Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Radio Australia - Slash and Burn

Michael Mason, Acting Director ABC Radio sent an update on July 14th to staff about what's going to happen to Australia's external broadcasting service. Looks like many of the non-English language services will be severely cutback.

In effect, Australia's influence in Asia is being wound down. The big plus about Radio Australia was it's ability to mix the "outside looking in" with the "inside looking out". That type of approach also benefits a domestic audience. Remember the BBC World Service slogan - bringing Britain to the world - and the world to Britain. I would argue that Radio Australia did the same for Australia. Alas, not for much longer. Most of the English language production will now be compilations from the domestic services.

I wonder if there are any links between what's happened and a speech that ABC Managing Director Mark Scott gave in 2009. Called the Fall of  Rome, it spelt the end of the Murdoch empire. At that time, ABC and Murdoch were battling over the licence to run Australia's overseas TV service. It was a messy fight. Perhaps the Murdoch empire found ways to strike back? It certainly looks that way.

Here are the details from Mason.

You would have seen communications and/or media coverage around changes to the ABC's International Division as a result of funding cuts. These changes affect every area of International, including Radio Australia. Changes to Radio Australia mean that the network will now broadcast an even a greater range of ABC Radio content.

As many of you would be aware, Radio Australia have always had a close content alignment with ABC Radio, broadcasting many programs from Radio National, sport from Grandstand, some Local programs and, until recently, a co-production with NewsRadio.

Over the next few weeks we will work with our colleagues in International to identify further already commissioned content from our current radio offer to create a relevant schedule for international audiences. When the schedule is finalised we will circulate it.

Below are some other key points around the changes to Radio Australia:

* Radio Australia will continue to broadcast a 24/7 schedule built on a deeper collaboration with ABC News and ABC Radio and through collaboration with SBS.

* Pacific Beat continues, as do RA's hourly news bulletins.

* Radio Australia will work with colleagues in ABC Radio and ABC News to identify and deliver a sustainable and engaging English program service that will appeal to our International audiences.

* Language services in Tok Pisin, Khmer and Burmese will be delivered through a mix of reduced original content coupled with translated ABC content and content from SBS. The model for the French language service remains under consideration.

* Asia Pacific and Asia Review will cease production as will the Mornings program.

* Shortwave transmission of RA remains unchanged for the time being.

Newscorp owned newspaper, the Australian adds the following. Almost everything is marked as undecided. Though I suspect these cuts are pretty much final. 
The ABC News 24 channel is expected to become the foundation of the international service, with some specialised news and current affairs content featuring on the service.
It is not known whether ABC News 24 will expand its broadcast reach through the Asia-Pacific region in lieu of Australia Network or whether the Radio Australia name will be subsumed.
The proposal outlined today in Melbourne by the director of news, Kate Torney, and ABC International director Lynley Marshall is not definitive but will begin what is anticipated to be a long process of negotiations and politicking over job losses and service cuts.
The process is complicated by the fact that DFAT is yet to finalise the terms of the decommissioning of the Australia Network service in September, including the allocation of money for redundant staff and outstanding contracts.
The ABC Charter requires the public broadcaster to “transmit to countries outside Australia, broadcasting programs of news, current affairs, entertainment and cultural enrichment” that will, in part, “encourage awareness of Australia and an inter­national understanding of Australian attitudes on world ­affairs.”
While the efficacy of the Australia Network was questioned before its axing by DFAT under the Abbott government, the impact of Radio Australia’s service during times of political crisis in the Pacific region has been substantial.
Even so, the recent efficiency review of the ABC and SBS overseen by Peter Lewis recommended Radio Australia discontinue its shortwave service.
This recommendation came despite advice from DFAT that shortwave delivery is the only current source of RA in “some sensitive areas in Vanuatu, Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea”.

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