to traineeships was always about 100 to 1 – much the same as today. Of course, until recently, it was such a closed industry to get into – a handful of papers, a couple of TV and radio licences. Miss the opportunities to work in those places, you had no-where else to go.

‘But now of course, with the right energy and ideas, there are so many more platforms where you can tell your stories, reveal your ideas and showcase your talent: where you can try to connect with and grow an audience. No, it may not make you rich and it may not even be how you pay the bills.

‘At times I fear there will be fewer paid jobs in journalism and that many who practice the craft may do it as so many other artists and craftsman operate – as part of a life, but not a singular vocation.

‘I do think though that most of the time, the most energetic, the most creative, those who work the hardest will find a way and that journalism will be a marvellous journey.

‘I don’t think we should be afraid to say we don’t know.’

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