Over the next five years the ABC aims to become more culturally diverse in its staff and programming, more local and to make its services more personalised.
ABC MD David Anderson made that commitment today in a speech to the National Press Club as he also emphasized the ways in which the broadcaster is providing practical support to help Australians during the pandemic.
Referring to the fragmentation in the media landscape, he observed: “The big global streaming platforms are looking to grow stronger, while smaller players aim to snatch slices of the market.
“The danger is that our Australian stories get lost in the mix, or don’t get told at all, and that our sense of shared national identity is thereby diminished.
“Meanwhile across the world there are more extreme voices, and more cries of ‘fake’ news. There has been a worrying decline in public confidence in democratic institutions, including media organisations, even as authoritarian regimes are on the rise.”
Dismayed that ABC journalist Dan Oakes still faces the risk of jail for reporting in the public interest, he said: “We stand by Dan and repeat our call for the Parliament to protect journalists and whistle-blowers acting in the public interest from prosecution, through much needed law reform.”
In an oblique criticism of the Federal Government’s repeated references to the ABC’s annual funding of more than $1 billion, he noted transmission and distribution costs amount to $185 million annually, leaving $880 million in operational funding to spend on producing and acquiring content across multiple platforms.
In 2018/19, expenditure on the ABC represented around 0.2 per cent of Commonwealth government spending, proportionally half as much as the mid-1990s level of about 0.4 per cent.
Again lamenting the loss of 250 jobs announced last month, he said: “This is a difficult time for those staff members and their families, and their departure represents a loss to the whole Corporation.
“But the changes are necessary, given our circumstances, if we are to ensure that the ABC’s operations are sustainable for the years ahead.”
Among the ways in which the ABC is supporting people through the pandemic, he cited this week’s Your Mental Health initiative, which is designed to help those struggling with the impact of COVID-19, natural disasters and discrimination of any kind.
In partnership with Lifeline and Kids Helpline, the ABC continues to support those thousands of Australians struggling with anxiety, depression and stress.
Anderson also touted the $5 million Fresh Start Fund and a recently launched arts package across radio, TV, online and on-demand.
‘In My Blood It Runs.’
Educational content on ABC ME has assisted students, parents and carers while Ludo Studio’s Bluey has kept pre-schoolers and parents entertained. Bluey seasons one and two have surpassed more 300 million plays across ABC Kids and ABC iview.
Demonstrating the commitment to diversity, Anderson cited such shows as In My Blood It Runs, The Australian Dream, Total Control, The Heights, Black Comedy, Mystery Road and Waltzing The Dragon.
ABC Radio Indigenous’ flagship program Speaking Out last week celebrated 30 years of giving a voice to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander.
“We will be commissioning more stories that reflect the breadth of Australian experiences and perspectives, including socio-economic and geographic differences,” he said.
Audiences will soon be offered the opportunity to sign into one ABC account that works across all platforms, similar to that offered by the commercial broadcasters.
This will enable the ABC to offer more-targeted services including news alerts and analysis and content recommendations.
Anderson concluded: “We want to keep the best of our past while finding new ways to deliver our high editorial standards in the future.
“We will be faced with tough choices – change is always difficult but essential if we are to be successful in the digital world that is reshaping everything around us at a breath-taking pace.
“Challenging as this change may be, we are heartened by the goodwill of our audience who support us, and sometimes criticise us, but who listen and watch and join us in the conversation.”