‘We’re happy to leave opinionated journalism for others’, says ABC News’ Tim Ayliffe

With two new shows, brand new formats and the axing of Lateline after 28 years, ABC News' TV offering has certainly had a shake up in 2018. Mumbrella's Josie Tutty chats to ABC News TV editor Tim Ayliffe about the changes, and discusses why opinionated journalism is on the way out.

As a remedy to the current affairs gap left behind by 28-year-old Lateline and Stan Grant’s The Link, which were slashed in October of last year, ABC News has  announced a series of changes to its prime-time current affairs line up.

Tim Ayliffe, ABC News’ managing editor of television and video explains how the broadcaster “wanted to take a bit more time to cut through the news cycle and try to give the audience proper context and explanation of some of the big stories in our world today”.

Ayliffe: “We’re really trying to be a channel for the entire country”

Leading the new line-up is Matter of Fact, presented by award-winning journalist and ex-The Link host Stan Grant. The ABC has pitched the show as giving audiences “the essential context they need to separate facts from fiction on the important issues of the day”.

On the new prime-time show, Ayliffe says: “Stan is one of Australia’s most experienced journalists, having covered all of Asia and the Middle East in his time with CNN and other broadcasters, so he’s perfectly placed to be the guy to be able to deliver that context for audiences.

“There aren’t many shows these days that really just the pause button and say ‘let’s take time to explore and explain this story properly to get people who know what they’re talking about in and tear apart these issues.'”

Grant: “One of Australia’s most experienced journalists”

Also new in 2018 is National Wrap with Patricia Karvelas, a show which Ayliffe says continues the ABC’s commitment to “focus on on the facts”.

In contrast to more controversial and divisive news outlets, Ayliffe makes it clear that the ABC is “happy to leave opinionated journalism for others”.

When asked about the recent furore surrounding Seven’s interview with Nazi sympathiser Blair Cottrell, and the wider reporting of Melbourne’s supposed ‘African gang crisis’, Ayliffe says: “When we see complicated stories like that, we won’t try to go for a headline on it. We do want to spend the time to explain that story and explore it properly.”

Alongside Matter of Fact and National Wrap comes the return of Planet America, featuring John Barron and The Chaser comedian Chas Licciardello, in a new 45-minute format.

“A lot of people think of Chas as a Chaser comedian, but don’t know that he’s an absolute US politics junkie,” says Ayliffe. “He’s the kind that sits up reading through transcript after transcript and through congressional hearings.

“Anyone who’s seen the show will see that he really has a knack for breaking down very complex American issues, domestic issues and politics issues into layman’s terms.”

Licciardello, an “absolute US politics junkie”

Also expanding into a 45-minute format is panel show The Drum with Julia Baird and Ellen Fanning.

Towards the end of last year, ABC managing director Michelle Guthrie announced a major restructure which saw the organisation split into three divisions based around genres of content rather than platform of delivery.

Ayliffe believes the changes have so far had a positive effect: “By breaking down some of the old silos within the ABC which is not the content… enables us to get better access to these teams. We take a multi-platform approach to everything we do now on the ABC, so when we’re looking to break a story or explain a story, we’re trying to do it across all platforms.”

Alongside Guthrie’s decision to cut 150 to 200 jobs back in March 2017, the public broadcaster also announced it would be investing $15m per year in regional jobs, creating 80 new rural and regional roles.

“We’re also continuing to spread our role in news capacity across the country,” explains Ayliffe.

“We’ve got more programming coming out of Perth late in the evening for the news channel, we’ve got not only The World, but an hour of news and Patricia Karvelas’ show coming out of Melbourne. We also regularly dish rolling news out of Canberra Parliament House.

“We’re really trying to be a channel for the entire country, to continue to bring a diversity of views and also tap into regional Australia, where often people feel that they aren’t getting heard enough and I think with our 56 offices across the country we can bring to the audience more perspectives than I think anyone else here.

“Getting outside the big cities I think is really important particularly in public broadcast, where there are many people out there that also paying their however many cents a day, they really want to feel like they’re being heard. I think that’s the challenge for us, and that’s what we’re really working on today.”


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