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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Stephen Crittenden - being hung?

A follow up to the posts below, Stephen Crittenden, has been suspended on full pay pending an inquiry into comments he made last week about the axing of flagship programs on Radio National.

When you can do nothing else: bear witness.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Crittenden, religion and the axe #2

This article is in this afternoon's Crikey

What are they doing to Radio National? God help us!

An extraordinary opening comment by Radio National Religion Report presenter Stephen Crittenden this morning (listen to it here) was the first many ABC listeners will have heard about serious changes to the RN schedule planned for 2009. Former ABC religious broadcaster Paul Collins takes up the tale:

Words tell you everything. When you hear "interdisciplinary" you know it means "dumbing down" and "consumer focused" always refers to the lowest common denominator. This is precisely the rhetoric used yesterday by ABC Radio National management to describe their intentions for RN programming next year.

Several specialist programs are being taken off-air including the Religion Report, the Media Report and Radio Eye. The Reports are flagship programs that deal with issues central to current culture. Apparently they are being replaced by a movie show and something about the future. Specialist broadcasters will spend more time responding to opinionated bloggers rather than making programs. God help us!

Let's be clear what ABC Radio management is up to: it is a case of the bland leading the bland. Specialisation is out. Nowadays the belief is that any old (or, more likely, young) "interdisciplinary" journalist can deal with any topic. Well, I've been interviewed literally hundreds of times on ABC radio and TV. My experience is that while most journalists make a reasonable go of it, they just don't know the detail and often have to be led to the key questions.

Take religion for example. There are no more than half a dozen specialist religious journalists in Australia. Two work for Fairfax (Linda Morris and Barney Zwartz) and the rest for the ABC which has had a religion department since the beginning of the Corporation. Stephen Crittenden, John Cleary and Rachael Kohn are able to cover a complex spectrum of beliefs, practices and theologies from a wide cross-section of traditions precisely because they are specialists.

Nowadays religion is a mainstream political, cultural and socio-economic issue with enormous impact on world affairs. To cover it adequately you need specialists. That is precisely what Stephen Crittenden has done on the Religion Report. He knows what the issues are and where the bodies are buried. Sure, he's upset some powerful people, but that's the nature of a free media.

I'm not paranoid. I don’t see this as an attack on religion. It's more a lack of appreciation of specialization, derived from the half-witted, post-modern conviction that everyone can do anything. Sure, they can ask a few prosaic, "man-in-the-street" questions. But that's not the task of Radio National. If you think it is, get a job with the commercials.

We need to be clear where this is leading. It effectively spells the end of religion as a specialization in the ABC. If you only have a couple of minor, essentially life-style programs on air you don't need people who know their stuff. All you need is an 'interdisciplinary, consumer-focused' approach, produced by the type of journalist who doesn’t know the difference between an Anglo-Catholic and an Evangelical!

Paul Collins is a former specialist editor (religion) for the ABC

When you can do nothing else: bear witness.

Crittenden, religion and the axe

It was only on Monday that I explained how I try to keep this blog's focus on resources for Desert Spirituality. To-day, I am defending and attacking all at once in defence of one of the great religious resources, The Religion Report on Australia's public broadcasting icon, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, and its presenter Stephen Crittenden.

The Religion Report is first broadcast on Wednesday morning's at 8.30am. Each morning on Radio National there is an 8.30am to 9.00am timeslot allocated as follows:

Monday..................The Health Report
Tuesday..............The Law Report
Wednesday...............The Religion Report
Thursday...............The Media Report
Friday.....................The Sports Factor

This morning Stephen had a spray at the beginning of The Religion Report and he has sent me what he said:

This week the new line-up of Radio National programs for 2009 was announced.

The Religion Report has been de-commissioned, along with The Media Report, The Sports Factor, The Ark, Perspective, In Conversation, Street Stories and Radio Eye. These programs are going in order to make room for (quote) 'more inter-disciplinary work on the network', and the 8.30 timeslot is being remodelled to give it (quote) 'more consumer focus'.

The decision to axe one of this network's most distinctive and important programs has been
approved by the Director of ABC Radio, Sue Howard, and it will condemn Radio National to even greater irrelevance.

The ABC's specialist units have been under attack for years, but the decapitation of the flagship program of the Religion Department effectively spells the death of Religion at the ABC. That
such a decision has been taken in an era when Religion vies with Economics as a determinant of everything that is going on in the world almost beggars belief - but you have to remember that just a couple of years ago they axed the Environment program.

The Religion Report has always been fearless - and I don't have to tell you that it has put many powerful noses out of joint. This is a signal to the churches that the ABC has decided to vacate the field. If you care about this program and what it represents, I suggest that you might
consider writing to the ABC Board or the Managing Director, Mark Scott.

I set out below my letter to everyone on my email lists this morning:

Dear One and All,

The Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC) is a national treasure and an international icon of public broadcasting - although our politicians of the right and left don't appear to regard it as so with their stacking of boards and miserliness with funding.

