EXCLUSIVE: ABC still needed as public broadcaster but changes needed to reflect all Australians

The ABC still has a place in the Australian media landscape as the national broadcaster, but it needs to evolve away from unwarranted financial cuts to the organisation, commentators have stated.

Panellists have claimed in a discussion on Western Perspective that the ABC is still relevant and improvements were needed reflect all Australians, but savings measures announced this week were not justified.

One Nation WA Leader Colin Tincknell and Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) WA representative Tiffany Venning told the program the ABC was still needed as a national broadcaster.

“I think absolutely yes,” Ms Venning said.

“We only need to look at the latest polling that’s come out over the bushfire crisis. People are saying that without the emergency service that the ABC provides on the radio, they would quite possibly be dead.”

However, she said ABC was struggling in its efforts to evolve, including its Perth newsroom that was “actually stretched really thin” with less than 200 staff.

“There’s more move to digital and online platforms, the ABC have been grappling with that,” she said.

Mr Tincknell said the public broadcaster had joined commercial media outlets in the need to make cuts to save money, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, claiming the ABC “need to pull their belt in as well.”

“If you look at Sky, if you look at Channel Nine, if you look at Channel Seven, The West Australian, if you look at media right across, everyone’s struggling,” he said.

The ABC made changes to its operations and content, including slashing up to 250 jobs and axing its flagship 7:45am radio news bulletin, in an announcement revealed on Thursday.

More reporters will also be sent into outer suburban areas and country towns in an effort to change views that the ABC is Sydney-centric and its comedy channel will be rebranded to focus on arts, science, education and religion.

Underperforming news programs will be reviewed.

The changes are hoped to save $40 million over five years.

Ms Venning said Thursday’s announced changes were not necessarily required.

“There’s always more that any organisation can do but to remain effective, it doesn’t necessarily mean cutting staff,” she said.

However, both Ms Venning and Mr Tincknell said ABC needed to be for all Australians including in the regions and away from Sydney, stating that “without the ABC, we don’t have different coverage or a different voice and the ability to tell different stories.”

Mr Tincknell said the changes needed to be for the people the broadcaster serviced.

“I think they need to reflect more of society. I think that they’ve allowed politics to take over and that’s not a good thing,” he said.

“Every business does, every business needs to reinvent itself, ABC needs to continue to do that. The best way to do that is reflect all Australians, not a narrow view.”

Ms Venning said funding was needed to keep regional publications viable, with the ACCC recommending funding at $50 million per year to “keep a vibrant, viable industry.”

However, despite the organisation’s savings plan, it was difficult to tell how the ABC would fare in five years.

“That’s the question you could ask of any media company quite frankly right now,” Ms Venning said.

“(COVID-19) has certainly sped up and highlighted some of the fundamental issues, but they were always there. It’s just COVID just brought it to the forefront and its immediate now.”

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