Interview with ABC Illawarra On Local Content Changes

MELINDA JAMES: Joining me now is the federal Member for Throsby here in the Illawarra, Stephen Jones. Good morning.

STEPHEN JONES, MEMBER FOR THROSBY: Good morning, good to be with you.

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JAMES: Now, you have had a bit to say about cuts to other regional media organisations in recent times. What do you make of the cuts to ABC regional news services? Well, actually not a cut per I should clear up this information; there is no loss of positions or funding yet but there will be fewer news bulletins going to air.

JONES:  Well, not yet is the key point here. Over the last 20 years in print, TV and in radio throughout the Illawarra and South Coast we have seen a loss of editorial positions. My great concern is that these changes are the stalking horse for a further loss of resources and further loss of editorial capacity to tell local stories. Whether it is WIN TV, the Illawarra Mercury or any of the other regional newspapers the people of this region want to see local stories about local issues. They don’t want all of their stories being generated out of the capital cities. There are not many issues where I will be in loud agreement with Warren Truss but on this one I am lock step with him. He is absolutely right, I see this as a first step towards us losing more regional radio content.

JAMES: I mean we have been given a guarantee. Fiona Reynolds has said quite explicitly on AM this morning that ABC regional is not giving one minute of air time back to the metropolitan stations from regional stations and that it will remain regional content.

JONES: I’m not convinced. They say that this is based on surveys and consultations that have been done with listeners and other stakeholders. Well, I can tell you that they have come nowhere near me or any of the other political representatives in the region.  If they did honestly survey or talk to people down here in the Illawarra, probably one of the first things that would have been raised is – where are our streaming services? How come to can tune into 702 on your iPhone, you can even tune into ABC Newcastle on your iPhone but you can’t stream ABC Illawarra on your iPhone or any sort of smart phone? If they truly had been speaking to people in the Illawarra they would have heard that there are gaps and some areas where the ABC could improve services. Are we seriously expected to believe that no news breaks between 8 30 in the morning and in the afternoon when the next news bulletin is will be a good thing? It just doesn’t make sense.

JAMES: I know the fact that we don’t live stream is a huge bug-bear for our listeners. It is one of the biggest complaints we get; we have been told that it is coming but we don’t know when. What about this issue of no news services on a Saturday morning too? What are your thoughts on that?

JONES: I’m disappointed. Whether it is sport of local news services, are we seriously supposed to believe that no news breaks or nothing happens in the Illawarra between a Friday and a Monday morning? I mean come on; this is nothing short of a reduction in the local news stories available to the people in the Illawarra. We are sick of it! We are sick of people in Sydney or Melbourne or wherever they are making these decisions not paying attention to the interests of the Illawarra. We want to see more local content, more news stories and more issues being spoken about in the local region not less. We see this as a stalking horse as a reduction to those stories.

JAMES: Would Labor be lobbying for some reinstitution of the ABC funding that was lost or at least funding for regional services at the ABC?

JONES: Well, I can tell you that I first heard about this this morning. As soon as I finish talking to you, I will be writing to Mark Scott. I will be quite happy to join a delegation with Warren Truss; it is not just the Nationals who are up in arms about this. There are Labor Members in regional areas who are also concerned. We will walk in lock step with them saying that we don’t want to see any diminution of local stories. In fact, in the Illawarra we want you to get on with improving local services particularly live streaming of our radio programs. We should not be second cousin to what is going on in other metropolitan areas around the country.

JAMES: Stephen Jones thanks for your time this morning.

JONES: Great to be with you. 

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