Less Fry, more Tassie, ABC Senate inquiry hears

Less Fry, more Tassie, ABC Senate inquiry hears

DOES the ABC show too much Stephen Fry? Is it giving too much love to Sydney and Melbourne and not enough to regional Australia?

Such questions were asked at Friday's Senate inquiry in Hobart, where a group of senators gave the ABC's managing director, Mark Scott, a fair grilling.

Too much of a good thing? ... host of the UK's QI game show Stephen Fry.

Too much of a good thing? ... host of the UK's QI game show Stephen Fry.

Photo: Justin McManus

The inquiry was sparked by Mr Scott's recent plans to close the ABC's television studio in Tasmania with the loss of 16 jobs. The senators want to know whether the ABC's ''increased centralisation'' has hindered its ''ability to reflect national identity and diversity''.

Responding to aggressive questioning by senators Doug Cameron and Christine Milne, Mr Scott said it was not the ABC's responsibility to keep local film production busy.

Grilled ... Mark Scott.

Grilled ... Mark Scott.

Photo: Jon Reid

The ABC, he said, was telling plenty of stories across Australia, citing its network of 51 regional content centres. But many of those locally-produced stories were news and current affairs rather than drama.

''Local production should not be conflated with locally relevant content,'' he said.

''Are you going to fly people in every time Tasmania wants to tell a story?'' one senator asked.

''We have looked at how we make television,'' Mr Scott said, ''and rather than having a fixed quotient of staff there available at all times … we are better off leveraging that money and using it with the independent production sector.''

Some submissions to the inquiry suggested that the ABC have its budget tied to producing a certain amount of content in regional Australia.

Giving evidence to the inquiry, Margaret Reynolds, a former senator and the president of Friends of the ABC in Tasmania, bemoaned the frequency with which the British comedian Stephen Fry appeared on the ABC, asking rhetorically how viewers would know they were in Australia.

Jonathan Swan

Jonathan Swan is a Fairfax Media reporter based in the Canberra bureau, Parliament House.

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