'Has the ABC adopted a policy of dumbing down?' ABC leadership fields public's questions

'Has the ABC adopted a policy of dumbing down?' ABC leadership fields public's questions

'Has the ABC adopted a policy of dumbing down?' ABC leadership fields public's questions

Updated 10 February 2018, 1:10 AEDT

The ABC's editorial board fields criticisms from members of the public during its first annual public meeting at the broadcaster's headquarters.

The ABC's editorial board has fielded criticisms from members of the public during its first annual public meeting at the broadcaster's headquarters.

Repetitive programming, partisan coverage, staff cutbacks, cross-program advertising and cuts to current affairs program Lateline were among the concerns raised during the 90-minute public meeting.

Members of the public were invited to attend the broadcaster's first annual public meeting at the ABC's headquarters in Sydney, as well as at events held in Tasmania and Queensland.

Three-hundred-and-fifty questions were submitted from members of the public across the country in the lead up to the meeting.

Lateline's axing questioned

Annabelle Tyson received audience applause when she questioned the decision to axe Lateline from ABC Current Affairs programming last year.

"Has the ABC adopted a policy of dumbing down for its listeners and viewers?" she said.

"The organisation seems to be taking away from us, so gradually, perhaps, that it hopes we won't notice.

"The great losses last year were the cutting back of ABC radio's The World Today and the disappearance of TV's Lateline."

News director Gaven Morris said audience habits have changed.

"The last thing we want to do at ABC News is in anyway dumb down what we do for our audiences," he said.

"A generation ago when Lateline was first established, it was set up because satellite technology for the first time enabled us to reach across the world.

"There wasn't any current affairs or analysis between the nightly news programs on television and the newspapers the following morning — well all of that's changed."

ABC independence under the spotlight

Bill Buchanan questioned whether there was editorial bias in the organisation, submitting in an online question that there was a perception the ABC had an anti-Liberal-National lean.

"The ABC may not agree but many people are of the same opinion as me, and what do you intend to do about it?" he said.

Editorial director Alan Sunderland said the organisation has faced decades of accusations of bias against the government of the day — regardless of which party that is.

"I'm not here to say to Bill or anybody else listening … that you're wrong or to convince you otherwise," Mr Sunderland said.

"We have a very detailed and a very clear set of editorial standards which we make available to the public.

"When people contact us and say, 'You're biased' we will say to them, 'Please give us an example of that'.

"The challenge for us is to understand when that criticism is unjustified and to hold our ground. We owe that to you."

'I'm a little upset': audience members shares their views

Attendees travelled to ABC headquarters from around the country to hear from board members and editorial staff about the direction of the organisation.

Louise Houghton from the Sydney suburb of Epping said she felt the organisation's news and current affairs coverage was crucial to the national interest.

"I think the ABC is an institution that needs to be protected by the Australian people, because it's for the Australian people."

However Ms Houghton said she was frustrated by quality standards.

"I'm a professional musician so I listen to classical music all the time from the ABC. I'm a little upset about how things are going on that station," she said.

"I like the Australian content, but I think the quality has gone down a bit from what it used to be."

Josh de Lure, 19, travelled from the NSW Central Coast to learn about the broadcaster's digital expansion plan.

"I've kind of been interested in the ABC and how it's been running the past few years especially with its digital format, it seems to be quite advanced in that regard and I want to know where the ABC is going in the future and as well the content it's producing."

He also expressed concerns about partisanship in the ABC's programming.

"It's probably leaning more towards left of centre," he said.

Maureen Quilter said she felt the quality of announcers and content was deteriorating.

"As a country person born and bred, the ABC plays a big role in the country and I just don't know what's happening to it."

Digital investment the key priority for ABC

The ABC used the meeting to unveil its ABC 2.0 investment strategy in digital technology.

ABC chairman Justin Milne said the strategy would both invest in audiences and in digital platforms to make news and current affairs content more accessible to users.

"ABC 2.0 is not a substitute for broadcast. It is additive. We have absolutely no plans to reduce our presence on TV or radio," Mr Milne said.

"We'll take a multi-platform approach to content so that work done for one medium can be adjusted and exploited on another.

"We'll improve our commercial operations so that our content can be seen by more people all over the world."

Mr Milne said the changes were akin to the ABC's decision to first broadcast on television in 1956 and the organisation needed to evolve.

"It will require investment and possibly generate some controversy."

Managing director Michelle Guthrie told those gathered that investigative journalism was a priority for the organisation.

"Growing our investigative news capability is a central priority and we have invested in the creation of the largest dedicated investigative and specialist journalism team in the country," she said.

"Our role as Australia's public broadcaster is now more important than ever."

More information about the public meeting can be found at the About the ABC webpage.