ABC claims it declined PM’s Literary Awards broadcast because of ‘unworkable’ demands
ABC Television director Richard Finlayson has issued a statement outlining the network’s reasons for not broadcasting last year’s Prime Minister’s Literary Awards ceremony in December, following a report in the Australian that SBS is working with Sky News to produce a live broadcast of this year’s awards in Sydney on 7 October.
As previously reported by Books+Publishing, the government approached the ABC in November about broadcasting the awards, which were pitched as ‘similar to the BBC’s broadcast of the Man Booker Prize’. An agreement was later made to broadcast the awards on Sky News channel A-Pac and the SBS arts channel on Foxtel, Studio.
Finlayson writes that event organisers, led by Australian Publishers Association president and Melbourne University Publishing CEO Louise Adler and representatives for arts minister George Brandis, ‘were right to come to us to discuss how we would best present the Awards’. ‘We share an aspiration to position them, over time, in a similar fashion to the Man Booker Prize, albeit with a fraction of the budget,’ said Finlayson. However, Finlayson said the ABC’s pitch, involving ‘a one-hour special of the ABC’s popular Book Club’ that would ‘include coverage of all speeches, including that of the Prime Minister and the Minister for the Arts’, was countered with ‘a remarkably comprehensive list of binding demands which would make the broadcast unworkable for the ABC and compromised its editorial standards’.
Finlayson said the demands included that Byrne’s name not be used in the title and that full, unedited speeches of the prime minister and arts minister be broadcast, ‘swallowing up 25 per cent of a packed awards and post-award interview schedule’. ‘Further, Ms Adler insisted we travel around the country and shoot and edit interviews with all 30 nominees—impossible within the timeframe and limited budget,’ said Finlayson.
Finlayson said the ABC’s refusal to agree to the conditions was based on ‘its rights and obligations to exercise editorial control over the content the ABC broadcasts or publishes’.
Finlayson’s statement follows a story in the Australian on 5 September in which Adler said negotiations with the ABC broke down because it was unwilling to broadcast the prime minister’s speech in full. ‘The ABC refused to broadcast the PM’s speech, which was going to be about seven minutes,’ said Adler. ‘What was puzzling was the ABC’s willingness to broadcast unedited the prize-winning writers’ speeches but not the Prime Minister of the day.’
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