ABC managing director Michelle Guthrie. Photo: Alex EllinghausenABC managing director Michelle Guthrie is facing conflict on a new front after two Labor MPs demanded the national broadcaster reverse a decision over the future of broadcasting in the Northern Territory.
Senator Malarndirri McCarthy and member for Lingiari Warren Snowdon have expressed “deep disappointment” and concern about the plan to end shortwave broadcasting in the NT from the end of January.
“Your decision to cease this shortwave service has caused consternation and alarm across the Northern Territory, particularly as it was not foreseen and had not been the subject of any discussion or consultation of any kind,” Senator McCarthy and Mr Snowdon wrote in a letter on Monday.
“Subsequent to the announcement no reasonable explanation has been forthcoming. This has led to the conclusion by some that the ABC as the national public broadcaster has lost sight of its responsibility to provide services that are accessible regardless of where people live or who they are.”
The ABC is continuing to broadcast via FM and AM frequencies, the viewer access satellite television (VAST) service and online streaming but various NT figures have argued the shortwave transmitters – in Katherine, Tennant Creek and Roe Creek – allow remote listeners to access radio and are a crucial platform during natural disasters.
A group of Indigenous rangers told the ABC last week that ending the shortwave service could be life-threatening because, when operating remotely, the service is the “only way of getting the weather reports” that can warn of incoming cyclones.
The ABC has said services in coastal areas should remain available through FM broadcasts and distress frequencies during emergencies.
The Labor MPs said they were aware of challenges flowing from government funding cuts and expressed appreciation for the ABC’s dedication to rural and regional areas but called for the outlet to to remain accessible, responsible and accountable to remote listeners.
“We ask that you visit the Northern Territory and engage with relevant stakeholders to better understand the impact of this decision on the community,” Senator McCarthy and Mr Snowdon wrote.
Their intervention comes as Ms Guthrie marks an intense first year in the job, with staff at Radio National recently passing a no confidence motion in management.
An ABC spokesman said the broadcaster would consider Monday’s letter and respond in due course.