No: 4

Winter 2003

Bring back
Behind the News

by Dora Anthony
For many Australian children, their window onto the world of news and current affairs has been closed with the ABC's recent decision to axe its 34-year running educational program, Behind the News (BTN).

Faced with reduced funding from the Federal Government, the ABC has cut $26.1 million in spending across the board, which will see up to 100 ABC staff become redundant. BTN is one of a number of news and entertainment programs to be discontinued.

BTN will be leaving behind an impressive audience of 1.3 million students per week who watch the program during school time, including 83 percent of 9-12 year-olds. It is a valuable teaching aid, particularly in isolated and rural schools with limited resources. For many children, BTN is their only opportunity to study news and current affairs in an educational context.

BTN is unique in children's television, presenting reports on breaking national news and world events, such as the Iraq war. Its clear and entertaining format encourages children to develop an interest and concern for problems affecting the people of the world, while minimising the experience of distress.

By promoting a broad understanding of the issues at hand, BTN challenges children to think about news in a constructive way. For instance, rather than just describing events, it raises questions about political and economic motives of government and other sections of society.

Furthermore, it has been recently revealed that BTN is a significant source of revenue for the ABC, generating thousands of dollars in copyright payments from schools every year. Thus, the real reason for the axing of the program appears to be political rather than financial. All indications are that it is buckling under the government's increasingly intense criticism of the "left-wing bias" of the ABC.

Yet people are not standing silent at the prospect of losing BTN. Principals, students, parents and media associations around Australia have mounted campaigns to save the iconic program from extinction. Many people are recognising that without positive action, the ABC will become increasingly stifled by the conservative Federal Government and will merely project the government's own prejudiced view of the world.

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