ABC cuts to current affairs programs proving controversial

Two of the ABC's current affairs programs have been halved in length, inducing many concerns over radio content and its educational value.

Current affairs
Radio hosts are showing a general shift in focus from education to entertainment. Photo: Smorazanm, Pixabay.

The ABC is Australia’s national broadcaster and has played a notable role in the history of domestic communications. However, recent alterations have seen two of Australia’s most important current affairs programs cut in half.

The World Today and PM are thought to provide valuable discussion and collective education for the Australian population, so naturally large concerns have been raised over what their cuts mean for Australians.

The World Today and PM

The World Today is a midday current affairs program, typically holding a 12pm-1pm time slot. The program addresses important local and international matters that are trending in political, social and economic fields. It not only informs Australians, but is also instrumental in creating discussion and debate on events of interest.

PM is a nighttime program that has previously run from 6pm-7pm. PM adopted a more localised focus, placing a spotlight on key domestic news. PM is effective in broadcasting issues relevant to Australia’s culturally diverse community, stimulating consideration of many pertinent topics.

Together the current affairs programs are able to reach Australians at convenient times, with a wide range of issues of high salience in current domestic and global arenas. The programs form an integral part of the news industry in Australia, helping to fulfil the ABC’s public obligations.

What’s changed?

The two programs are now set to run for only 30 minutes, down from their previous air time of one hour. The ABC holds particular obligations, given it is financed by the taxpayers. Namely, it holds a responsibility to adequately inform Australians of domestic and international affairs, to generate awareness about influential issues.

With both the World Today and PM seeming to accomplish this exact aim, the logic behind the cuts has confused many people. Although retaining lengthy programs doesn’t come cheap, the tradeoff between cost and educational value is a controversial issue.

The programs revolve around tackling tough issues, with implications that are often very sensitive for many people. Given their complex nature, it is essential that the stories are told fully and explored deeply, in order to appropriately address them. Therefore, the programs’ shortened formats will inevitably hinder the coverage of such central issues.

A significant portion of the saved time will now be devoted to programs of light entertainment. With so many reality TV shows and comedic radio programs saturating Australian communications today, current affairs programs are unique in their provision of informative, insightful content.

Although people have provided justification for the change, on the basis of leaving the audience wanting more, we are forced to consider whether suspense and entertainment is what we value in these educational programs.

Analysis of current affairs is a critical aspect of democracy. It acts to explain complex issues, raise awareness of important events and hold governments accountable. Unfortunately, cutting these current affairs programs sees less importance placed on these functions and may prove detrimental for society.