ABC's Dalton denies having job lined up
Kim Dalton at the ABC studios in Ultimo, Sydney. Photo: Louie Douvis
THE outgoing director of television at the ABC, Kim Dalton, has denied having a new job lined up after surprising staff on Monday with the news that he will leave the post in February, seven years after joining the organisation.
"There is no secret there, seriously," Mr Dalton said. "I've decided it's time to move on, and what's next I'm not sure at the moment. Well I am, actually. It's a rest. They're pretty demanding, jobs like this."
Mr Dalton denied he was being pushed out, or that he had ever harboured any ambitions for the top job at the organisation – ambitions that might have been fuelled recently as speculation grew that managing director Mark Scott was in line for the director general job at the BBC, only to be doused when Tony Hall was announced in November as the incoming boss of the Beeb (from March 2013).
He told Fairfax Media he had simply done all he set out to do and felt it was time to move on.
"I think jobs like this have a life of five, six, seven years," Mr Dalton said. "If you're the sort of person I am you come in with a vision or an agenda, and in my case it was a change agenda, and you spend five or six years working on that. And I think I've made some significant changes at the ABC – we've got more money, we've got more channels, more Australian content. They're all the things I thought were important. Now it's time to move on."
Mr Scott yesterday paid tribute to Mr Dalton's leadership of the broadcaster's television operations. "Kim has driven ABC television to create more compelling Australian content and deliver it to more Australians in more ways. His advocacy was very important in putting together a coalition of support behind our successful funding bids."
The ABC now receives $76 million a year more in television funding than it did when Mr Dalton arrived. In his time it has also expanded from two channels to four and led the way in delivering content outside the schedule, via its iView catch-up service, and on devices other than the TV set.
Critics would also point to the fact that Mr Dalton has overseen the closure of the ABC's Tasmanian production facility, driven a massive outsourcing of production to the independent sector, and gutted the broadcaster's arts programming and production, arguably in contravention of its charter.
Mr Dalton, who was formerly the chief executive of the Australian Film Commission (the predecessor to Screen Australia, the peak film funding body), has certainly overseen a resurgence in Australian drama on the ABC, which had sunk below 20 hours a year in 2005. In 2012 the figure was about 80 hours.
"Under Kim local drama content has dramatically increased and the factual and entertainment budgets, while meagre, have resulted in some of the highest-rating shows on TV. He will be missed," independent producer Nick Murray said.
"I think he's done a great job," said Richard Harris, chief of the South Australian Film Commission. "He came in at a pretty tough time and turned it around. He's challenged the ABC culture too in asking what is the core business of the ABC – he's really made it Australian programming."
"He's been an incredible advocate for Australian drama," said Matt Deaner, executive director of the Screen Producers Association of Australia. "He's driven a renaissance in Australian content on the ABC that's also extended to kids' content and indigenous programming. It's content that we can all be proud of."
Mr Dalton will ease out of the ABC, remaining in a consultant capacity next year. Officially, his role will be about programming – "there's a few ongoing projects I've agreed to keep involved in," he said – but with the ABC facing its triennial funding negotiations with the government next year, it is more than possible Mr Dalton might called on to share his expertise in that area.