JEFF WATERS. ABC journalists and business.

Aug 13, 2016


Yeah, sure, let’s ’embed’ ABC journalists in businesses, but don’t forget the unions, or Nauru.

The recent review of ABC business coverage may have come down in favour of the National Broadcaster, but, as has been suggested in the media, any move to “job swap” or “embed” ABC journalists within private corporations is nonsensical.

To perform their duties under the ABC Charter and Editorial Guidelines, any such journalists would be compelled to report anything they saw or heard of public interest, and so would need to be isolated from any real decision-making.

Perhaps they could be kept in a separate room, with blue helmets and flak-jackets, waiting to be fed like chickens as they are when they are “embedded” with the ADF – surely the most over-media-sensitive military force in the developed world. Reporters subjected to ADF “embedding” have long complained of extreme restrictions, not experienced in US hands.

Then, unfortunately, there is the need for balance: someone would need to undertake an “embed” held in a dirt pit by the construction union, for instance. There would need to be one with the biker gangs.

A crew could be “embedded” on Nauru, in a room they can’t leave and with no windows. Though any video filmed in that room would have to be inspected and approved by the Immigration Department before release under current rules.

Some ABC officials, as reported in the media, are spot-on with their concerns about any such moves.

And to suggest – as an “unnamed” company did to the review (conducted externally by ANZ boss Mike Smith and TV producer-turned-consultant Kerry Blackburn) – that the ABC is somehow bereft of specialist business reporters or coverage is demonstrably uninformed.

Daily, and ceaselessly, we are informed by people like economics expert Stephen Long who was using ABC Current Affairs programmes to warn Australia about the GFC long before it hit. Peter Ryan, the ABC’s Business Editor, who runs a tight and efficient ship, and reports himself daily on business and the markets as well as managing his unit, that contains many bright minds (like Michael Janda, who has a business brain the size of Jupiter).

Alan Kohler’s spot on the 7PM news, though worthy and a clever break in the programme’s production, is far less important that the weather report to serious market players, who get much the same market information as Alan, but in real time. Alan has to wait until 7PM to give us a round-up, and a nightly interesting observation.

In the meantime, what you may have missed, is the large and successful ABC Business Unit providing the most important parts of that information to millions of Australians – in real time – across Social Media and the rest of the internet, and the corporation’s many radio stations.

Yes, businesses may sometimes be called and asked questions by younger and less experienced reporters, but that’s because it trains more journalists than any other broadcaster. Would this “unnamed business” prefer not to have been called at all? That’s the realistic alternative. Particularly given budget cuts also driving down wages.

A Howard-era report calling the ABC “lean” and “efficient” is still being kept secret. Maybe a better suggestion would be to “embed” a few CEOs into the ABC Business Unit for a few days to learn something about prolific output with extreme efficiency.

Jeff Waters is National Campaign Coordinator for ABC Friends National, an author, and former Senior Journalist, Victoria for ABC News. 


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