In Defence of My Aunty
A Notion by Super Opinion
Over the last week or so, I have seen much written about the Australian Media landscape, and how the different News outlets handled the Spill of a Prime Minister.
The focus of criticism seems to be on my Aunty, the ABC. I love the ABC. It is the network I watch the most, the only radio I listen to, and my internet home page.
I’m probably rare in this, but I doubt I’m alone.
From my perspective the ABC provides the best News coverage around. It has the ability to cover stories in a way no other organisation in Australia can. It has no need to chase ratings and so does not feel obliged to have tabloid headlines to get viewers.
I make an effort to watch the different News offerings on a regular basis. It is for me a chore, the coverage by commercial networks in this country is generally laughable. They are not completely without merit, the reporting and analysis of journalists like Laurie Oakes, Paul Bongiorno, and Mark Riley each add their own skills to their networks, but they are a minority.
Each commercial network in the effort to capture attention, will happily resort to grandstanding, fear-mongering and shameless cross-promotion to get ahead in the battle for viewers. Seven, Nine and Ten will each often have information about a random celebrity’s adoption or divorce as a leading story. Ten News regularly has a Masterchef or some other reality contestant on for a hard-hitting advertorial in place of real journalism.
Seven and Nine are not too dissimilar. Does anyone remember Ben Fordham’s reporting of the latest outrageous scandal to hit [Former] Prime Minister Kevin Rudd? You know, the one that was all over Nine’s ads for the program, being spruiked as another ‘First on Nine’ investigative exclusive. Well it turned out that Rudd had failed to respond to a Doctor who sent him a message on Twitter. Lucky we have the likes of Fordham here to inform us so we can contact the Governor General immediately.
SBS offers a great News offering, but sadly goes unnoticed with its relatively small audience, and does not receive the funding it deserves. Its Insight, Dateline and World News programming add much to Australian journalism.
ABC is not without its problems. Production glitches from cost-reducing technologies are not unknown; inaccurate reporting strikes there occasionally too; but on the whole it provides the best service on free-to-air television today. The television day begins on ABC2 with ABC News Breakfast. Sure it doesn’t rate well, and orange may not be the most attractive set colour, but if you look beyond this you find the best News offering at this time. Shows like Sunrise and Today may not be attempting to provide the same type of News, but there is no doubt that when they do, they are outshone.
Later programs like the 7:30 Report, Lateline, Lateline Business and weekly programs like Q and A, Insiders, Four Corners, Media Watch and Stateline are without peers for dignified analysis and investigative journalism. They don’t require swooshing sound effects and flashing lights on the supers to add to their production. The ABC doesn’t feel the need to oversell a story anywhere near the extent of the commercials.
Now to the spill. I was watching on the night, I saw that the ABC had trouble cutting from regular programming to Kevin Rudd’s press conference. I also would have preferred the ABC to be able to stick with story from when they broke it at 7pm. The problem is that the majority of the population does not share my passion for politics, and many ABC1 viewers would have been mighty annoyed if Spicks & Specks, The Gruen Transfer, United States of Tara and At The Movies were all cut for a story that was only at this point being made. This is, as Mark Scott pointed out, exactly why we need the coming ABC News 24. The issues that the ABC had in cutting to Rudd’s conference are not too surprising.
The ABC has in the last few weeks been moving its playout facilities to the WIN joint-venture Mediahub in Ingleburn. This facility allows the ABC to broadcast nation-wide on a level not previously capable. In the past ABC2, ABC3 and ABCHD were the same programming nationally, adjusted for time zones. ABCHD had NSW News at 7pm no matter where viewed. This move to Ingleburn allows the ABC to broadcast these channels uniquely for each State, this means ABC2 could carry State-unique sport or election coverage, and with improved production and compression technology, the ABC is now able to squeeze better quality picture out of its four channels than was found earlier this year.
Major moves and changes such as this will take time to adjust to, and in my view does excuse the few glitches we saw on Spill night. These problems will reduce over time, I think proximity of the Spill to the move is to blame for these glitches, experience should eradicate this.
Another part of the Spill night analysis that amuses me is the comparisons between ABC’s coverage and that of Sky News. This is in no way a logical comparison. Sure the ABC is looking to enter 24 hour News in competition with Sky, but this has not yet happened. Until News 24 is launched, the ABC must break News within the restrictions of its regular television programming – Sky did not need to balance audience considerations in program interruptions with the need for ongoing coverage. Sky may have provided better ongoing coverage, but it was in the best position to do so. It is also interesting to note that the most vocal support of Sky’s coverage, a part News Corporation entity, is coming from other News Corporation outlets.
I for one am looking forward to being able to see all the journalism the ABC already produces get national airtime on ABC News 24. Just think of all the resources the Corporation has with the State News, Stateline, ABC Local, News Radio and Radio National journalists – finally being able to be utilised in a national News service. Even while I wait for the channel to launch though, the ABC will for me remain my primary News source, at least until I can be convinced it has genuine competition.