ABC NORTH AND WEST
WEDNESDAY, 24 JUNE 2020
NARELLE GRAHAM: We’ll start though with Labor Senator for South Australia, Marielle Smith, welcome to you.
SENATOR MARIELLE SMITH, SENATOR FOR SOUTH AUSTRALIA: Hi Narelle great to be with you.
HOST: Senator what do you make of the media landscape in regional South Australia at the moment?
SMITH: Look Narelle I think what we know is that right across Australia the media is in crisis. Now that includes commercial media who have been hit very hard by COVID19, by falls in their advertising revenue and by digital disruption from players such as Facebook. And of course it also includes the ABC, who has been hit by a massive $84 million budget cut which they need to deal with and they need to find savings to accommodate that. So this isn’t something which is particularly new, it’s been in crisis for a long period of time. It’s been amplified by COVID and it’s also been amplified by what I believe is a failure of Government to properly address these issues.
HOST: As you say the $84 million cut to the ABC, the ABC knew that was coming. Now while the budget has been cut, it’s up to the ABC to decide where those cuts should fall. Have they got it right in axing the 15 minute news bulletin at 7.45 do you think Marielle?
SMITH: Look Narelle the ABC is independent and I am a fierce advocate of the ABC remaining independent. But what I will say is I don’t think the $84 million cut ever should have happened. During COVID19 and during the bushfires before that the ABC was literally saving Australians’ lives. Now we should be repaying the ABC with proper and adequate funding not cutting them. And I know I talk to people in regional South Australia everyday who tell me how important their ABC is to them. They don’t want to see it cut; I don’t want to see it cut so whilst these are individual decisions for the ABC, we need an independent, well and proper funded ABC to serve Australians.
HOST: Marielle Smith, Labor Senator for South Australia. Do you think we still have enough diversity in our media in regional areas?
SMITH: Look I think what we know is that diversity in the media, whether it be in the commercial media or publicly funded media, it’s hugely important to the quality of news and the quality of broadcasts, the quality of programs and to the adequacy of telling local stories and content. Now in South Australia over recent months we’ve seen some pretty upsetting news with publishers like ACM suspending printing during COVD19. Places like the Murray Valley Standard, we’ve seen News Corp moving to digital only for some of their local newspapers as well. Now when we lose diversity in regional media we lose the telling of local stories, we lose the local content production and of course we lose local jobs and local jobs are critical in regional South Australia. So I want to make sure that whether it be commercial media or publically funded media we have significant diversity across both regional and metropolitan areas so that Australian stories can be told and so that Australians can have diversity in the content that they receive.
HOST: I think we’ve got Rowan Ramsey back, the Federal Liberal Member for Grey. Welcome to you Rowan.
ROWAN RAMSEY, MEMBER FOR GREY: Yeah good to be with you Narelle.
HOST: Are you at all concerned about the loss of the 7.45am, 15 minute ABC radio news bulletin?
RAMSEY: Well personally I’ll miss it but I don’t know how many people across the board listen. But it’s not as if there are no alternatives, there are myriad of alternatives including News24 which broadcast about a 10 minute news series every hour and therein lies questions about ABC’s operating budget anyhow. But you know they are making a decision that that is something they should divest themselves from. Not much of what they are chopping off, I fully support getting people out of Ultimo it’s been one of those long on-going complaints. For those who don’t know Ultimo is their headquarters in Sydney where most, most of the ABC staff actually reside or live or work and a lot of us think that puts them chronically out of touch with a lot of Australia, unlike your local service which of course I think is the shining light of the ABC.
HOST: What you’re saying there Rowan Ramsey, let me just pick up on that point, just for people who may not have heard this in news bulletins as yet is that the ABC thinks it can save I think it’s about $4 million by moving some of the services that at the moment are being taken care of by Ultimo, moving them to other locations and then renting out that business space there. So that’s what your discussing Rowan Ramsey.
RAMSEY: Well yeah that’s part of it, obviously they announced a range of measures. The ABC lifestyle I had to look up to see what it was that’s being covered and you know cooking shows, lifestyle and sex apparently, that was on the website and I would have thought that that there is no commercial trade in those areas in Australia. Like you turn on your channel anywhere you can see a myriad of shows and [inaudible] questionable in this area. Now they talk about budget cuts, what the ABC has had is an indexation freeze for three years. Now given, I think that your accompanying remarks about channel 7, everybody in media is taking a huge haircut at the moment and the ABC of all the organisations is taking the least. So it would be, you know, just about out of step if we weren’t expecting them to make some efficiencies while the rest of the media is doing so. Given that a lot of the things that have been brought on in a hurry now by the COVID crisis are actually things that are in the pipeline anyhow. Now there is a fundamental shift going on in our communities by the way people received their news and also a lot of it is coming through their telephones electronically, a lot of it is untrustworthy but it is a great challenge for us all to try and deal with those changes because the rivers of gold that come with advertising are just not going to come flooding back.
HOST: Isn’t when commercial media is struggling to make ends meet, isn’t that the time for a public funded media organisation to step in to the breach?
RAMSEY: Well that’s a fair call but it’s stepping into the breach and not trying to offer all services. And I think this is a fundamental question and ABC management can answer for themselves but over a long period of time they’ve actually moved into areas where there was already existing service. So you know I touched on this on the lifestyle thing, so the question is what are the things we really need from the ABC and what are the things that are already provided by others and are there for whatever reason ABC Management has decided to put them there.
HOST: Let’s just get a response. Let’s just go back to Labor Senator for South Australia, Marielle Smith. Just a response from you to what we have heard there from the Federal Liberal Member for Grey, Rowan Ramsey.
SMITH: Yeah absolutely. Look Rowan talked about an indexation cut. The reality is that that in real terms equates to an $84 million cut to the ABC. That is a real $84 million taken away which will have a direct impact and we’re already seeing that on jobs, on content and on programing. Now your listeners in regional South Australia relied on the ABC during some of the most difficult times we’ve faced this year, they know how important the ABC is and they know the value of local ABC news services to them. So to argue that this programming doesn’t matter, that $84 million dollars can easily be absorbed by the ABC I just think is nonsensical.
HOST: Senator, thank you.