The national broadcaster is under scrutiny, yet again. The government has announced an efficiency review. It will be interesting to see the terms of reference and how they determine what is valuable and what isn’t. I know what I think is valuable about it for disaster managers.
One of the great assets of the ABC, I see, is trust. It’s news and current affairs is well trusted by the public, between 2/3s and ¾ of people trust the ABC http://essentialvision.com.au/trust-in-media-6 (Sure, they get some things wrong, but who doesn’t). They have been around for a long time, same logo, same news theme, same organisation. It is an integral part of our community. That is why it is important. In times of uncertainty, people will turn to things they trust. One of the things I missed when I lived overseas is the ABC news theme.
The ABC also has reach. Not only into the interior, or the inner city café, and the farmer on the tractor, also in the region. You can get a long way by talking to the ABC. When we launched Rediplan, I did a lot of ABC local radio (I seem to be big in rural South Australia, as I kept getting invited back). I enjoyed the format, the presenters live in the local community, they get what’s going on locally and can relate it back to what you are talking about. I also did ABC overnight, with Trevor Chappell. Half an hour with talkback. It was fantastic (as a former night shift worker, I get the loneliness of 3 am). We had all sorts of insomniacs and shift workers ringing in. It’s a whole different world out there. But you can reach them. Someone called from Katharine in the NT, Canberra, and western New South Wales. My friend David, emptying the bins on St Kilda Foreshore, was listening in. My voice was all over the country, in the wee small hours.
The Radio National 360 documentary that I wrote about last year is a powerful example of being able to take a topic and really explore it’s dimensions. Radio can also take you away from yourself. You have to imagine what is going on, and really hones the broadcasters descriptive skills. My brother Owen wrote this about the broadcaster, Alan Saunders death
“Even if you have your favourite programs on Radio National, simply having the radio on means you will inevitably hear something you hadn’t meant to” I think this is important as it challenges and stretches us.
JJJ, the youth radio network, so misunderstood by people who are not young, and dissed by the hipsters, has contributed so much to helping young people deal with disaster. They worked with us Red Cross to develop playlists of music and presentations in a radio show format that help kids and young people understand what is going on. Would a commercial broadcaster help us in the same way. Hard to see.
Local radio is such a simple, but powerful format. And cheap. Everyone has a radio, and radios work all the time (particularly if you buy a wind up one). The ABC’s commitment to emergency broadcasting is so important. The visionary and enthusiastic Ian Mannix has built an amazing system. Again, it is so simple. Messages get broadcast, as they are intended. Not spun. They are broadcast for as long as they are needed. And, Ian (and the ABC) gets that emergencies aren’t just response. ABC Local Radio established ABC Kinglake Ranges, a month after the February 7th Bushfires, a legacy project that become the local Kinglake Ranges Community Radio.
Are all these things efficient. Probably not. Will they save lives. Yes . Will they help us understand the consequences of disaster and prepare. Yes. Will they help us understand what we or people close to us are going through? Yes. All these things have a bigger intangible cost (and benefit) that may not be picked up in an efficiency review.
This is why we need an ABC.
And of course if we had to rely on commercial news….