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News February 19, 2020

Radio silence: the ABC’s alleged mishandling of violent threats

Radio silence: the ABC’s alleged mishandling of violent threats

ABC, we’ve got a problem.

No, not the constant pressures that come with the federal government’s funding freeze, which is certainly a problem. A mighty big one at that. Or those regular calls from the right to privatise the ABC, remove its fangs. Or the federal court’s decision this week to dismiss the broadcaster’s legal challenge to the validity of that worrying raid by feds on its premises. Yes, those are real problems, issues that stretch deep into the heart of democracy.

Gen Fricker has called out a problem at the ABC. And it shouldn’t exist.

Fricker, a popular, quick-witted comic who you’d love to have at your next dinner party, split with triple j after she found herself stuck in a dangerous incident at the ABC’s Ultimo HQ, and delivered a missive on the way out.

Aunty was a boy’s club, she said, and her bosses had been alerted to her stalker, who infiltrated the studio in September 2018 while she was on air. It wasn’t an isolated incident.

It’s a problem.

In recent months, a handful of high-profile presenters have exited the national broadcaster. Another problem.

There was no funny business when Fricker spoke to Marie Claire’s Finding Fearless podcast about her face-to-face moment with a nutter who’d stalked her for months, and several times tried infiltrating the ABC offices, using all types of bullshit excuses. “No one thought to tell me anything,” she says.

It was “terrifying, the whole thing,” she adds. “What was worse was what happened afterwards.”

Fricker took time off. But didn’t get the help she needed. And, she explains, the communications giant just didn’t communicate.

“It’s hard because I really love triple j and obviously I feel like so much of my career I owe to them, but the response I got from the ABC was essentially ‘this isn’t our fault, you take as much time off as you want but we don’t have to do anything.’”

“At first I was like ‘yeah no worries, I don’t want to inconvenience anyone, it’s just this crazy, weird thing that happened’ … and then I realised that I was entitled to ask for things.”

Later, she asked for an accountability report. How did this guy get into her workspace? “I didn’t hear anything for a month, then I got an email saying, sorry we’re a bit busy at the moment, but we’ll get back to you soon’. Of all the places to not respond to this.”

It dawned on her, this was “essentially just like any other workplace,” Gen says. “It’s just that the funky Dads are straight, white, old males. Just because they’re wearing cool glasses and jumpers doesn’t make them any less oblivious to women and the issues that they face.”

After learning her initial warnings about the stalker were never passed to the appropriate channels, she came to the realisation there’s a “layer at the top there that’s oblivious to the world.” She was let down by her superiors, having asked for a producer, and training or a policy around violence towards female presenters, noting Leigh Sales and other colleagues had been subjected to disturbing language, unwanted attention and worse.

One day, Fricker recounted, the triple j text line was hit with a dick pic, an incident that was apparently laughed off by her seniors.

In 2018, ABC Radio Adelaide presenter Ali Clarke broke down live on radio after receiving an abusive message on the station’s text line.

Sales, a peerless journalist who always asks the tough questions, has been targeted more than most. A tub of yoghurt was lobbed at her while delivering a speech, and had a retired businessman landed an unwanted kiss on her lips at a charity event.

Says Fricker: “It’s a really weird time in history now where obviously women are becoming more prominent in media positions and just in powerful positions, but when there’s still this layer at the top it doesn’t really matter how many female faces you put at the front of a company, it’s still going to be run the way it’s run, which is a boys club. Which sucks.”

The Corporation defended itself by way of a statement on Fricker’s comments.

“As the ABC said to Gen at the time,” the statement reads, “we were devastated that the incident occurred and committed to supporting her recovery and return to work.”

triple j logo

The publicly-funded broadcaster “provided constant care and support to Gen after the incident and throughout her remaining time at the ABC, over some 16 months, including additional personal security, counselling, transport, additional production and staff support, financial support and flexible working arrangements,” the statement continues.

“We responded promptly and comprehensively to all of Gen’s concerns and needs and enhanced our security provisions for all ABC staff in response to the incident.”

With the benefit of hindsight, Fricker looks back at her “horrific year” (she also went through a breakup) and she’s crystallised its all for a touring comedy show. But she still loves the Corporation like a family. And families can be dysfunctional.

triple j’s family has had something like a revolving door policy in recent months. Hack host Tom Tilley, brekkie hosts Ben and Liam, drive presenter Veronica Milsom, mornings host Linda Marigliano and, of course, Fricker have all departed the government-funded youth radio station, all for their own reasons.

2 panel image of wayward triple j hosts Gen Fricker and Linda Marigliano

Gen Fricker and Linda Marigliano

Staff turnover is a kick in the guts for any company. A talent drain like this is unfortunate.

The ABC is fighting battles at every corner, but its staff are precious. Just imagine if Fricker’s stalker had a weapon in his back pocket. It’s not inconceivable. There are untold arseholes out there who want Sales to stop probing.

The broadcaster’s critics – and there are many – will exploit its shortcomings, again. The right love a fight, this mess gives Bolt and Co. more ammunition.

All of this is a problem.

Execs should pour over Fricker’s comments, ask questions, play a less defensive game and fix its communication problems.

Radio silence is the worst.

This article originally appeared on The Industry Observer, which is now part of The Music Network.

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