ABC science safe for now but facing uncertain future

abc science logoWhile Federal Government budget cuts are set to bite deep at the national broadcaster, science coverage at the ABC looks likely to emerge largely unscathed. However the long term future of ABC science programming remains under a cloud.

Prior to the recent announcement of a $254 million funding cut to the ABC, there had been speculation that science broadcasting could be in the firing line.

Fairfax Media reported in October that ABC management was “closely examining the future of Catalyst, the country’s only prime-time science program… (with) the program.. scrapped under a worst-case scenario.”

Catalyst

Since ABC Managing Director Mark Scott announced up to 400 job losses following the budget cut in November, sources close to the program say that Catalyst appears to have avoided the axe this time around.

Catalyst viewers should expect changes to scheduling and format in 2015, with the program shifting timeslot and concentrating on more in depth coverage per episode. An increased online presence is also on the cards.

Staffing levels look set to remain unchanged, as do the total number of episodes and hours broadcast within the calendar year.  Production will continue to be based in Sydney, supported by existing reporters located in Melbourne and Hobart.

Mr Scott also appeared to rule out any plans to outsource production of Catalyst, citing a lack of viability at a recent Senate Estimates appearance.

“If you look at the type of production that we are doing in house, increasingly its programming that we are doing that would never attract producer rebate funding and Screen Australia funding alike… You’re not going to get that for Q&A, Media Watch, you’re clearly not going to get it for Catalyst or Gardening Australia,” he said.

Science reporting spared?

While extensive job losses in the news department could result in less general reporting of science, dedicated science journalism resources – such as ABC Science Online and science coverage within the National Reporting Team – appear to have been initially quarantined from immediate cutbacks.

However Science Online has suffered cutbacks in the past, resulting in a loss of capacity compounded by staff leaving without being replaced.

Several Radio National programs will not return in the new year. These include Bush Telegraph, Poetica, Encounter, Hindsight, Into the Musicand 360 Documentaries.

However the Radio National Science Unit and veteran flagship The Science Show appears safe, for now.

Uncertain future

When it comes to science broadcasting on radio, sources within the ABC describe a situation of dwindling resources and staff attrition and increasing workloads.

“The situation is tenuous. Strong and established relationships with the Australian science community mask declining capacity within the ABC,” the insider said.

“Without resources and long term planning, the radio unit might only be a couple of staff away from a wipe out.”

It’s a situation that’s undoubtedly on the mind of ABC board member Fiona Stanley. Professor Stanley is currently coordinating a review into science coverage across the national broadcasting and adequate resources and long-term capacity are said to be high on her agenda.

Next generation

Established in 1975, The Science Show is one of the longest running programs on Australian radio. Celebrating 40 years in 2015, the program has partnered with the University of New South Wales in a special initiative called Top 5 under 40.

Top 5 under 40 seeks to engage early-career researchers – with a passion for communications – aged under forty from universities and research organisations from the ranks of science, medical research, technology, engineering and maths.

Working with RN producers, the top ten applicants will pitch their ideas to a judging panel that includes Nobel Laureate Brian Schmidt, UNSW Marine Ecologist Emma Johnston and incoming CSIRO Chief Executive Larry Marshall.

The five winners will undertake a 10-day media program at RN’s Sydney studios.

More information

  • Early-career researchers with a flair for communications are encouraged to apply for Top 5 under 40. Visit https://www.unsw.edu.au/top5under40 for more information. Applications close Friday 16 January 2015.
  • Send a message of support to ABC staff by emailing csstaff@cpsu.org.au

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