Axing The Drum: short sighted and inexplicable

Axing The Drum: short sighted and inexplicable

Thousands of The Drum’s loyal audience members have expressed their dismay at the ABC’s decision to discontinue the program in 2024. ABC Friends has written to the ABC’s Head of News, Justin Stevens, saying that no other ABC current affairs program provides the intelligent and respectful debate that the program offers. That’s especially important at a time of intense political polarisation. 

Julia Barid and Ellen Fanning on set of The Drum
Ellen Fanning (left) and Julia Baird on set of The Drum. Photo: ABC

The ABC announced on 12 December that the program would not return in 2024, because it had only been watched by a "comparatively small and declining" audience in recent years.

ABC Friends President, Cassandra Parkinson, said that throughout its 13 years The Drum had consistently provided a vehicle for discussion of key issues across a range of views. 

The Drum always included a broad range of people on its panels, which meant that audience members could hear from a range of different perspectives. Instead of the “usual talking heads”, younger people and people from a diverse range of backgrounds and viewpoints always made sure that there were fresh perspectives”.

“Axing the program instead of refreshing or reformatting it to gain a bigger audience will diminish the breadth and range of people we can see on our TV screens. There is a need for more, not less, of the intelligent and nuanced debate that has characterised the best of The Drum.” 

More than 10,000 people have signed a petition on calling on the ABC to “prevent the cancellation of The Drum or consider its reformatting”. The petition suggests alternatives such as reformatting the program as a 90-minute weekly show or changing the schedule to Monday, Wednesday & Friday. The petition urges the ABC to consider their proposal seriously before making any final decisions about The Drum

In an email to staff, Justin Stevens paid tribute to the program, saying that it had been “ground breaking in championing diversity on air, leading the way in finding new voices and inspiring other ABC teams to follow suit".

Confirming that Julia Baird, Ellen Fanning and Dan Bouchier would remain with the ABC, the axing will lead to a programs team on the ABC News Channel being disbanded and one executive position abolished. The ABC is reported to have said there will be fewer than five redundancies.

Julia Baird will write and create podcasts and video for ABC News, while Fanning will work out of the Brisbane newsroom and be on Brisbane radio. Dan Bourchier will be a presenter on the ABC News Channel.

Baird and Fanning paid their own tributes to the show, with Julia Baird saying that the program aimed to “not just add depth and insight to a topic, or chew over the merits of any particular policy, but to challenge stale and conventional ideas about who has the right to sit at the table — who should be heard, and who should be listened to. In short, who should be on television”.

Ellen Fanning said that The Drum was a “radical departure from journalism as usual”.

“Away from the Punch and Judy of traditional panel shows that pit one "side" against the other towards a nuanced, complex, grassroots conversation that is authentically Australian, reflecting the spirit of this country and our enduring capacity to listen and learn from one another, “ she said.

In her letter Cassandra made a similar point.

“The decision highlights a growing unease among our members that the qualities they value in the ABC are being downplayed in favour of a more tabloid style of journalism. Many of our members have expressed their frustration with oppositional debates which have the unintended effect of turning some away from the news.”

Sophie Arnold
E-news Editor