The shock redundancy of Andrew Probyn has put a spotlight on the quiet revolution under way at the ABC to move away from traditional broadcasting on television and radio.

For many the idea that “the national broadcaster no longer needs a political editor” dedicated to TV news is absurd. But to management, who have seen the audience trends, the days of a senior journalist concentrating on filing for one 7pm bulletin is “old fashioned” and a luxury it can’t afford. Probyn and 40 other staff in the news division have been made redundant in a major restructure along digital lines.

ABC News is bad already, crammed with crime stories and scandalously missing big international news. Sacking Andrew Probyn and replacing him with junior reporters who can get stuff on TikTok will drive down audience even further. The chair and board must reverse this.

— Bob Carr (@bobjcarr) June 16, 2023

According to a presentation to executives seen by Weekly Beast, the ABC TV’s broadcast reach is predicted to trend dangerously down, from 43% in 2021 to just 31% in 2027. Four out of 10 Australians currently watch ABC TV on a weekly basis. By 2032 it will be just two out of 10, and the vast majority of people under 40 won’t be watching TV at all.

For a public broadcaster receiving $1.1bn a year it is not ideal to only reach a fraction of the population.

To be fair, all free-to-air broadcasters are facing the same challenges. The ABC is determined to find audiences on different platforms both owned by the ABC and on third party platforms like TikTok and YouTube.

That is why the ABC is replacing legacy jobs such as political editors, sound recordists and camera operators with dedicated social and digital reporters, digital distribution experts and people with skills and experience in vertical video.

According to the internal presentation, Sky News Australia (4.9m) and Nine’s 60 Minutes (2.9m) have more subscribers on YouTube than ABC News 1.73m and ABC News In Depth (1.14m).

The ABC has defended the decision saying the parliament house bureau has more than 20 political reporters and editors who will lead the coverage. It also has a number of other senior correspondents in the bureau including Laura Tingle, David Speers and Greg Jennett and outside Canberra the ABC has Sabra Lane (AM), David Lipson (PM), Sarah Ferguson on 7.30, Annabel Crabb, Patricia Karvelas (RN Breakfast) and chief elections analyst Antony Green.

Changing channels

The ABC’s New South Wales political reporter, Ashleigh Raper, has exquisite timing. Hours before the ABC announced it was making 120 roles redundant, 41 in news, it was revealed she was leaving Aunty after 15 years and heading for a new high-profile job at the Ten network.

Well known to NSW audiences for her Covid reports and coverage of natural disasters like the Lismore floods and the Black Summer bushfires, Raper has been appointed network political editor. She will be reporting for Ten News First and appearing on The Project and Studio 10.

Ashleigh Raper
Former ABC reporter Ashleigh Raper has been appointed network political editor at 10 News First. Photograph: Ten

Raper will move to Canberra to replace Peter van Onselen, who quit the post in March to return full-time to his role at the University of Western Australia as a politics and public policy professor.

The separation hasn’t gone well for PVO though, as he is now being sued by Ten for breach of contract after he referred to Channel Ten as “the minnow of Australian commercial television” in his regular column in the Australian. An expedited one-day hearing is set down for 29 June.

Leaving time

Weekly Beast can reveal Raper’s appointment led to the immediate resignation of Ten’s senior political journalist, Stela Todorovic, who quit on Tuesday when she was told she would not be getting PVO’s old job. Sources said Todorovic had been assured by management she was in the running for the promotion as she has been acting in the role since PVO left. When she was overlooked for Raper, who has no federal political experience, she handed in her resignation. Todorovic will serve out her notice.

Todorovic’s partner, Anthony Galloway, who is a political correspondent for the Sun-Herald and the Sunday Age, has also resigned his job but is working out three months’ notice.

Galloway is joining former Fairfax executive Chris Janz’s startup, Scire, which will cover business, technology and politics. A former economics correspondent for the SMH and the Age, Jennifer Duke, is also joining Scire.

Airport encounter

On Sunday night the finance minister, Katy Gallagher, was pursued through Canberra airport into the car park by a reporter from the Australian, Liam Mendes, who filmed her as he threw questions her way. Mendes, who posted the video on Twitter and on the website, reported that Gallagher “was defiant and all but silent as she flew into a Canberra firestorm”.

But among veterans of Canberra reporting and Labor ranks the ongoing filming and repeated questioning after Gallagher said at the outset she had nothing to say was unwarranted and unusual by press gallery standards. While reporters do approach ministers at the airport for comment, they don’t normally follow them up to their cars when they don’t want to answer questions.

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Gallagher, who has denied misleading parliament over her knowledge of Brittany Higgins’ rape allegation, had earlier said she “categorically” denies misleading parliament.

Mendes was formerly a paparazzo before he was hired by the Australian and was involved in two controversial incidents during that time. In 2016 he took the infamous “granny panties” photographs of the former Sunrise presenter Samantha Armytage for the Daily Mail.

The original headline of the story: “Armytage dares to bare with giant granny panties showing a visible line”, was eventually changed to “Armytage goes solo as she heads out on a shopping trip” after widespread backlash. The Daily Mail apologised to Armytage for referring to her underwear.

In the same year Mendes was in the news again after police made an AVO application on behalf of a celebrity trainer, Michelle Bridges, after two encounters where Mendes photographed or filmed Bridges while she was at a restaurant and supermarket. A magistrate said Bridges’ frustration at intrusions into her private life were understandable but did not warrant the making of an order.

‘Invented’ fear campaign?

The front page story in the Australian on Wednesday, “PM’s IR agenda could trigger $13bn wipe-out and $373-a-year reduction in real wages” was apparently bad news for Labor as it tries to sell its industrial relations reforms.

“Anthony Albanese’s industrial relations crackdown on miners could trigger a $13bn hit to the economy and reduction in real wages of $373 a year, according to new industry modelling based on a 1% fall in productivity,” the exclusive article said.

The paper’s chief political correspondent, Geoff Chambers, claimed the report – which was commissioned by the Minerals Council of Australia – predicted that the reforms would also lead to a “reduction in real wages of $373 a year”.

It “warns Labor’s proposed suite of IR reforms could wreak havoc on flatlining productivity and flexibility across the mining sector and related supply chains”, he wrote.

There was no link to the report in the Australian’s story or on the Minerals Council website.

But we’ve seen the 10-page document and it makes no mention of the government’s industrial relations policies. It does not mention the Albanese Labor government, the IR reforms or Labor policy reforms at all.

In question time on Thursday the workplace relations minister, Tony Burke, said the article was part of a “fear campaign” and the link to Labor’s IR policies had simply been “invented”.

The Australian’s national chief of staff, Richard Ferguson, said the article clearly states that the “macro-economic modelling says restrictions on the mining sector and related supply chain industries would impact productivity”.

“The Minerals Council says the broad impacts of the government’s IR changes on the mining industry would have at least a 1% drag on productivity,” Ferguson told Weekly Beast. “The modelling considered the impact of a 1% hit to productivity on the sector and what that would mean for the economy.”


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