ABC News 24 hammered over Japanese tsunami coverage

ABC News 24The ABC is facing growing criticism of its coverage of the Japanese tsunami disaster by its news network ABC News 24.  

On Friday night, the network switched to the UK-based BBC News 24.

And at several key points during the rest of the weekend, ABC News 24 – which launched eight months ago – returned to its scheduled programming including reruns of an aboriginal reconciliation conference from last November, a roundup of the week’s news from Queensland and a three year old episode of Foreign Correspondent.

The coverage has drawn strong criticism, particularly from News Ltd commentators.

Columnist Tim Blair wrote in today’s Daily Telegraph: “Now, I can almost understand how the ABC’s hidebound culture would cause it to stick with scheduled re-runs during an historic crisis.

“More difficult to understand is why the ABC’s journalists didn’t defeat that culture on Saturday by swarming the studio and forcing it to cover actual news. Even ABC journalists are still journalists, after all, and journalists are compelled to pursue big stories.”

And Caroline Overington wrote in The Australian: “And how did the station do? It failed, and spectacularly. Viewers who tuned in over the weekend—and many did—found a skeleton staff pumping out repeats of old programs, including one on Belgian identity issues (we are not trying to be smart, that is true) and a debate on whether Dutch is superior, as a language, to Flemish.”

Australia’s only other mainstream 24 hour news channel is Sky News, which is owned by Seven, Nine and the news Corp-aligned BSkyB. The network switched between locally based coverage and Sky News UK.

However, criticism of ABC News 24 was not limited to News Ltd. Many on Twitter also expressed disappointment with the service.

The shortfalls in the ABC News 24’s coverage highlight the budgetary constraints the service operates under. The ABC launched the station by making savings out of existing budgets. Its lowest staffing is at the weekend when it fills its schedule with a large amount of archive current affairs content from the previous week and earlier.

The network’s problems were also exacerbated by the lack of an agreement to carry Japanese public broadcaster NHK World which had some of the most compelling coverage online. On Friday night, ABC boss Mark Scott tweeted a link to the NHK World live stream, saying: “We do not have international streaming rights”.

At the time of posting, the ABC had not yet prepared a response to the criticism.


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