The national broadcaster is facing a pushback from staff on its proposed scrapping of local Sunday night local news bulletins in place of a single national bulletin, with concerns put to management around serving the needs of different states.
A new ABC News Sunday national bulletin is expected to launch in October. The overhaul is part of a wider restructure the ABC flagged this month as it pushes ahead with its digital-first strategy, with up to 120 roles set to become redundant, including that of its political editor, Andrew Probyn.
Deputy director of news Gavin Fang and head of state coverage and news operations Donna Field, who addressed 7pm supervising producers on Thursday night for the first time since the proposed changes were announced two weeks ago, met widespread opposition to the changes during a “tense” call.
ABC management acknowledged concerns around losing state-specific coverage, highlighting the differing states and territories’ preferences around sport. Staff had raised divergent interests of AFL-centric Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia versus NSW and Queensland, which lean towards NRL.
The source, who was present on the call, said a proposed solution was for sports features on the Sunday broadcast to replace match reports from around the grounds.
An ABC spokesperson said the call was a highly constructive meeting with a group of passionate ABC colleagues talking about how it can best serve its audience, “with a lot of discussion, questions and ideas to work our way through”.
“We’re engaging with as many employees as possible at the moment to take their feedback on board about the change proposals. Our people understand what the strategy is and the need for it.”
Faced with heavy scrutiny of the decision to axe local news, the ABC intends to add an “Around the States” segment to the new national bulletin, which director of news Justin Stevens told staff would showcase its highest-value local original and investigative journalism, in an internal email on Thursday seen by this masthead.
The segment would “capture the key stories across the nation and sport coverage that meets audience needs”, Stevens said.
“Currently, the weekend 7pms vary little from each other. Consolidating our resources in one national bulletin a week delivers a significant cost saving that puts the bulletin on a more sustainable long-term footing, and also allows us to do more reporting of local stories for the website and app.”
Staff were told “Around the States” would feature one top story from each state, according to the source.
Management is yet to select a presenter for the new national bulletin. A production location will be decided in two weeks, but its Ultimo headquarters has been ruled out due to “Sydney-centric perceptions”, according to an ABC staff member, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The move to a national bulletin has been challenged by state premiers, including South Australia’s Peter Malinauskas, who said it was “just wrong” in a letter to ABC managing director David Anderson and chair Ita Buttrose this month.
Malinasuskas called on the broadcaster to reverse its decision, saying it will diminish state political coverage, critical to informed state political discourse.
Western Australia Premier Roger Cook also raised concerns with ABC management over the decision to axe local news on Sundays, according to The West Australian.
With a considerable time difference between WA and the country’s eastern states, staff noted a national bulletin would provide potentially outdated news by the time it aired in the west. However, management at last night’s meeting made a commitment to producers that the bulletin would go to air live.
Stevens told staff that the changes would enable investment in eight state and territory editions of Stateline for digital and broadcast, “adding to our coverage of local stories and issues and enhancing our scrutiny of state and territory governments”. The source said some staff believed the changes were being pushed reduce the number of employees being paid Sunday penalty rates.
A spokesperson said: “We would retain the same number of reporters in our newsrooms on weekends and they would report local stories for all platforms, including the national 7pm bulletin.”
ABC management are set to attend a private hearing on Tueasday with the Fair Work Commission, in a dispute lodged by the industry’s union, the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance, following accusations that the broadcaster breached a clause in its enterprise agreement mandating proper consultation over its recently announced restructure.
“They have not agreed to provide you with the fair consultation you deserve to inform decisions about your work and life after the changes,” an email to the media union’s members said this week.
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