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Bushfire Emergency Broadcasting…

Black and White Forest I will start this post with a big fat disclaimer… well a couple of them…

Firstly yes I do work for the ABC in the new media department, yes I did have involvement with the broadcasting of the 774melbourne twitter updates during the height of Black Saturday and I am not a lawyer of a media and finally the Royal Commission has not handed down even its interim recommendations…  so bearing all of that in mind… this is what I think.. and it may well change over the next few months….  Also this is my first and most probably only comment on the bushfires as well.  (the paraphrase of what I am trying to say below is… yes others can.. but they need to step up to the plate big time to do it well!)

From the Herald Sun – ABC set to lose role as sole bushfire broadcaster

“It comes amid criticism that the existing arrangement locked out commercial radio stations who could reach tens or even hundreds of thousands of extra people. Under the new plan, detailed in a Government submission to the Royal Commission, private sector stations will also be able to become emergency broadcasters.”

Now here begin the rant which is my opinion only…!!!!

Whilst I agree that other stations and other networks should broadcast emergency information and be able to do so without fear of favour there are underlying risks with this strategy.  Firstly, the ABC does not have commercial imperatives driving its broadcasts.  Secondly the ABC has a vast local network that is on the ground often in many of the regional areas that were impacted by say the Black Saturday events…

In its role as the Emergency Broadcaster it is able to switch between metro and regional broadcasting on a number of frequencies to address local needs.  This is something that many commercial broadcasters could not do. (I do accept that there are many stations that could however). This was done in both the metro, Ballarat and Sale regions this previous summer.

Now the ABC is able to drop current programming for detailed centralised information as situations arise, many of the other radio stations simply are not geared up for this role.  This is where the main problem arises.

If someone is listening to a given network and is aware that they “CAN” if they choose broadcast emergency information but they choose not to… will the listener simply feel that nothing is wrong because they have not been warned.

One of the major issues with Black Saturday was the warnings or lack there of.  If a radio station is broadcasting a sports broadcast from Sydney will they all be willing to interrupt the broadcast to bring CFA threat updates every 15 min?  The expectation of an Emergency Broadcaster goes beyond the audience listening but also to the station broadcasting.

Television was found seriously wanting during the Black Saturday event with no real information broadcast until the evening news cycle began.  And whilst we have had round the clock coverage of the death of Michael Jackson and the events of 9/11 for example we did not get this kind of coverage when the tragedy was unfolding on our very door step.

If others are to be seen as and Official Emergency Broadcaster, they will need to ensure that they do interrupt programming, they do go local, and they do broadcast until the crisis is over.  If not they need to let there listeners know where to go, be that the ABC or another commercial provider.  The time is now to get these plans in order… the coming El-Nino event does ensure we are in for another record dry year… lets just hope it is not as hot a summer.


Now read the disclaimer again!