The ABC has embarked on a shakeup of regional radio programming that’s already drawn censure from LNP Senator Ian Macdonald, but Aunty has downplayed the impact of the measure, arguing no journalists will lose their jobs and the new system will allow ABC journos to spend more time on the road.

ABC director of regional Fiona Reynolds told regional journos yesterday that from next year, morning programs across the country would be axed, with breakfast programs extended to fill the time.

Reynolds wrote in an email to media:

“The feedback we had from staff during extensive consultation earlier this year was that they want to be on the road more gathering original stories and reporting in to radio programs, online and through social media on issues and events as they happen. The revised bulletin schedule will allow this to occur.

“The 2016 schedule improvements are solely based on meeting audience expectations. Content gathered from our staff on the road will be fed into the extended Breakfast program and on digital platforms so it can be shared across regions and nationally.”

Queensland Senator Ian Macdonald has signalled his outrage at the programming cuts, saying they demonstrate once again that the ABC has no respect for rural audiences. Macdonald said in a stinging press release:

“I am absolutely outraged at this latest nonsense I am hearing about the latest antics of our national broadcasting service. Yet again, they are trying to fleece their loyal regional listeners to try and pass off their cosmopolitan programming as plausible content.

“These are people who are completely out of touch with the rest of the country, and yet another example of regional Australians being treated as second class citizens by their latte-loving metropolitan cousins.

“Lets call it for what it is — they are passing around the hat for yet another latte machine at Ultimo, and anyone with a sense of decency has the right to feel ripped off by the ABC, which has a nerve to call itself a national broadcaster.”

(Crikey notes that staff at Ultimo don’t need a new latte machine, as some of the best coffee in Sydney can be found around the corner.)

Macdonald says the cuts will impact on local news services, which will be reduced to just three bulletins a day at 6.30am, 7.30am and noon. In her email, Reynolds says that what are generally the two most popular bulletins of the day — 6.30am and noon — will not be changed. Also unchanged is the news bulletin at noon. “There will be local news headlines at 08.30 and news headlines at 17.30,” she wrote. Crikey understands the other bulletins of the day are state-based bulletins with some local stories dropped in by regional producers.

While the ABC has sought to downplay the changes, arguing they are the result of staff feedback and “minimal” overall, Crikey has spoken to ABC Queensland staff who say the changes are highly controversial in their newsrooms. We’re told half the Queensland morning presenters, who are losing their shows next year, didn’t bother turning up to work today.

This morning’s Townsville Bulletin carries more strong censure of the ABC. It quotes Townsville mayor Jenny Hill slamming the changes, along with former ABC north Queensland radio presenter John Nutting, who argued the broadcaster had pursued a one-size-fits-all approach unsuited to north Queensland.

Regional programming is a politically sensitive topic for the ABC, given many rural seats are held by Liberal or National politicians sceptical of the increasing centralisation of the ABC in Sydney. Aunty faced strong criticism from some such MPs, along with independents like Nick Xenophon, after cutting the state-based 7.30 programs on Friday nights as part of a TV programming shakeup that accompanied the budget cuts of last year.

Peter Fray

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