You are here

Mark Scott's Lacklustre Vision for the Future of Our ABC

Somewhat overshadowed by the extensive if occasionally perfunctory coverage of the 2020 Summit in Canberra has been ABC Managing Director Mark Scott's own ideas paper, "The ABC in the Digital Age - Towards 2020" which was released last Thursday.

Scott also posted a kind of executive summary of the paper to the ABC's 2020 Unleashed site: here, he resorts to time-honoured platitudes about how in future "we will be saturated with choices about what to watch, listen to and experience; it will be like trying to hold back the ocean with a broom." (Huh?) His solution: more channels - "a suite of six ABC TV channels", plus "at least 15 radio services."

Scott's language reveals a curious myopia about future media developments, however: while in addition to the paper's title itself, even in the 28 short paragraphs of the Unleashed article the word 'digital' pops up a whopping eight times, references to 'deliver(y)' of content to audiences are just as common - by contrast, active participation of users is equated only with a greater choice of ABC-programmed channels, not with active user-led content creation.

The full paper doesn't do much better. Throughout its eleven pages, one dot point on page four notes that "a growing proportion of the public is interested in active engagement with media content creation, ranging from voting and forum discussion, through to collaboration in content creation", but whether and how the ABC intends to address such interest remains unclear. Even the "Creative Risk" section, where innovative forms of user engagement might seem most likely to appear, ultimately disappoints:

The ABC is also well placed to take creative risks with new ways of telling stories and creating conversations between Australians. The digital environment creates the potential for new content experiences and story-telling formats. In the documentary genre, this could be a non-linear, fully interactive documentary which gives the user much more control over how the story unfolds. (10)

So close - "creating conversations between Australians" - and yet so far: in the end, even an interactive documentary remains a conventional media text confining its users to a role as (only just slightly less) passive audience.

This 'old media' mindset is a concern. As I've argued in my recent article in Media International Australia, as well as at the ABC's own Digital Media Forum in February, it's increasingly important for media organisations to shift away from seeing interactive, participatory, collaborative media projects as a mere add-on to the 'core business' of content delivery, and to move towards a multi-modal media model that repositions users from being audiences and consumers for ready-made products to being participants and, yes, produsers in the content creation process.

Arguments for this repositioning are readily found across a variety of domains - from the potential that such participation has to promote active, creative citizenship and thus strengthen democratic involvement, to the contribution that it makes to the national project of developing digital literacies and capacities, and on to the boost it provides for the visibility of user-generated Australian culture on a national and international stage.

"Will we be seeing more our own lives reflected - or less?", Scott asks, somewhat ungrammatically. "Who will tell the Australian story?" His answer: "The ABC will." But why? Why not position the national media organisation so that it can help Australians tell their own stories, in their own voices, instead of merely telling those stories on their behalf?

Of course the ABC does have a sizeable number of projects which do explore the potential for engaging with produsage communities (and from what I've seen at the Digital Forum but can't talk about yet, there are quite a few more in the pipeline), from its increasingly active online fora to the election-time Unleashed: Sledge channel on YouTube and through to the user-led content site As more of our media activities move to a network basis, why does Scott choose to ignore these in favour of his ambitious spectrum grab?

Technorati : , , , , , : , , , , ,