ABC Managing Director Mark Scott’s Christmas message to staff has leaked, as these things do at that most porous of institutions.

It contains the usual boosterism, and the announcement that staff will get a Christmas bonus of a $35 ABC shop voucher. Bet they can’t contain their excitement.

More seriously, the Christams message does contain some substance, and insights into the boss’s thinking. Read the whole things here. Meanwhile, here are what I regard as the highlights.

Scott clearly regards the next six months as among the most crucial in the broadcaster’s modern history. He says: “We are at a point now where a number of forces and events that will determine Australia’s culture, its future and the future of the ABC itself in the digital age will soon be coming together.”

These forces and events include the shift to digital broadcasting, the national broadband network, and of course:

…that Tuesday night in May next year when the Federal budget is handed down and we learn the Government’s response to the ABC’s funding submission for 2009-2012. Of course, the severe economic downturn now means our funding bid will be considered in a vastly different context than we may have envisaged a year ago.

Which sounds rather as though the boss is trying to prepare the troops for a let down.

About the funding submission, he describes it as a “content driven proposal” and goes on:

A paradox of the digital era is that while it will be characterised by plenty – with a greater range of content choices than any previously experienced – it will also be characterised by scarcity – with less choice in some culturally significant areas.

He highlights local and regional content, quality current affairs journalism and children’s, documentary and drama as the areas of likely shorfall.

(In other public addresses, such as at the Future of Journalism conference in Sydney earlier this year, Scott has also mentioned investigative journalism as an areas of likely “market failure”.)

Scott tells staff that ensuring these kinds of content remain available is one of the ABC’s “most significant cultural aspirations.”

For reasons like this, there is a growing appreciation by Government that while the ABC funding agreement lasts for three years, it will have consequences for a decade. And lasting implications for our cultural and democratic life.

Then, perhaps bravely for a man seen as Scrooge to many, he talks about the pain – the implementation of a consultant’s report that has seen television production staff slashed. He says:

I believe the larger purpose behind this is understood. That we have had to change the way we work so that we can continue to meet our content commitments. By putting the Production Review recommendations into practice we have also given consistency and clarity to the argument that the ABC has, before seeking extra funding, done all it can to ensure its existing funding is used efficiently.

He acknowledges:

I appreciate that no matter how great the goal or how necessary, change of this magnitude often comes at a personal cost. That the burden falls unevenly, and that the direct impact felt by one is felt indirectly by many.

Ho ho ho.

A bit more substance than most Christmas messages, but also plenty to make us think that Scott is beginning to believe there may not be much seasonal cheer come budget night.

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