‘Local news in retreat’: Premier calls on ABC to reverse SA cut

Premier Peter Malinauskas has called on Sydney-based ABC executives to reinstate South Australia’s 7pm Sunday news bulletin, saying axing it was “just wrong”, dudded locals and that the ABC Charter required the broadcaster to reflect national diversity.

Jun 22, 2023, updated Jun 22, 2023
Image: Tom Aldahn/InDaily

Image: Tom Aldahn/InDaily

Malinauskas has joined a chorus of protest against the ABC’s decision to replace all state-based Sunday 7pm bulletins with a network program produced in Sydney.

ABC news director Justin Stevens said last week that the change meant that “on Sunday night, the audience are going to get a really fantastic and strong national bulletin which will be updated in states that are on a different time difference”.

The ABC’s latest move to cut local coverage and centralise services in Sydney is part of a pivot away from TV and radio to digital and to chase a younger audience via social media apps.

“Increasingly we’re seeing younger people accessing news and information on other platforms and if we don’t service them, in 20, 30, 40 years, we won’t have the audience we have now,” Stevens said.

“We could also put out a piece of social media, on say TikTok or Instagram, about a really strong investigation.

“If that doesn’t go on Instagram or TikTok, people under the age of 30 won’t even know it occurred or that it should matter to them.”

The new strategy will see 120 jobs cut including the national political editor, newsroom and arts roles, provoking a storm of criticism from politicians and high-profile journalists across the spectrum.

Malinauskas tweeted on Wednesday that he had written to ABC managing director David Anderson and chair Ita Buttrose to relay his “alarm” at the decision to axe the local Sunday news bulletin.

“Whilst I understand and applaud the ABC’s desire to innovate and expand into the digital space, it appears local news is in retreat,” he wrote.

“I am concerned the decision to remove the South Australian 7pm Sunday night television bulletin will diminish state political coverage, which is critical to an informed debate in our local political discourse.

“The local Sunday night 7pm bulletin remains the most-watched ABC News program in South Australia by some margin. I am among the more than 62,000 South Australians who regularly tune-in.

“For almost every Member of Parliament, ABC News is not always comfortable viewing. It regularly holds me and my Parliamentary colleagues to account. It does so without fear of favour, as it should.

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“I have always believed South Australians should be at the heart of the national debate. As a people, we have a good story to tell. But we also place a high value on the ability of South Australians to speak to each other.

“Australia is a federation. As the pandemic amply demonstrates, our body politic is not uniform. There are significant political, economic, geographical and cultural differences between our states. The ABC is required by its Charter to reflect this diversity.”

The ABC’s decision to axe its local Sunday night news bulletins is just wrong.

A strong democracy depends on a strong fourth estate.

In an open letter, I’m calling upon the ABC to reconsider its position and reinstate local 7pm Sunday bulletins.

— Peter Malinauskas (@PMalinauskasMP) June 21, 2023

Malinauskas said the national debate was well-serviced by ABC programs including 7.30, Four Corners and News Breakfast.

“But the opportunity for South Australian audiences to understand their own state in its full, rich context is diminishing across the media landscape. I fear this decision will hasten this unfortunate trend.

“Whilst the ABC’s latest Five Year Plan notes the importance of the ABC’s presence in communities, it is concerning the plan makes no mention of the value of ensuring local communities are well serviced with local news.

“I call upon the ABC to reconsider its position, and reinstate local 7pm Sunday bulletins.”

SA Infrastructure Minister Tom Koutsantonis last week attacked the “arrogance” of ABC Sydney management for assuming New South Wales-produced content was good enough for the whole country.

Former SA Liberal MP and Foreign Minister Alexander Downer retweeted the Labor MP’s angry outburst, stating: “So true. The ABC is meant to be for all Australians not just Sydney people.”

This is so true. The ABC is meant to be for all Australians not just Sydney people

— Alexander Downer (@AlexanderDowner) June 16, 2023

Former SA Labor Premier Mike Rann also savaged the ABC’s “Sydney stranglehold”.

Angered the ABC will no longer have a State based 7pm Sunday TV news bulletin. A real blow to the coverage of State and local politics, news and sport. The Sydney stranglehold tightens. The ABC’s rich mosaic will become blander, less reflective of a big and diverse continent

— Mike Rann (@Mike_Rann) June 16, 2023

InDaily has contacted the ABC for comment.

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