One of the great pleasures in my life is listening to the ABC's Radio National. If you don't listen to Radio National, don't bother reading further because this is all about trying to save some of Australia's most respected broadcasters and programs at Radio National from getting the axe. To outline this, Stephen Crittenden of The Religion Report has sent me a copy of his statement read at the commencement of TRR this morning. Read it below.

Stephen's spray outlines the proposed "re-modelling" of the 8.30am timeslot but makes no mention of either The Health Report or The Law Report. If they survive in one form or another, will this be because doctors and lawyers have more influence with RN than the rest of us?

The religion programs - which along with Radio Eye are my favourites - are The Religion Report hosted by Stephen Crittenden and The Ark hosted by Rachel Kohn. I would be surprised if there was a better religion journalist/presenter anywhere than Stephen. I have no idea of Stephen's faith perspective - he could be a religion literate atheist for all I know - but his conversation is intelligent, subject literate, perspicacious and insightful. Rachel Kohn is a most distinguished religious presented with great expertise in comparative religion.

The Religion Report covers a wide range of territory - but I think it would not be untrue to say that not all subjects of discussion on The Religion Report would have welcomed TRR reports of their doings. I can think of the Exclusive Brethren and Steiner education to begin with.

Australia has a long and proud tradition of secularism and long may it be so. However, in recent years, there have been clear displays of secular bigotry against individuals in particular and religion in general. Could the axing of TRR be another scalp of secularists who neither understand nor give a fig for the topic of religion?

Australia has a diverse population - and many of our immigrant communities come from old faith traditions which are continued in this country. TRR helps to give a voice to these traditions and to make those traditions known to the broader Australian community. Losing this voice will not only leave us poorer but also also take away from us a vital tool in overcoming our ignorance.

Religious adversaries have brought suspicion, violence and war to the earth in recent years. Australian politics, which were long largely religion free, have now been penetrated with modern political tools by a range of religions. Who will explain this to us if not The Religion Report under the clear and precise dissection of Stephen Crittenden?

Stephen has asked us to write to the ABC Board or the Managing Director, Mark Scott. I would also suggest that we write to the Federal leaders of political parties from the Prime Minister down. The Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition are both known as men of faith - the former an Anglican and the latter a Catholic. I believe it is important that we make ourselves and our views known to them - for the sake of public broadcasting in this country and, in particular, the reporting of religion.Please let me know what you think and - importantly - what it is that you do.

So, Dear Reader, could you please do your bit to keep Australia's major religious communications resource on air and in the public domain. Please note for your records that the protocol for emails at the ABC is Therefore......

Managing Director - Mark Scott ..............
Chair of the Board - Maurice Newman....
Board Members
Janet Albrechtsen ....................................
Steven Skala .............................................
Peter Hurley .............................................
Keith Windschuttle ..................................
Director of ABC Radio - Sue Howard ....
Stephen Crittenden .................................

It goes without saying...

prayers and miracles are a welcome priority

BTW, the wonderful collection that makes up the Board of Australia's national broadcaster is the result of appointments made by the previous (conservative) Australian government. The current government bears no responsibility for that.

And, dear Reader, after all that, if you still have questions or need assistance for your lobbying, please let me know and I will try to find solutions.

When you can do nothing else: bear witness.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Back to the blog...and on to Paul Krugman

As you can see, Dear Reader, it has been a long time between posts. Life has been full, to say the least. Firstly, because I am part of a new environmental organisation, GreenFaith Australia. This is a multi-faith organisation - and Miss Eagle is the Secretary. Secondly, our friendly landlords need their house back for pressing family reasons so we are househunting - no success yet - and I am organising my garden by potting up all that is not in puts. Won't be able to take the blooming broad beans, and the sugar loaf cabbages, and the cauliflowers but, gee whiz, silver beet and beetroot look quite decorative in individual pots. Thirdly, I have been very ill. Six days in the Angliss Hospital with cellulitis in my face and left ear on high-powered antibiotics. I was the tourist attraction of the Short Stay Unit for doctors and nurses who came to look at the monstrosity on the side of my head. Now I just feel like I have had the stuffing knocked right out of me.

So in all this what has brought me back to the blog................


for his analysis of trade patterns and location of economic activity

The copyright of this photo belongs to Princeton University which, I hope, is forgiving to a Krugman fan and to whom Miss Eagle sends congratulations on yet another Nobel winner.

Joy! Sheer unadulterated joy! And self-congratulations too in the fact that your correspondent, Dear Reader, really does know a great economist when she sees one. Her favouritest economist - who is the only reason she continues to read The New York Times - has just received the 2008 Nobel Prize for Economics. Miss Eagle presents to you the one, the only......PAUL KRUGMAN.

Krugman is a great and innovative economic theoretician but - and this is of vital importance to folks like me - he is a great communicator. Here is an economist who speaks our language, an economist who hangs his politics honestly on his sleeve. John Kenneth Galbraith long ago captured my heart. Krugman, in my view, is a worthy successor. For even more, go here.

If you, too, wish to congratulate Paul Krugman please email him here.


When you can do nothing else: bear witness.