ABC staff join the real world
The public broadcaster should play a greater regional role
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.