NATIONALS MPs and a large segment of listeners are appalled at the ABC’s decision to cut much of its local content for regional areas next year, but the broadcaster claims changes to its regional news will allow its reporters to get out of the office more to gather local and distinctive content.
The ABC will cut its two daily local news bulletins, and an extended breakfast program will replace the morning show, running from 6.30am until 10.30am, followed by an hour-long program about local life.
Armidale-based Northern Tablelands MP Adam Marshall has urged northerners to stand up and tell the ABC just what the “ABC” of news is all about in rural and regional areas.
“If they actually think this plan is going to improve local content and radio, then they’re dreaming,” Mr Marshall said.
“I suggest, from what I have heard so far, their head of regional content, Fiona Reynolds, gets out of her ivory tower and looks at how regional and rural radio listeners are going about their daily business; they’re not sitting somewhere with their iPads tuned in to ABC24 all day.”
Nationals leader Warren Truss said the ABC “has lost its way”.
“I think what members of Parliament are a bit concerned about is that we had a briefing from the ABC about what their plans were for regional radio and television – that was only a few months ago, and now this radical change is occurring and we felt left out of the loop,” Mr Truss said.
“Often the ABC has made promises about better programs and then that’s just led to cuts in jobs, but more importantly, cuts in localism.
“If this is so good, and they claim it will deliver better services to regional communities, well, why not deliver better services for the people in Sydney and do the same thing for them?”
New England MP Barnaby Joyce said local content was the bread and butter of regional listeners.
“We encourage the ABC to deliver a regional service for regional people,” Mr Joyce said.
“And to be completely frank, it’s probably more important to us than other sections of the ABC, such as ABC2, ABC3, ABC Jazz and a whole range of other ABCs, that, as valuable as they are, probably don’t have the listenership that morning radio does on local radio stations.”
Tamworth MP Kevin Anderson said local news services were critical in keeping the community informed about local issues.
“Local content is king. Any time a local news service loses some of its local content, I think it’s starting to lose touch with what’s happening in its community,” Mr Anderson said.
“We as people of the community need to know what is happening locally.
“Sydney doesn’t care what’s happening in Coledale or Inverell or the main street of Tamworth – I do. How do I find out about that? Through local media.”
Mr Marshall said the announced changes for ABC regional listeners, losing a couple of bulletins each day and getting “some weird sort of condensed program”, showed just how out of touch the ABC’s management was.
Longtime listener and CEO of the Foundation for Regional Development, Peter Bailey, blasted the decision as another blow to regional areas and capacity for development.
“It’s absolutely disgraceful,” the businessman and a former National Party electorate executive said.
He said the contraction in established local news bulletins, the virtual amalgamation of two morning presenter positions, and the change in job status of what was originally the regional manager to a chief-of-staff role, and the wage savings there, were appalling and in no way did the new formats and plans fit into the ABC charter.
“Basically, we will also lose the capacity to tell our stories. Why do we have to bear the brunt of this? Let’s cut something out of Q&A or some other metropolitan programs,” Mr Bailey said.
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