ABC radio staff slam ‘odd’ decision to rebroadcast TV coverage of plane crash

ABC News Radio journalists have criticised a decision from ABC management to take their broadcast off the airwaves during last week’s Essendon plane crash, and instead play the audio feed of TV’s ABC News 24.

Reports of the discontent originally appeared in The Guardian, which claimed “confused and infuriated” journalists had sent a letter to the ABC’s director of news Gaven Morris, raising their concerns and contending the switch was problematic from a listeners’ perspective due to the distinct lack of images on radio. Sources spoken to by Mumbrella in subsequent days have reiterated the concerns.

ABC News Radio journalists and employees however, have contended it set a dangerous precedent for the radio broadcaster and demonstrated management’s misunderstanding of the differences between television and radio news.

One source told Mumbrella the radio station had been covering the unfolding story – which saw a local pilot and four American tourists killed as a small plane crashed into the DFO shopping centre – for a good 45 minutes before a directive from Morris came through to switch the feed.

Morris: Ordered radio team to hand over to TV colleagues

Most of Morris’ career has been in television, rather than radio, including as a reporter on the ABC’s 7.30 Report, and with CNN, Al Jazeera and Ten. He was the ABC’s head of continuous news from 2008-2011, which included the launch of ABC News 24 in 2010.

“It was a very odd way of handling things,” a source told Mumbrella. “There was no directive of when radio could resume as normal. It was handled very badly.”

The source said the confusion was heightened when ABC News 24 began playing radio reports of the incident and surrounding traffic on the TV feed – “meaning we had this crazy thing of radio-on-TV-on-radio again”.

An employee of ABC News Radio also told Mumbrella the journalists were protesting largely because it sets a dangerous precedent for radio when there is big news breaking, and could harm what they believe to be the station’s reputation for providing the best coverage. The ABC News 24 television coverage, they allege, was “decidedly inferior” to what the radio team could have offered.

The radio workers also believe the presenter on News Radio at the time, Glen Bartholomew, was providing superior coverage of the unfolding events thanks to his radio experience and extensive knowledge of Melbourne. Both ABC News 24 and ABC News Radio are produced from the ABC’s studios in Ultimo, Sydney.

“The most stunning thing is no one is more qualified than Glen Bartholomew to cover these things on air,” a source told Mumbrella. “He is really good at painting a word picture and distilling all the implications, the personalities involved and what it means for Melbourne.”

Mumbrella understands that ABC News Radio staff are holding meetings to discuss their concerns with management this week.

A spokesperson for the ABC told Mumbrella the decision was made for operational reasons.

“For operational reasons, rather than have the television, radio and Melbourne newsroom teams separately working on rolling news coverage of one story, it was decided to share one live broadcast breaking news service across platforms for a short period of time.”


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