Concern about cuts at ABC
The ABC has moved to squash reports that it is cutting several rural reporter positions, including the one in Lismore.
Senator Barnaby Joyce said a $500,000 shortfall has brought about a push to remove two rural reporters, one in Mackay, Queensland and the other from Lismore. Senator Joyce also said “radio content shall be moved towards a mega-region concept that does not take into account the geographic anomalies of our dispersed land”.
“The ABC’s Country Hour is Australia’s longest running radio program and is part of a stable that includes early morning rural reports which are currently under serious threat,” Senator Joyce said. “If we are to continue to believe in a nation that exists beyond a few urban centres, then the loss of this content from outer regional areas of Australia will be an immense blow. In the whole scheme of things this is not an immense amount of money that is needed to maintain coverage by the fourth estate throughout our nation, especially when you consider that the Labor government just spent $10 million on the Henry Tax Review for which they only used 76 pages, at a cost of $131, 500 a page.”
However Leigh Radford, National Editor ABC Rural said reports of up to five position cuts were premature.
“We have been looking at how we are going to position our business into the future... that’s a normal part of running any business,” Mr Radford said.
The Echo understands that ABC North Coast staff are concerned that radio positions that have previously been considered sacrosanct are now being considered for removal, particularly on top of a rumour that the North Coast morning show was to have been considered for merger with ABC Mid North Coast and broadcast from Port Macquarie.
“I can understand why some staff might feel that way but there is no basis in reality,” Mr Radford said. “The things Senator Joyce said are speculative, no decisions have been made regarding ABC Rural at this point, things are up for internal discussion, but it’s really premature for anybody saying anything about the future and entirely in the realm of speculation.”
There were also concerns by the union and staff that some previously tenured positions would be changed to five-year contracts.
Friends of the ABC North Coast vice president Doug Myler said any rumour of staff cuts to the ABC was a concern.
“The ABC is a public service and I don’t agree with any cuts to any programs of the ABC, particularly anything to do with country Australia,” Mr Myler said. “The morning is the only time we get specific local content, after 11am state and national programs take over. It’s important to keep a local focus and if they were to cut the rural reporting positions that would mean even less local content output.”
Barnaby Joyce said ‘premature’ was coded language for ‘it’s going to happen’.
“Maybe not now while they work out what to do, but it will happen. A fundamental service is access to the fourth estate (the media), not only to media but media relevant to where you live. If any group is isolated from the media, then they lose the capacity to vent on issues that affect their lives. If you start shutting media in an area, then you isolate one of the principles of democracy.”
Senator Joyce said feeding programs from Port Macquarie to a North Coast audience would be akin to running the Sydney Morning Herald into Brisbane or the rugby league scores into Melbourne.
“ABC rural reporters are some of the most cost-effective employees in the country...These people are their own producers, researchers, and they drive themselves around.”
Mr Radford said the internal ABC discussions had been about how to deliver content in the future.
“At ABC Rural we are looking at how we can do things more creatively into the future,” he said. “The ABC is a cross platform service, rural reporters do work between radio and online and in the future that may expand even further. We want our most flexible workforce into the future, with the specific and sole aim of delivering better services for our audiences.
“It’s not as if money has been taken away from ABC Rural to go to other services. ABC Rural is similar to other areas of radio that do face budgetary challenges. Budgetary issues are always a challenge for us.
“There is no organisation anywhere that puts the amount of resources into rural reporting as the ABC. We have an absolute commitment to specialised rural reporting, we see that as a real core activity, and we’re not in the business of undermining what is essentially a strength for us.
“I want to emphasise here that, while we are looking at the future of our service, it is very much with the audience in mind. We’re looking at doing more in creative ways for our audience. You can have 1000 propositions on the table for things that you might want or have to do, but at the end of day, as we’ve just seen with the Henry Tax review, very few ever see the light of day, so it’s premature to speculate about what particular changes might be because no decisions have been made.”
Senator Joyce told the ABC he will be taking the matter to the next Senate Estimates Committee.