Local matters: Cuts to ABC Newcastle

Steven Pickett -

News

So, the ABC cuts. I’ve been watching and listening and something, or perhaps a few things, don’t seem quite right.

The most obvious is that the ABC is a critical cornerstone of our democracy and any attempt to diminish its capacity to report fairly and freely, to hold the government accountable, will diminish the very spirit of the democratic construct that has allowed our Australian way of life to flourish.

Now is it coincidence that the reporting by the ABC of the embarrassing ‘spying’ episode (by the Australian Government on high ranking officials within Indonesia’s government – behaviour that we all would have found unacceptable if the reverse applied) was followed by these cuts? Are they punishment for the ABC reporting freely and fairly? The timing is interesting.

That’s not to say that the ABC, as an organisation that is funded by the public, shouldn’t be run as efficiently as possible. Maybe there are legitimate reasons for trimming. Maybe there is also the opportunity to evaluate where the areas of excess and poor value really lay. There was a report in the press about ‘lifers’, people who damagingly resisted change within the ABC. It’s a media organisation – keeping up with change and even being at its forefront is an expected necessity. Therefore, the question needs to be asked; have the cuts been directed at this excess or have they been wielded elsewhere for some reason, like where union resistance is least likely or where payouts will be cheaper or . . . what?

Most importantly, it is the critical loss of radio services to regional areas and the city of Newcastle that is most questionable. As business becomes more global, driven by online enterprise, there is a sound case for the value of localisation.

 


 

The Sydneycentric way in which much of the governing of NSW occurs is a poor reflection upon the leaders who lack the vision to drive the entire state to prosper, not just one relatively small geographic section of it. Sure, the population of the Sydney basin is denser than anywhere else so one expects resources to be allocated there. But where is a plan to reinvigorate the rest of the state? This is where the resources come from, the coal, the minerals, the food. Is there a plan for decentralisation that will drive a spreading of the population and revive countless towns across the state? All that seems to be apparent are policies that both encourage more people to Sydney and, therefore, exacerbate the existing horrors of traffic congestion, pollution, housing prices, etc, etc.

This is so bad that one must conclude that there is something pretty big and mighty that propels seemingly decent politicians like Mike Baird to sell off rather than lease the state’s infrastructure for short term gain and, then, to spend the bulk of the ill-gotten money on making an already horrendous problem (Sydney) even worse, at the expense of the rest of the whole state of which he is meant to be Premier. What is it? Does it make business transport costs cheaper if we are all herded like caged hens? Are we more easily monitored and controlled if we are all settled in a smaller space? I guess it saves money on police, fire and ambulance stations. And radio stations. What is really going on? Whatever it is, this dark reasoning and way of governing is not good for the people of NSW, in Sydney or elsewhere.

 


Part of this is the the deconstruction of the local infrastructure, whether it be the railways of northwestern NSW towns that were created with the sweat and nation-building spirit of generations of our ancestors and now sit in criminal ruin? Or the closure of government agencies and choking of local councils? Or the demotion of a metropolitan radio station to a regional one, despite this happening in what is the country’s sixth largest city?

Local matters. It matters to towns with a population of a few thousand and it matters to a Valley with a few hundred thousand people. In Newcastle, our local ABC station (1233) was the pivotal point of communication between the emergency services and the community during the Pasha Bulka storm. The station was critical, reliable and relied upon. They were there. It is highly probable that, by broadcasting road closures and damaged areas, they even saved lives.
And that’s just one moment in time. Every week, this station provides coverage of countless local events, people and issues. They provide rare exposure for local artists, musicians and more.

More than that, they help define who we are. They play a big part in shaping our,identity, our sense of self, as people and as a city.

Yet, somehow (somewhere in Sydney probably), someone has made a decision to disregard us, our identity and our right to have the national broadcaster, which we help fund, provide the service we require and expect.

Maybe there are other things that can be cut. Maybe cuts aren’t necessary at all. Perhaps a redeployment of some funds to create a better service is the answer.

The removal of Carol Duncan’s afternoon program in favour of something networked from Sydney is certainly not the answer. It is the antithesis of local. It is not us – it is not about us and it does not reflect us. The number of local people, events and issues that Carol covers in a given year is astounding. And it’s all about to disappear.

The Federal and State Governments need to act for the good of the people, of the nation and of NSW respectively. And, when appropriate, the people need advise their representatives that their solutions are not good enough. We deserve, and should expect, better from our leaders.

And we need to let them know.

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