Your ABC from Port Macquarie

Peter Carlill is a Kyogle cattle producer and former chairman of the Northern Co-operative Meat Company who tunes into ABC North Coast every morning at 6.30am so he can catch the rural report. He is very disappointed with the news that the Lismore-based rural reporter position is changing, which will mean the Port Macquarie-based rural reporter is expected to cover the Northern Rivers.

“We will lose our local identity,” Mr Carlill said. “I make a point every morning of tuning in at 6.30 to catch up with what’s happening locally. We all listen to the market reports. Say there’s a sale on at Casino, it’s good info to know what’s happened at Lismore and Grafton, that’s important.

“The local ABC rural reporter is able to seek out topics of interest, information for rural listeners and interesting stories for people who are not rural. It’s a bridge between non-agricultural people and agricultural people. They’re a source of information too for people, if there’s something new in agricultural research, a new variety of crop, a weed that needs to be controlled that you can make note of, it’s a wonderful bridge of information. To lose that real local content is very disappointing. The Northern Rivers is a very diverse area, agriculturally there are so many different pursuits that deserve to be covered, it’s probably more diverse than a lot of areas in NSW. If that’s all to go to Port Macquarie, I’m afraid we’ll lose that local information, it won’t have the same interest.

“It’s very disappointing and a backwards step.”

Page MP Janelle Saffin wrote to ABC managing director Mark Scott in May and again this week.

“The morning rural report is a great ABC service, and something that has kept so many people loyal to their local ABC,” Ms Saffin wrote. “I understand that this is not a cut in the number of staff at the ABC in Lismore, but it is of concern that there is to be no in-the-field reporter based in Lismore.”

Head of ABC Rural Leigh Radford was at pains to emphasise that the Lismore rural reporter position is not being scrapped.

“There are no positions being axed from Lismore, none whatsoever,” Mr Radford said. “In actual fact, the (rural reporter) position there is ongoing, no question. We are looking at changing the role, making it a broader role and local content will be delivered in a slightly different way, but I’m confident we’ll be serving the community.”

Mr Radford said the rural report will continue at the same time.

“We’ve actually put a new rural position into Lismore with the addition of a Haywire co-ordinator, that position was previously located in Ballarat and we moved that position to Lismore, an important national position, overseeing the Haywire project and really driving it,” he said.

“We’ve actually increased our staffing at Lismore, we haven’t taken anything away.”

The rural reporter’s position in Lismore has been covered by temporary placements, while highly respected and experienced journalist Renee Du Preez, the current rural reporter, has been acting in other roles. Currently Miranda Saunders – one of the most experienced journalists in the Northern Rivers – is acting in the role.

Ms Du Preez has been promoted to national online editor, based in Lismore, and The Echo understands that her rural reporter position is not going to be filled permanently.

“While I applaud the ABC for having national positions based in regional centres, this should not be at the expense of local services,” Ms Saffin wrote. “I doubt that a reporter’s job in the city is cut every time a journalist is promoted to an editor’s role.

“As I have previously pointed out, the Northern Rivers region is quite distinct from other parts of the state because of its climate, and diversity of farming practices, from the traditional to the cutting edge of organic farming and many innovative practices.

“The local rural program also draws on the wealth of environmental and agricultural research from the local Southern Cross University and the Agricultural Research Station. That is why the national rural programs so often feature stories from the Northern Rivers region.

“I have been advised that the morning rural report will now be done by the Port Macquarie-based journalist. This is an unacceptable move, and will seriously diminish local coverage of rural issues in our region. The strength of the ABC Rural has always been its connection to local communities, being out on the road, with intimate knowledge of the local region.

“How can the ABC continue to talk about ‘Your Local ABC’ when the local connections to community are being downgraded? For those in the Northern Rivers, Port Macquarie is not ‘local’.”

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