How ABC will continue to connect and unite Australians in a new era

If there has ever been a year that proved the value of the ABC to contemporary Australia, 2020 is it.

Last summer communities across Australia faced an inferno as devastating bushfires ripped through homes, towns and seaside hamlets.

For ABC news teams and local radio operations, this meant rising to the challenge, heading out into the destruction to gather and share crucial information that would help people survive. Independent research commissioned by the ABC found that three out of five people in bushfire areas said they acted on ABC emergency broadcasts to ensure their personal safety and the safety of others.

While the nation was still nursing bushfire wounds another threat loomed.

The COVID-19 global pandemic has left Australia and the rest of the world reeling.

Again, the effects have been distressing and are ongoing. Lives have been lost, and lives are being overturned. Unemployment or loss of income and the ongoing disruption of our communities will continue to affect many Australians and their families. Once again, the ABC is by Australia’s side, giving people information they can trust and helping our democracy work by asking questions of those in authority.

The ABC’s contribution goes beyond news and current affairs. This week, for example, the ABC is running the Your Mental Health initiative to support the wellbeing of all Australians. In partnership with Lifeline and Kids Helpline, we will continue to support those thousands of Australians struggling with anxiety, depression and stress.

As the ABC goes about the business of responding to these challenges and helping audiences to do the same, we must also look to the future. How can we ensure the ABC continues to deliver value to Australians?

A few weeks ago, I released the ABC’s first ever Five-Year Plan, the pathway through the biggest transition the ABC has undertaken in years. The ABC will accelerate its transformation from a traditional broadcaster to a media organisation that is more local, more personalised, more diverse and more capable than ever before. Adopting this plan means the ABC will continue to connect and unite Australians in a new era.

The ABC is currently in 56 locations, with 48 of them in regional Australia. This plan we will see us decentralise even more and increase our presence in outer metropolitan areas as well as regional centres. By 2025 we aim to have at least 75 per cent of our content-makers working in locations beyond our Ultimo headquarters.  This will provide an opportunity for us to listen to more Australian voices in more communities and to convey those stories back to Australia.

The ABC belongs to all Australians, no matter who they are, or where they are, from our cities and suburbs to regions and the bush. We will be commissioning more stories that reflect the breadth of Australian experiences and perspectives, including socio-economic and geographic differences.

The technology to deliver personalised services means we will be able to learn more about audience preferences and offer more-targeted services, including news alerts, analysis and content recommendations.

We will offer the opportunity to sign into one ABC account that works across all platforms. A core part of this project will be building ABC iview into the leading showcase for Australian content and culture.

Our ultimate aim is to build and nurture a lifelong relationship with Australians, with content and services relevant to the different stages of life.  Part of this project is making sure that everyone knows what we offer and where to find us.

What won’t change at the ABC will be just as important as what will.

We will still be the nation’s most trusted source of news. We’ll continue to be fearlessly committed to public interest journalism, holding our institutions to account.

We will always tell Australian stories, helping us understand ourselves, each other and the community in which we live — across Triple J, RN, ABC Local, drama, comedy and factual content — sparking our imaginations and bringing us closer together.

We will always have the dedicated and expert content to deliver in specialist genres such as the arts, science, religion and ethics.

We will continue to be the home of Australian children’s programs, always providing a safe environment for our children to be education and entertained.

The ABC turned 88 last week, and while the way we communicate has changed, the values and purpose by which the ABC serves all Australians has remained the same.

No matter who you are, where you live, or who you vote for, we are here to serve all Australians, now and for generations to come.

This is an edited version of an address to the National Press Club, Canberra, Wednesday 8 July.

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