ABC staff join the real world

The pub­lic broad­caster should play a greater re­gional role

The Australian - - COMMENTARY -

Jour­nal­ists in the com­mer­cial me­dia, like work­ers in most in­dus­tries, are look­ing askance at re­ports of “sky­high” stress lev­els among ABC staff. Ac­cord­ing to the Com­mu­nity & Pub­lic Sec­tor Union, the sit­u­a­tion was so grave on Mon­day that its of­fi­cials wanted to force ac­cess to Aunty’s Syd­ney head­quar­ters be­fore agree­ing to meet se­nior man­age­ment for “ur­gent” talks. At a time most com­pa­nies are “do­ing more with less” — the main gripe at the pub­lic broad­caster — we sug­gest that the 72 per cent of ABC staff re­port­ing “dan­ger­ous” lev­els of work­place stress try a cup of tea and a good lie down af­ter fin­ish­ing their stan­dard sev­en­hour, 36-minute shifts.

Ac­cord­ing to the union sur­vey of 770 ABC staff, only 10 per cent trust the di­rec­tion in which the cor­po­ra­tion’s se­nior man­age­ment is headed. In March, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor Michelle Guthrie an­nounced a sub­stan­tial re­struc­ture, cut­ting 200 jobs, mainly in mid­dle man­age­ment, with sav­ings di­verted to pro­duce more con­tent and em­ploy ex­tra staff in the re­gions. Such re­order­ing makes sense and fits the ABC’s char­ter to broad­cast pro­grams that “re­flect the cul­tural di­ver­sity of the Aus­tralian com­mu­nity”. For years, as the ABC has be­come in­creas­ingly Syd­ney-cen­tric, it has robbed the re­gions and cut con­tent pro­duc­tion to fund its ex­pand­ing dig­i­tal plat­forms. The re­or­gan­i­sa­tion is a start in re­con­nect­ing with re­gional au­di­ences.

The cor­po­ra­tion has erred in its use of tax­pay­ers’ money to un­der­mine com­mer­cial ri­vals by in­vest­ing in search en­gine mar­ket­ing, used by com­mer­cial news sites to build traf­fic and ad­ver­tis­ing. As Chris Mitchell wrote on Mon­day: “Why is the ABC, with no need to gen­er­ate ad rev­enue, pay­ing tax­pay­ers’ dol­lars to Google to hurt com­mer­cial news op­er­a­tors?” ABC staff also should be more con­cerned about the de­cline into ir­rel­e­vance of pro­grams such as Late­line, which was once a leader in po­lit­i­cal re­port­ing but will be barely missed when it is closed down at the end of the year.

It is es­sen­tial the ABC’s re­struc­ture re­vi­talises its news and cur­rent af­fairs, es­pe­cially in re­gional ar­eas.

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