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Political bastardry and nincompoops consign ABC to churnalism

There are forces at work out to destroy Australia's unique public broadcasting system.

ABC support: Rallying against the federal government's severe cuts to the national broadcaster.
ABC support: Rallying against the federal government's severe cuts to the national broadcaster. Photo: James Brickwood

In a click-bait world, the reshaping of the ABC's operations to lead in the digital race will come at the expense of quality TV and radio programs and services.

The loss of the last remaining regional TV production centre in South Australia  exposes the ABC's Sydney-centrism.

The sacrifice of many live broadcasts on Classic FM disengages with musicians and music lovers.

The loss of localism with the axing of the 7.30 Friday state shows, leaves state politics, education, health, law, order, multi-party corruption and administration unexamined in that more influential format.

The reduction in local radio news bulletins from 10 minutes to five will leave our audiences with hardly anything more than the headlines.

Radio National, with its specialist programs hitting 64 million downloads so far this year, is being "reshaped". A nincompoop in senior management has been heard to comment on the need to get rid of the "strangle-hold of specialisation".

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The reorganisation of the news division through an "audit of skills" more relevant to digital platforms ahead of the skills of reporting, investigative research and analysis appears to be putting  "churnalism"  ahead of journalism.

"Churnalism" is reactive coverage in a 24 hours news cycle. This puts online immediacy in a competitive news media industry at the be-all-and-end-all of the ABC's operations rather than well-produced, specialist, editorially-independent programs which reflect and engage the cultural and geographic diversity of our audiences. It diminishes the core Charter requirement for the creation of original, intelligent, audience-engaging content.

It follows commercial templates of digital content built on size of audience over production cost. It merely duplicates existing commercial offerings.

When an ABC manager yesterday told staff that those made redundant in the current down-sizing might be able to produce content on a freelance one-off program commissioning basis in future, the cat was out of the bag.

A commissioning model for content where nervous managers under pressure from vested corporate and political interests can pull the plug by de-commissioning the creator, is an attack on editorial independence.

Journalism requires fearless and sometimes courageous presentation of confronting facts. It needs an editorial culture which can withstand intimidation from sometimes more powerful forces. The ABC has become one of Australia's most trusted institutions because the public has been able to see it expose and call the powerful to account.

We are assured that culture will continue, but the public is entitled to be sceptical as the ABC's momentum is seriously damaged through the Abbott government budget cuts and MD Mark Scott's content thinning.

There will be far fewer opportunities to work overseas, fewer opportunities for original investigative journalism, to cover regional Australia or to tell the stories that need to be told: the farmer with a leaky CSG well on his farm, the remote indigenous residents struggling with an education deficit, the ratepayers concerned about dodgy councillors, the survivor of child sexual abuse, the elderly victim of a healthcare failure, the community organisation struggling to fight for funding for a vital service. These are just a few of the thousands of stories that will not  be told without a thriving ABC.

Australians understand that what is happening is a piece of Tony Abbott/Rupert Murdoch bastardry.

The government has no mandate from the electorate to damage the ABC or SBS. But there are forces at work in this country out to destroy Australia's unique public broadcasting system.

We must not let this happen.

Quentin Dempster presents 7.30NSW on ABC TV and is a public broadcasting advocate.

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