Fear and loathing in regional Australia

James McGrath
By James McGrath | 25 November 2014

While the ABC cuts are scary for the inner-city latte-sipping set, it's even scarier for regional Australia.

AdNews and the media industry we serve are broadly on the cutting edge, focused on the bleeding edge of tech and ad innovation. While it's all very exciting, it doesn't lend itself to writing about regional Australia all that often.

Among the well-publicised cuts outlined yesterday, was the revelation that five regional bureaus would be cut as a result of the government cutting $207 million from the ABC budget over the next five years.

Before joining AdNews in September, I was based in sunny Gladstone in Queensland, which is home to one of the radio bureaus set to be shut down.

While the reporters at the bureau actually work out of nearby (100kms away) Rockhampton, the shut of the bureau is a blow for the Gladstone community, and fears were immediately raised about the emergency service function of the ABC being cut.

Central Queensland is cyclone-prone, and residents fear that the cutting of the ABC bureau means that they're going to lose out on vital emergency warning systems.

Then of course there's the lack of boots on the ground in Gladstone, which is currently going through somewhat of an industrial revolution with multiple billion dollar projects being built at the same place, and its effects on the community are playing out.

Aside from all this, the cuts point to how media is seeking to deliver media to regional areas in different ways.

Last week Nine Entertainment floated the idea that regional broadcasters will be redundant in five years because content will simply be streamed to regional homes via the internet.

“Everyone watches streamed content these days,” Nine Entertainment CEO Gyngell was quoted by the Australian Financial Review as saying. “If you can watch it from America, trust me, you can watch it from Wagga Wagga.”

It's an idea that was subsequently ridiculed as half-baked by Prime Media Group chairman John Hartigan, as Nine did not hold the digital rights for a lot of its broadcast content.

But the thinking of both the ABC and Nine indicate that large media organisations see regional broadcasting as simply too costly for the potential audience and advertising return.

Among the top-line announcements made by the ABC yesterday was the creation of a $20 million digital fund, along with a digital network division.

It's consolidating its regional presence and betting big on digital. Neither of those things bode particularly well for coverage of regional issues.

The ABC is already attacked in regional Australia and anybody not in Melbourne or Sydney as catering to the inner-city latte set, despite the ABC doing some great work in regional Australia.

The cuts to regional services in favour of a digital-led centralised strategy won't do much to change this perception.

Regional Australia will be railing against the cuts to regional services, in the knowledge that the search for efficiencies and a lower operating cost structure will inevitably mean there will be less and less regional reporting taking place.

It makes sense from a business perspective to streamline coverage out of larger regional centres, but inevitably this will mean there will be stories missed in the gaps between the large centres.

As the ABC sets out over the coming weeks to simultaneously play down and highlight the cuts, it needs to explain just how regional Australia will be treated, as do all media players as streamlined newsrooms with digital delivery become increasingly in vogue.

Have something to say on this? Share your views in the comments section below. Or if you have a news story or tip-off, drop us a line at jamesmcgrath@yaffa.com.au

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