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Gaven Morris: “Imagine an ABC where the ‘B’ doesn’t define us”

Outgoing news boss Gaven Morris shares his thoughts on achievements, critics and further transformation for ABC.

Outgoing ABC News boss Gaven Morris has given a speech today to journalists at the Melbourne Press Club.

In it he spoke proudly of ABC News achievements during his tenure, having first joined ABC in 1992.

“In 2021 the key Radio News/ CAff programs reached an average of 2.3 million Australians every week across the metro networks. ABC Local Radio reaches more than 3 million Australians outside the capital cities each week,” he said.

“We’ve got enduring, loved brands: Australian Story turned 25 this year. Four Corners, 60. Sixty! AM and PM punctuate our day, as they have for so long. The 7pm News and 7.30 is still the ABC’s most popular hour of television, day in, day out, all year round.

“On my last day on Friday, I’ll listen to that long majestic fanfare on the 7am radio news and reflect on all it stands for, 90 years of public service and the small part I played in it.

“We have newer services, kicking incredible goals: ABC Investigations, led by Jo Puccini, the Specialist Reporting Team, led by Lisa Whitby. Searching for, and telling, incredible stories in the public interest not for broadcast deadlines, but in ways across our platforms that suit the audience’s habits.

“I am so very proud of all these teams. They rarely get recognition but have raised the value of what ABC News does on behalf of all Australians.”

He also observed that criticisms were tied to its success in informing Australians, rather than failures.

“I’ll say one thing to our increasingly shrill critics from the vested interests of the media to the unhinged rantings on social media: we’re not your target because we’re failing, but because we’re succeeding,” he continued.

“We don’t have to remember too far back when the criticism of ABC News was its audience was too small, too niche, too urban, we didn’t break stories, we didn’t have an impact, we were too narrow. I don’t hear those criticism now. We’re too big, too popular, too successful on digital, too impactful in our journalism, too many stories leading the agenda, too omnipresent in Australian’s lives, too diverse.

“All with lower budgets.

“ABC News is also setting the standard for the Australian media in our initiatives to reflect the full diversity of modern Australia in our workforce, in our content — including through projects such as 50:50 Equality, and in reflecting our Indigenous heritage and culture.

“The ABC has made more progress here in the past five years than we made in the 50 years before. And it’s about time.

In our content and in our workforce as well.  Bridget Brennan, who was Australia’s first Indigenous foreign correspondent, is now on the News Leadership team. Isabella Higgins, our London correspondent. Stan Grant, well, everywhere in primetime.

“Nas Campanella is Disability Affairs Correspondent and the Chair of ABC Inclusive. Charles Brice is an excellent reporter in SA for News Breakfast. Both with lived experience of having a disability.

“Behind them we’re bringing in other talented young journos with very different life experiences. From the suburbs, from the bush, from cultures and backgrounds that all Australians can relate to.

“Watch them rise!”

But Morris also foreshadowed further transformation

“Not so long ago, we were a linear broadcaster worried about our ageing and declining audiences – now we’re a digital leader, an innovator ready for the on-demand future.

“Amid all the Harvey Norman advertising flooding commercial media, there’s an unspoken truth: not a television they sell needs an aerial on the roof. We all buy app-based, internet connected smart TVs with on-demand choices that suit our lifestyles.

“You can’t listen to AM radio in a Tesla yet how many of us will own electric cars in the years ahead?

“At the ABC we spend hundreds of millions of dollars a year on linear broadcast transmission. Necessary now. But for how long? And what content might we otherwise invest that content into?

“Imagine an ABC where the ‘B’ doesn’t define us. What might we be if not a broadcaster? The post-broadcast world isn’t as far away as we might think – who’s ready for it?

“I think the ABC is better placed than just about any so-called legacy broadcaster to be an outstanding audience service to all Australians in this digital, on-demand and personalised media future. Great value to each and every one of us.”

His final day as ABC News director is Friday, but he is yet to indicate his next role.

ABC is currently recruiting for a replacement.

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