30 October 2015
'Piss poor management': ABC blasted for axing regional radio programs
ABC's regional radio programming will undergo a shakeup in 2016.
The ABC has infuriated Coalition MPs by axing its regional flagship 'Mornings' programs from next year's radio schedule and rejigging its local news broadcasts.
The ABC will instead extend the 'Breakfast' programs and introduce a new feature-based program, with the working title Local Life, to run from 10am to 11am. More local news bulletins will also be produced externally.
He won't be happy until the ABC just becomes a bastion of the intelligentsia in Ultimo, Canberra and Melbourne
Some regional stations - including those in Tasmania, Western Australia and Newcastle - will be exempt from the changes.
Coalition MP Ewen Jones has attacked the ABC's decision.
Coalition MP Ewen Jones has attacked the ABC's decision. Photo: Andrew Meares
Nationals leader and Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss said on Thursday the decision was "very disappointing".
"If this is so good, and they claim it will deliver better services to regional communities, well, why not deliver better services for the people in Sydney and do the same thing for them?" he asked.
"I think the ABC has lost its way."
The member for Herbert, Ewen Jones, said he was furious that the Mornings program on his local ABC North Queensland would no longer exist.
"I think that [ABC managing director] Mark Scott has lost the plot completely," he said. "He won't be happy until the ABC just becomes a bastion of the intelligentsia in Ultimo, Canberra and Melbourne.
"This is piss poor management from the ABC."
Mr Jones said he had complained to Communications Minister Mitch Fifield about the decision, which he said had blindsided regional MPs. The ABC is beginning negotiations with the government about its next three-year funding deal.
Liberal MP Dan Tehan, whose electorate of Wannon receives ABC Ballarat as its local station, said: "This is an appalling decision that is treating regional Australians as second-class citizens."
Queensland senator Ian Macdonald said the ABC had cut regional broadcasting to pay for "yet another coffee machine at Ultimo".
ABC head of regional Fiona Reynolds described the changes as "minimal" and said two local presenters would still be required in the mornings.
"This is about a change of format - there is no reduction in broadcast hours or budget cuts associated with this," she said.
"ABC Regional is putting more focus on breakfast radio programming with increased production support at a time when we know audiences are strongest, according to the data and feedback from those audiences."
The local 6.30am, 7.30am and 12pm news bulletins will still be produced locally and remain unchanged. Other bulletins will be produced externally, with local stories dropped into the bulletin.
Ms Reynolds said the changes would allow local reporters "the ability to get out of the office more to gather local and distinctive content".
She acknowledged some presenters were worried about missing out on the longer slot, but said: "This is about our audiences."
One ABC local presenter, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said: "Everyone is devastated by this - they are angry and confused."
The changes to news coverage would result in more superficial bulletins, the presenter said.
The Abbott government last year cut the ABC's budget by $250 million over five years. Following that decision the ABC closed down its South Australian production studios, axed state-based current affairs, axed the Bush Telegraph radio program and closed some regional reporting outposts. It also created a new regional division with 50 new jobs.
Labor communications spokesman Jason Clare said the Coalition MPs were hypocritical for criticising the ABC changes after cutting its budget.
In a speech earlier this month Mr Scott argued an ABC funding boost would help it deliver better regional news services.
"My central thesis tonight is that the public's investment in news at the ABC represents better value for taxpayers than ever – and is more important than ever," Mr Scott said.
"As commercial media operations struggle with market forces and the slow decline of their business models, the role of the ABC, particularly in respect to news, is becoming increasingly vital to the health of our democracy and culture.
"Nowhere is this being more keenly felt than in rural and regional Australia, where news operations are contracting at an alarming rate."