Donald McDonald, the ABC's departing chairman, Mark Scott, its new managing director, and Gerard Henderson, of the Sydney Institute and its most assiduous and empirical critic, may have rescued the national broadcaster from disappearing into the writhing chaos of blogdom.
At the start of his 10-year double term, McDonald wryly predicted a lengthy wait for signs of change in the ABC's 1960s-style, decrepit-hippie distortions of reality. His patient choreography - including removal from the board of its bizarre overseer, the staff representative - has at last produced indications of the possibility of the ABC's restoration to relevance and to giving value for a lot of public money.
When Scott, encouraged by McDonald and the board, appointed himself editor-in-chief last week (with a deputy to be named to handle the nuts and bolts, while Scott continues also to manage and direct), he dealt a heavy, conceivably crushing, blow to the featherbrained collectivism that took root at the ABC 30 or so years ago and, triffid-like, slowly engulfed it. The ABC's critics - a role I have forced myself out of by taking a break from watching or listening to it - now, at last, have somebody to point the finger at.
When a kids' program is twitched to carry green propaganda, a newspaper drama series is so devoid of creative inspiration that it has to clone Jeff Kennett for its villain, and every correspondent feels free to inject into their reports snide bloggery about John Howard, religious institutions, free markets, non-conformist historians and Americans, we can point the finger and say: "It was you, Scott! You did it!"
That will also happen, of course, if the ABC does something creditable.
Scott was sometimes reproached for his managerialist style as chief editorial executive of John Fairfax Holdings, publisher of The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. However, creating a post for an individual who is clearly responsible for the content of ABC programs is an admirably orthodox management strategy. Scott placing himself in the job is in the finest traditions of the code of the samurai.
Whoever holds the job in future, the office and authority of an editor-in-chief will be there to give the ABC compass readings.
It is outrageous - a management failure - for the ABC to have gone all these years without an editor-in-chief. Where was Roger Ailes when we needed him?
He was at Fox News, issuing commands to staff about what to report and how to do it. Ailes's methods are seen by those of collectivist disposition as brutish intrusion on freedom of speech and individual liberty. Subordinates can sometimes change the boss's mind and are always free to whinge, but this is what editors do.
Hitherto nobody has really been in charge at the ABC. The board has had no say over content and is extravagantly denounced if seen to interfere. ABC managing directors have mostly been bureaucrats, concerning themselves less with content than with administration, finance and, above all, defence of the institution. Faced with criticism of programs, their procedure has been to call for reports from department heads and conclude from them that no sin has been committed.
A classic instance - closely tracked by Henderson in his institute's quarterly magazine - was the response by Russell Balding, managing director before Scott, to 68 complaints from Richard Alston, then communications minister, about bias in the ABC's Iraq war coverage. Against a background of outrage over Alston's sticking his oar in, the complaints were sequentially studied by three sets of arbiters, each with some claim to independence.
Twenty-one of Alston's complaints were upheld. Astonishingly, Balding claimed that the failure to uphold the other 47 effectively absolved the ABC of fault.
It is encouraging to know that the new editor-in-chief plans, as his first action, to review Media Watch, a trivial but emblematic ABC program that purports to offer weekly analysis and criticism of media performance. Media Watch was rather entertaining when its founding presenter, Stuart Littlemore, engaged in uninhibited barristerial sneering at a profession he'd tried his hand at and found too limited to contain his talents. But tedium set in after Littlemore, with presenters wallowing in a fantasy of being editors-in-chief of everything and castigating other media for not having the high standards and enlightened viewpoints of the ABC.
Serious media criticism can be found, for comparison, at www.editorandpublisher.com and, intermittently, in this newspapers's weekly Media and Marketing section.
If the ABC's Media Watch comes quickly to match these benchmarks, we will know Scott is on course.
Even if the new editor-in-chief turns out to have hidden proclivities and edits ABC programs according to sharia law, it will be an improvement on the present quagmire of faded, trendy values maintained by the faceless intellectual elite of cafeteria society, a regime similar to that of the latte princesses in the high school comedy Mean G