Arts coverage absent from ABC news and current affairs programs

Arts coverage absent from ABC news and current affairs programs

On 23 April the Central Coast branch of ABC Friends managed to secure former national arts journalist, Anne Maria Nicholson and member of ABC Alumni as its first guest for 2024.

Two people in a meeting room
Image: Anna Maria Nicholson and Ross McGowen, Convenor of ABC Friends, NSW Central Coast

For 20 years, Anne Maria was a senior news and current affairs journalist at the ABC, reporting for the 7pm National News, Foreign Correspondent, Lateline and ABC 24, where she presented two arts programs. Her career also included working for the Seven Network, working for three years in the Canberra Press Gallery and at SBS. Anne Maria has also written three novels. 

Her presentation focused on the current state of arts coverage in the media as well as her work as a novelist. Anne Maria continues to be a passionate advocate for the arts and is critical of the lack of coverage in ABC news bulletins and current affairs programs. 

She noted the limited attention received by First Nations artist, Archie Moore who became the first Australian to win a coveted Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale, equivalent to winning an Olympic gold medal. 

Anne Maria emphasised that although specialist programs, such as Virginia Trioli’s, Creative Types, provide a focus on the work of particular artists, regular coverage of the arts and cultural issues, artistic achievements, exhibitions and performances are usually absent in news bulletins. 

Given the integral role the arts play in shaping our sense of ourselves, our cultural and environmental heritage and our understanding of our region and beyond, this limited coverage is difficult to understand. 

Our guest’s sense of dismay about this issue is evident in following quotes from her address:

“Throughout the Australian media arts coverage has been shredded; arts journalists are a dying breed; arts news in major newspapers has shrunk. At the ABC there is no dedicated national arts reporter. Arts stories are covered occasionally and randomly by different, usually junior reporters. The exception to this is TV News Breakfast.“

“By contrast, there seems to be a small army of sports reporters. Every bulletin has, in my view, a disproportionate amount of sports news, bright jumpers emblazoned with sponsors’ names, breathless coverage of injuries, fitness, competitions everywhere and results of matches no-one I know has any interest in. There’s no escape: every radio bulletin on every station. Anecdotally, so many rusted on ABC viewers and watchers including many people I know are turning away from the ABC because of it.”

“I acknowledge that viewing patterns have altered fundamentally with the freedom now of checking the news online whenever you want to. But it’s still the variety of content that matters and let’s not forget, it’s part of the ABC’s Charter to promote the arts.”

In addition to her advocacy for the arts, Anne Maria has been able to draw on her reporting skills and forensic research in her career as a novelist. This research includes observing and studying volcanoes as settings and as an integral part of her characters’ lives. Her novel 'Weeping Waters' (2006), about a vulcanologist, was number one on the NZ fiction list and co-published in Australia by Harper Collins. The sequel, 'Pliny's Warning' (2009) is set in White Island, NZ, Naples and Pompeii in Italy. Her new novel, ‘Poker Protocol’ set in Manly, Sydney, is a contemporary story about a group of well-heeled Australians struggling with their own lives but confronting the realities of new immigrants who have nothing.

Sincere thanks go to our guest speaker and the management and staff at the Elanora Hotel who provided the venue at no cost and assisted in arranging seating. We received some very positive responses from our audience afterwards about Anne Maria’s presentation and the service provided by hotel staff.

Ross McGowan
ABC Friends NSW Central Coast Branch