Heavy-hitting ABC program Lateline has limped to its end, with the ABC yesterday announcing it was cutting the show after 27 years on air.

The death knell was sounded when, as part of wide-ranging budget cut measures at the public broadcaster, the program was moved to the ABC News Channel for its first broadcast each night at 9.30pm. ABC management talked down reports earlier this year that it would be axed, but the continued cutting of resources to the program said otherwise.

Leigh Sales, current host of 7.30, and a previous Lateline host, yesterday tweeted that the show would “go down as one of the great programs in the history of ABC current affairs and Australian journalism”.

In almost 30 years, the program won eight Walkley awards — five of them had long-time host Tony Jones on the team. Jones had taken a leave of absence from the program this year to work on a book, but had worked on the program since 1999.

Jones told Sydney north shore lifestyle magazine Shore Life in 2015 that his most memorable work on the program was the series of reports and interviews Lateline conducted in 2006 about the Mutitjulu community in the Northern Territory, including a confronting interview with crown prosecutor Nanette Rogers. The controversial reports of sexual abuse of children in the community were, in part, responsible for the federal government’s NT intervention.

In November 2012, a Lateline report of explosive allegations by a former priest and NSW police detective Peter Fox prompted Julia Gillard’s government to announce the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. That report won the program a Walkley Award

The program revealed in a 2007 story by reporter Margot O’Neill that Tony Tran had been wrongfully detained in immigration detention for five years. The program won a Human Rights Award in 2005 for its reporting on Vivian Solon, who was also wrongfully detained in immigration detention.

A report by Suzanne Smith investigating sexual abuse at overseas resort kids’ clubs won another Walkley Award in 2005.

In 2002, O’Neill’s report on life inside the Curtin Detention Centre for asylum seekers also won a Walkley Award.

The list of past presenters of the show is a roll-call of ABC royalty. Kerry O’Brien, Maxine McKew, Virginia Trioli, Ticky Fullerton and Ali Moore, as well as Sales, Jones and current presenter Emma Alberici, have all done stints behind the desk.

The ABC announced the program would be cut in order to put more resources into its new specialist and investigative reporting teams. Alberici has been made chief economics correspondent, which the ABC says is evidence of its commitment to specialised reporting.

Peter Fray

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