Updated yesterday at 5:44pm
Mon 24 Nov 2014, 5:44pm
One of the ABC's flagship rural programs, Bush Telegraph, has been axed as the national broadcaster deals with more than $250 million in funding cuts imposed by the Federal Government.
Bush Telegraph is broadcast weekday mornings on Radio National and explores farming, mining, social and environmental issues in rural and remote Australia.
The show was started about 15 years ago and will continue until Christmas, with several staff directly affected.
Federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce last week said he wanted assurance that rural and regional news services won't suffer as a result of the ABC cuts.
Nationals Senator for Victoria Bridget McKenzie says she's disappointed and plans to raise the matter with the ABC Board.
“I've already started that last week about local radio and I see this decision would similarly decrease the voice of regional Australia at a national level,” she said.
“So I will be adding this to my letter to the board.”
One of the show's main premises has been to challenge the stereotypes of rural life and it's been publically lauded for drawing its audience into rural projects like growing a cotton crop, raising a pig or making wine.
Senator McKenzie claims it meets the ABC's charter commitment to broadcasting programs that contribute to a 'sense of national identity'.
“It does form a crucial role in connecting urban and rural Australians,” she said.
“It's (been) letting us know the issues that are of concern to those that live in regional Australia, but additionally, it provided an opportunity for those rural and regional journalists to promote some of the less scrutinised aspects of what we do out there in the regions.
“I'm disappointed that Mr Scott has made this decision, but it is within his purvey as managing director and he's responsible for making sure the ABC meets its budget obligations.
“I'm not completely convinced that cutting programming is his only option to meet his obligation.”
Long-time Bush Telegraph listener and interviewee Professor Snow Barlow, who specialises in horticulture and viticulture at the University of Melbourne, argues rural people will be at a disadvantage without the program.
“I'm sometimes surprised and even embarrassed (over) how many people, when I'm in rural Australia, mention things that I've spoken about on Bush Telegraph. So they listen,” he said.
“And because they're not in front of screens every day…they're depending on an audio signal rather than the normal digital signals we all use on computers, because they're driving.
“They're either doing things on the farm or they're driving. They're in a remote location.”
The ABC does provide rural content through the Country Hour programs, but unlike Bush Telegraph, most of them are not broadcast to a metro audience.
Professor Barlow believes reducing the national reach of rural and regional content is a backwards step for Australia's economy.
“It's at just the very time when rural Australia and the food output from rural Australia is being looked to to take up some of the slack that will inevitably occur in our exports as the mining industry tapers off a bit,” he said.
“And we've seen most recently in the Japanese, Korean and now Chinese trade agreements, how important agriculture is to that.
“If we're going to take advantage of those opportunities that exist in those arrangements, we're going to have to be very highly connected and co-ordinated around Australia, so farmers that are in remote locations or just regional locations are aware of what is happening both economically and socially, but also scientifically, if they're going to compete internationally for those markets.
“So it's important socially, but it's very important economically for Australia as well.”