ONE of Australia’s best broadcasters of news and public affairs, the ABC, became news itself last month because of the Abbott Government’s substantial cuts to its funding.
First published in the 12 December 2014 edition of the Warragul & Baw Baw Citizen.
The cuts will add up to $254 million over the next five years and all departments, on air and back office, will be affected.
Reaction has been varied and sometimes a little hysterical, and some of that hysteria has been delivered right here in Gippsland.
The ABC is closing five sub-offices around the country, including its Morwell newsroom. In all cases, the offices are outposts which house just one staff member.
One journalist, currently Rhiana Whitson, works at the Morwell shopfront. She will be transferred to the ABC’s Gippsland headquarters in Sale in around four month’s time.
A small group of protesters gathered outside the Morwell office two weeks ago, claiming ABC Gippsland will be unable to provide adequate coverage of news in the Latrobe Valley and surrounding areas from Sale.
But in reality, our local ABC manages to cover the vast Gippsland area from Sale fairly well.
One ABC insider told me shutting down the office actually makes sense. They don’t need a whole George Street shop for one person. It is rundown and the equipment is ancient. It would be hard to justify spending any money on it in this new age of mobile technology for reporting.
Another insider told me the cuts are forcing some necessary re-structuring. She currently answers to six people, all with different expectations of her work. That will soon be cut back to one person as the top-heavy management structure is thinned out.
Expect very few changes to ABC Gippsland’s service. It is already a bare-bones operation and there is no excess fat to trim.
Questions have arisen about how the cuts will impact on the ABC’s ability to provide emergency coverage as we enter the high-risk period for bushfires. As a taxpayer-funded organisation though, the ABC receives government funding specifically to help pay for such coverage.
The ABC is ‘an’ official emergency broadcaster, not ‘the’ official emergency broadcaster. After Black Saturday, the government and fire authorities came to realise that as much as they would like people to switch to the ABC when fire threatens, many do not. People continue to listen to their favourite stations and many would not even know where to find an ABC local station on the dial.
Since then, Memoranda of Understanding have been signed with a number of Commercial radio networks. However, the level of coverage provided by a station depends on the amount of staff and other resources available, as well as network considerations.
ABC Gippsland provides fairly thorough coverage, although it is limited by a high amount of networking. Local programming takes a break from Christmas until the end of January and any fires in Gippsland at this time will only be mentioned as part of state-wide coverage. Even when local hours recommence, that’s only until 11am on weekdays.
Resonate Broadcasting’s 3GG and Southern Cross Austereo’s Star FM broadcast ‘Watch and Act’ and ‘Emergency Warnings’ but low staff numbers and high networked hours prevent them from doing much more.
The two radio stations operated in Gippsland by the ACE network, TR-FM and Gold 1242, were recently recognised by the combined emergency services for providing a consistent coverage during last season’s bushfires and the Hazelwood mine fire.
The ACE stations have a large staff and very low networked hours and are geared to quickly provide full coverage, 24 hours a day if needed.
Fire agencies say getting information to the public is paramount in keeping people safe, and apart from the CFA’s and DEPI’s various online tools, radio provides the most immediate avenue of commu-nication when it critically matters.
Greg has worked in the radio industry for 38 years and is presently employed by the ACE network.
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