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ABC defends cuts to SA radio news updates

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The ABC says it has cut back the number of half-hourly radio news updates in Adelaide to free up resources to chase “high impact local radio stories”.

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From this week, ABC radio listeners in South Australia have lost half-hourly news headlines during the morning and afternoon shifts.

An ABC news spokesperson says the reduction of half-hourly bulletins from nine to five brings South Australia in line with other states.

“It’s a change aimed at freeing up our radio resources to provide better value news for radio audiences with an increased focus on original and high impact local radio stories,” the spokesperson told InDaily.

“Radio news reporters and producers in SA will now have more time to find and produce those important radio news stories. Additionally, local radio audiences will get better value news, with reporters available to do radio live crosses from the field as the news is unfolding.

“We continue to do the 0730, 0830, 1130, 1630 and 1730 radio news headlines and there’s no change to our radio news bulletins.”

The change comes at a sensitive time for the ABC, with its flagship South Australian station – ABC Radio Adelaide – enduring a poor year in the ratings and the local newsroom losing three of its most experienced journalists to redundancies this year.

Meanwhile, the furore continues over the sacking of managing director Michelle Guthrie, and the subsequent resignation of chairman Justin Milne.

A media analyst has raised questions about the lack of media experience on the public broadcaster’s board.

Media economist Peter Cox, who has advised media companies for more than 30 years, says the make-up of the ABC board appears to be an attempt at diversity gone wrong.

“There was basically one from each state. Rather than an attempt to represent sectional Australia, I think it’s far more important for the board, in this day and age, to have skills such as experience in the media industry,” Cox told AAP.

“The board needs members with experience in the technological changes that are happening, some of them need a background of involvement in editorial positions, plus we need skills in finance.

“We need this combination of skills and expertise on the board which doesn’t exist at the moment.”

Currently, only one of the seven board members – Peter Lewis – has media experience, aside from staff-elected member Jane Connors, whose background includes roles in ABC Radio and advisory work for history-focused organisations. South Australia is represented on the board by businesswoman Donny Walford.

Cox’s comments came amid mounting calls for the board members to resign, a week after the resignation of Milne and the sacking of Guthrie.

The leadership turmoil has put each member’s nomination and qualifications under the spotlight, with accusations of political interference levelled at the Liberal government.

Corporate governance expert Catherine Friday says professional diversity in a board is important but there should be a few with “deep experience in the sector”.

“You’d expect there to be a skills matrix that a board would work to, so they can be effective in governing an organisation,” the Ernst & Young partner said.

ABC board member Kirstin Ferguson, who has a background in the military, law and mining, has taken over as the organisation’s acting chair.

– with AAP

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