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ABC dissolves arts coverage prompting anger from sector

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The ABC has turned its back on Australia's vital arts sector (Image by Dan Jensen)

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s (ABC) most recent restructure marks the end of an online editorial dedicated solely to arts coverage.

Two of ABC’s most senior dedicated arts journalists, arts digital editor Dee Jefferson and managing editor arts Edwina Throsby, both deeply respected across the sector, were made redundant.

Many in the arts sector, including the National Association for the Visual Arts (NAVA), responded with alarm over the detrimental impacts of the restructuring on both the quantity and quality of arts content shared by the ABC. The task of coordinating and curating arts stories nationally will fall to just two remaining arts journalists with no specialised editorial support.

The decision to dissolve its standalone arts unit has come at a confusing time — public interest in the arts in Australia is at an all-time high.

The Australian Government's National Cultural Policy: Revive launched in January this year and backed by $286 million in dedicated funding over four years, made a powerful statement about the strength and vibrancy of our cultural sector, its importance to the well-being of all Australians, and relevance across all areas of government.

Just this month, the passing of Creative Australia legislation in Parliament saw the establishment of two new bodies within Creative Australia: Music Australia, to support the contemporary music industry, and Creative Workplaces, which will raise and set workplace standards across all art forms, with organisations seeking federal government funding being expected to adhere to these standards.

The introduction of the new National Cultural Policy and Creative Australia indicated a return of arts and culture to the national agenda, following a decade marked by consecutive cuts to the arts. ABC’s decision to reduce its capacity to create and commission quality arts programming and record and maintain an archive of Australia’s cultural achievements appears contradictory.

Even more perplexing, the restructuring was announced despite the commitment in the National Cultural Policy to provide security of funding and independence for the ABC by delivering five-year funding terms and reinstating indexation for its funding.

ABC managing director David Anderson justified the restructuring as part of a digital-first approach “to provide personalised services that enable audiences to more easily discover the journalism and content that is relevant to them”. If this is the case, why then cut the ABC arts digital editor?

ABC’s capacity to meet its charter has also come into conflict. The charter requires ABC to ‘encourage and promote the musical, dramatic and other performing arts in Australia’. The national broadcaster will fail its charter responsibilities without a robust in-house unit to create and commission arts programming.

Attitudes towards the arts are increasingly positive. Australians are increasingly captivated by our thriving visual arts and craft sector. At the same time, a growing majority feel that First Nations arts are essential to Australia’s culture, and both attendance and interest are increasing. 

Of all Australians, 98% engage in the arts in some way. Young middle Australians between 18-29 see arts and culture as central to their lives, describing their engagement with arts and culture as inseparable from their other everyday activities.

Now is the time to boost ABC’s team of specialist arts reporters, programmers and editors​.

Leya Reid is the Communications & Advocacy Manager at the National Association for the Visual Arts (NAVA).

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