Behind The News’ Missing Candle
21 Jun 2018
Beloved kids’ news program, Behind the News has hit a milestone as one of the longest running youth programs on Australian television. Although it’s reached almost 50 years of programming, tight budgets have seen the party cut short.
Behind the News has been a staple of households and classrooms across Australia for 50 years.
Well, almost 50.
Commonly known as BTN, the series’ birthday was celebrated across the ABC’s channel last week. It is vital to recognise the 49 years of outstanding educational and informative programming Behind the News has brought to the lives of Australian children. Generations of Australians have grown up with this program which treats young viewers as intelligent citizens and brings the news to them in an informative and accessible way.
But in amongst these celebrations, we should also remember the year that BTN went missing.
BTN in the 80s with host Paul Higgins
First, we look at the good times. For generations of Australian kids, Behind the News brought the world’s issues to light in a way that was fun and easy to digest.
Beginning in 1963, the very first episode of BTN began with the history of the Queen’s birthday, why shipwrecks had washed ashore on the coast of Western Australia and a feature on the different types of student protests that had occurred throughout the world.
BTN’s first episode
From that first episode and onwards, the flagship kids’ news program has covered a wealth of topics in an accessible way for students. During its years on air, BTN has covered issues including the September 11 terrorist attacks, the Bali Bombings and the War in Iraq.
Today, the series continues to discuss a range of important Australian affairs, including nuclear waste storage, plebiscites, the plight of refugees and Indigenous recognition.
BTN 2018 and Amelia Mosely as host
The ABC describes BTN as a “high-energy, fun way for… students to learn about current issues and events in their world”. BTN’s website proudly displays testimonials from Australian teachers who use the program in their classroom. Teachers describe the series as an “excellent research starter”, “relevant” and “hard to replace”.
With teachers across Australia singing the praises of BTN, what happened to make this valuable program disappear?
During the May budget of 2003, the Federal Government announced that the ABC would receive a funding cut to the tune of $26.1 million. Only four months after this call, the decision was made to axe Behind the News. It wasn’t broadcast throughout all of 2004.
At the time, Behind the News cost the ABC $900,000 annually, with an audience of 1.4 million Australia-wide.
The show’s cancellation was felt far and wide in Australian classrooms. Upon the announcement, teachers staged blindfolded protests along the banks of Adelaide’s Torrens River. Schoolchildren cried for the loss of their favourite program on TV.
When the news broke of the 2004 axing, a now former St Joseph’s Primary School Belmore student, Lamya Antonios, was one of the students in tears.
“The tissues I needed when I heard the most heartbreaking news. How could they do this to me? I have rights”, she said.
Although we should celebrate the long legacy of BTN, it’s also worth remembering the year it disappeared from our screens.
Because unfortunately, when faced with tough budget decisions, it is often the children’s audience who pays the most.
When Behind the News was reinstated in 2005, the former ABC Managing Director Russel Balding said:
“The ABC has to make some difficult budget decisions leading to a number of program and service cuts which impacted on BTN”.
“Now, as a result of our improved budget position, cost savings and efficiencies identified and delivered… we are able to relaunch BTN as part of the 2005 schedule.”
Nathan Bazley – BTN host from 2007 – 2017
Ongoing investment in quality children’s television is vital, and the public broadcaster’s role in meeting the needs of the children’s audience is even more important today than it was in 2004. When BTN was axed in 2004, it was a commercial broadcaster, the Ten Network, who temporarily stepped into the breach with its own news program for schools, Total Ten News. With the commercial broadcasters currently lobbying to be relieved of their obligations to the children’s audience, who can imagine that happening today?
We should celebrate every one of BTN’s 49 years.
But equally, we should remember the year that wasn’t. It is a cautionary tale to remind us to be ever vigilant on behalf of the children’s audience.
Thank you for your contribution, BTN.