At 8.30pm tonight, Four Corners will show a BBC program on China called The Fastest Changing Place on Earth, examining the growth of modern China. As the promo reads:

“Filmed over the past six years, BBC reporter Carrie Gracie follows the lives of three local villagers during this upheaval. She meets Xiao Zhang, a mother and rice farmer desperate to see her children have a better life; Xie Tingming, an entrepreneur determined to make money and push the development forward; and the local Communist Party Secretary, who is caught between the Party’s demands and a way of life that has endured for centuries.”

Sounds interesting doesn’t it? But it raises the question, why is Four Corners using a BBC report and not the ABC’s outstanding China correspondent, Stephen McDonell? In fact the subject matter of the report tonight, the clash between old rural China and the central government’s ambitious growth plans, especially for regional areas, is a topic he has reported on for Foreign Correspondent and 7.30 in the past.

And yet Four Corners seems unable to use him, or rather, the management of ABC News and Current Affairs seems unwilling to get the dears at Four Corners to use McDonell to report on China for Australians and use his undoubted language, cultural and reporting skills for the benefit of Australians. McDonell has worked for Four Corners, so he’s not an unknown quantity for the program.

Likewise another fine ABC correspondent in Mark Willacy, who is in Japan and reported on last year’s quake and tsunami plus the Fukushima disaster with insight and ability. His reports were far better than what you saw from any other Australian correspondent in Japan. A one year anniversary report on Japan and the changes since the disaster would have gone well for Four Corners this month, especially the impact of the Fukushima nuclear disaster on the Australian uranium industry and the hope by many green groups that increased use of nuclear power could be used to reduce carbon emissions over time.

In fact Four Corners seems to be a protected area, a haven for endangered species who are not required to work very hard or to think outside their own insular worldview. Many of the Australian reports are fine, but too often it relies on BBC or Channel 4 buy ins for overseas reports. China and Japan are major stories for Australia. Both countries are important economically, strategically, diplomatically and culturally. Both have had major influences on Australia and yet so far as Four Corners is concerned, you’d be hard pressed to find these important areas examined by an ABC correspondent for the program and its viewers (anywhere from 800,000 to a million some Monday nights, on a national basis).

Four Corners has opted to save money. That’s what 60 Minutes does most weeks when it uses a program from 60 Minutes of the US as its third report instead of a locally sourced report (which is more expensive). Four Corners should be better than that. The quality of the program wouldn’t be affected, and probably it would be more memorable. — Glenn Dyer

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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