How thinly can ABC journalists’ butter be spread over the ever increasing bread of news?

Word reaches me that staff in ABC newsrooms suspect that current sports anchor Peter Wilkins — controversially installed as the national face of sport in 2004 — is to be dropped from evening news bulletins across the country in favour of a reel of clips.

Twenty four hours of trying to get a comment on this suspicion from ABC management have resulted in a “no comment” and when it was put to the spokesperson concerned that this would be interpreted as confirmation, the “no comment” didn’t change. Or not in time for deadline in any case.

Wilkins’ appointment to anchor syndicated sports coverage for each state-based bulletin was met with a storm of protest from loyal ABC watchers, particularly in Melbourne where the former rugby league commentator was seen as an interloper with little understanding of AFL.

Wilkins presents the segment from Sydney, which is piped into bulletins around the country. Stories from local journalists generally follow.

The decision saw Melbourne sports presenter Angela Pippos dumped from weeknightly duties (along with other presenters around the country), and she eventually left the ABC. High-profile Melburnians from Ron Walker to then Treasurer Peter Costello denounced the decision. Costello said at the time:

“I don’t think the Sydney-based management of the ABC and the Sydney-based board understands the strength of feeling in Victoria on this. There are different sporting interests in Victoria, particularly with the AFL, that I don’t think can be adequately covered out of ABC headquarters in Sydney. I call on the board to reverse this decision.”

They didn’t, and the anger — which Crikey documented at the time — eventually died down. But further changes are likely to inflame viewers further.

Meanwhile, if we assume that the rumor is true, it will play into the continuing debate about whether Aunty is adequately resourced to cover the news, let alone establish the imminent new 24-hour news service.

Also, there are continuing gripes from the ABC regional centers that supposedly local news is increasingly hubbed and networked — this as the new ABC Open producers, hired to help communities tell their own stories, are getting their feet under the desks.

I think the ABC has no option but to establish the 24-hour service. And I love the philosophy behind ABC Open. But the normal bleats from within Aunty about lack of time and resources are reaching unprecedented levels.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey