Just three days ago I was telling a family member how proud I was of the role The Media Report has played in Australia’s media debate. It’s been there through the advent of the internet, cable TV, multi-channelling and myspace. It was on-air as the Howard Government gutted the cross media laws, as all the TV networks changed hands and as new publications emerged and others died.
The Media Report has popped up in Hansard, the indexes of books, the curricula of university courses and the ipods of listeners. It has kept on keeping on for fifteen years with informed intelligent debate about the state of the nation’s media.
Not bad for a half hour show that’s staffed by one and a half people and costs much less to produce over a year than just one episode of almost any TV program you’d care to mention.
So please forgive me for being a little upset at the news that the show is one of the nine specialist programs to be axed by the network. Others to go include The Religion Report, The Ark, In Conversation, Perspective, Sports Factor, Radio Eye and Street Stories.
If there’s anything that listeners of The Media Report would know, it’s that casualties in the media industry are inevitable. But it is equally true that the quality of our media is in steady decline and that any loss of thought-provoking journalism is especially depressing. As Fairfax loses its way, Radio National had been cementing its place as one of the very last refuges for civility and fresh inquiry in the media landscape.
For example, as The Media Report went to air this morning, the Nine network’s Today show was flogging to death a B grade Hollywood movie and prattling on about celebrity gossip. It seems to me that with the constancy of change in the media and with no other radio network capable of analysing the industry with Radio National’s credibility or depth, there is a strong rationale for retaining it.
So what will we get in the place of these programs? There are reports of a new technology show and a program called The Futures Report, which hopefully won’t be about the stock market – because that would be too depressing. There’s also talk of moving local radio’s Sunday Profile over to RN.
Radio National says that listeners are migrating on-line and therefore the emphasis should shift in that direction. I don’t share the faith that on-line happens in a vacuum, disconnected from a strong on-air presence. It is the live-to-air broadcasting of RN’s programs that give them the critical mass and the relevance they need to prosper on line.
When I was on staff at RN, it was arguably a boutique network, serving less people than it ought and struggling to compete with the metropolitan or local stations. Now it is actually hip to be an RN listener with an audience which is loyal there because it can’t stomach the asinine talkback-on-pets’-names nonsense that clogs the airwaves of the ABC’s other networks.
The dread I have is that Radio National will edge closer to banality. There are many hundreds of thousands of us who don’t want the Canberra press gallery take on the world and book-tour driven celebrity interviewing as our staple.
We are looking for media that starts where current affairs reporters finish and which challenges us with new ways of thinking about issues or which introduces us to ideas that we’d never thought to consider. These wonderful Radio National programs did this regularly and their loss is a huge blow to the diversity of our media.
Andrew Dodd was the founding presenter of The Media Report and has freelanced for Street Stories, Radio Eye and Sports Factor.