Friday, February 20, 2009

Why I love the ABC

Lunchtime radio today:

Richard Stubbs is talking to his counterpart in New South Wales. They agree the states have felt quite close over the last two weeks, with the movement of money, firefighters and sympathy coming southwards, and they start talking about football and the various non-Victorian teams. The NSW guy says he sees it as a sign that the fires have eased a little, that Stubbs is interested in football, and Richard says, "oh well, you know, as soon as you've got the water coming through the hose, someone'll say, 'so, how do you think the Pies* will go this year?'"

I love it when the radio makes me laugh out loud, even though I'm in the house on my own.

But generally, I do love the ABC. It is also the emergency broadcaster, and even last night, nearly two weeks after that horrendous Saturday, they were still interrupting the evening show with updates, though they were generally downgrading reports from "urgent" to "alert". A good quarter of Wilson's Promontory national park remains alight; and Derek Guille, at Narbethon, was interviewing a woman who had four times in the last two weeks packed up her kids, best possessions, and the fifteen animals she was caring for, ready to evacuate. She'd got the routine down to half an hour. It is gruesome, though, to hear the warnings for residents in Marysville still coming through.

For nearly ten days, the Melbourne branch of the ABC broadcast almost nothing but updates, interviews and emergency broadcasts. I was listening when someone phoned in from Kinglake saying they were about to evacuate from the main street of the town...

Radio is such a brilliant medium. The internet and television have played their part, too, but there is something about radio that you know is immediate. An internet call for assistance isn't tied so tightly to a particular time, for example. I heard, one evening, a callout for baby-sitters and childcare workers. The next evening, I heard the same woman say she'd had to put two extra people on, just to answer the telephone inquiries. And the ABC folk I've heard have all been brilliant: sympathetic and patient. They ditched most of the weekend sport, for example, and brought in their best weekday hosts (Faine, Guille, Stubbs, Gorr), who still came in for their regular gigs the next week.

Marieke Hardy had a column saying it was time for the media to withdraw from the disaster zones, and let people get on with repairs and grieving and rebuilding. I'm the first to excoriate myself for my fascination with the disaster, but I think there is also a role for the media to play in healing. After the disaster, after trauma, we as bloggers know what people want. To tell their story, to rehearse the trauma to a sympathetic audience, to help make sense, to put a narrative shape around that trauma. Every evening this week, Guille has been broadcasting from a different town, and is clearly trying to juggle invitations from a number of communities.

I'm trying to think about comparisons with the Katrina disaster. It's a bit like comparing apples with oranges, really. But the immediacy of the radio coverage, and its direct engagement with affected communities has played an important part, I think, in keeping the communication going, in both directions.


* Magpies. Collingwood. Old inner-Melbourne team. Huge fan base. Much loathed by other old inner-urban Melbourne teams.

2 comments:

froginthepond said...

Too true. My aged great aunts wondered how my mixed faith marriage got through the parental system. Our family is Collingwood, my partner is Richmond.

Anne said...

I, too, listened to this segment on ABC Radio today. I also agree that radio is a wonderfully immediate medium, and I have always been an advocate for radio over the (perhaps) more comprehensive newspaper option for current affairs. As an-original-Sydneysider-but-now-a-very-happy-Melbournite I do miss James Valentine (the Sydney presenter) and especially Sydney 702's Richard Glover from 3pm to 6pm.

What I have really come to love is Melbourne's devotion to AFL. Prior to this (hopefully permanent) move, I spent a lovely two-year (aged 8 to 10) sojourn in the leafy, outer suburb of Eltham, where my Grade 3 Brisbane self really needed to choose an AFL team in self-defence: the family collectively chose Collingwood because every afternoon flocks of magpies would descend upon our balcony to feed upon the seeds we'd leave out for them.

Today (more than twenty years later), the rest of my entirely-male family barracks for the Sydney Swans (as does Richard Stubbs, this afternoon's Melbourne ABC presenter), but I still retain a half-hidden desire to see the Pies do well. Perhaps not such an inner-suburban club after all.