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Wednesday, 17 September 2014

ABC board member breaks silence on ABC cuts –

ABC board member breaks silence on ABC cuts –

ABC board member breaks silence on ABC cuts

A member of the ABC board has ended that body’s silence by
publicly defending the role of the ABC in the Fairfax press this

A member of the ABC board has ended that body’s silence by
publicly defending the role of the ABC in the Fairfax press this

Professor Fiona Stanley, a former Australian of the Year who
joined the ABC board in 2011, has called on the public to “realise how
valuable our public broadcaster is and fight to save it from further
cuts and harassment”.

Stanley told Crikey this morning she wrote
the op-ed as she thought it was important to speak to the ABC’s staff.
“[They’re] pretty demoralised, and I wanted to let them know that their
board is supporting them,” she said. “There was an open letter from ABC
staff which requested more transparency, and a public debate on the
value of the independent public broadcaster, so I thought I would get it

Stanley also told Crikey that she feared the ABC’s solid reporting on science was in danger of being demonised instead of valued. As she wrote in her op-ed:

We are now in a situation
where a major commercial news organisation is denigrating the ABC with a
vicious, sustained campaign which is extremely damaging to our public
broadcaster and to the nation. The ABC has already had to make
compromises: the Government has cut the Australia Network so the Charter
obligation to broadcast news and entertainment to countries outside
Australia has to be fulfilled by making cuts elsewhere. We have lost
some of our top journalists in this process. Further cuts have been
announced and these are just the beginning.”

Taking aim at commentary in The Australian and from
“some politicians”, Stanley writes the national broadcaster is, by and
large, fair, and that it provides a crucial counter-balance to other
parts of the media, particularly in the area of scientific reporting.

She also takes on the issue of ABC funding. The government
is committed to further cuts to the ABC in addition to those announced
in the budget, and insiders say discussions of cuts up to $100 million are being considered. Stanley writes:

… [T]he national broadcaster is providing value for the money invested in it.”

In 1986, with $906.3M the ABC employed
6092 fulltime equivalent staff, had one analog television channel, 38
radio sites, Radio National and ABC Classic FM with 90% coverage, and
2JJ, as it was known then, servicing only Sydney.

Last financial year, with $825.7 million,
the ABC had 4,679 staff with four major digital TV channels (ABC1,
ABC2/ABC4Kids, ABC3 and ABC News 24) and an incredibly successful online
catch-up service. The average audience reach varies from nearly 10
million for ABC1 to just over 3 million for ABC3, with an astonishing 20
million plays a month for iView. There are 60 local radio sites,
nationwide RN, Triple J and Classic FM, plus ABC podcasts downloaded 71
million times. ABC online has 19.5 million visits per month and there
are now over 25 smart phone and tablet apps.”

Stanley’s public comments are the first from an ABC board
member to touch on ABC funding in several months, including from ABC
chairman James Spigelman. They also strike a different note from a speech
given by ABC managing director Mark Scott last month, in which he spoke
of reforming the ABC by catering to younger audiences and, where
appropriate, outsourcing functions that do not need to be done in-house.

ABC staff have, through their unions, demanded more clarity
from the public broadcaster about the changes it is going through. In a
response to Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance chief Chris Warren
sent last week, Spigelman said the board was not in a position to
discuss this with staff. He wrote in an email seen by Crikey:

Without formal confirmation
from [the government’s expenditure review committee] of the future of
the funding envelope provided by Canberra, the ABC executive and board
cannot finalise a proposal for change that would serve as a basis for
consultation with staff,” he wrote. “No proposals have been finalised or
endorsed by the board or the executive at this point.”

This echoed similar comments given by the ABC executive to
both Warren and Michael Tull, the president of the Community and Public
Sector Union. Director of ABC People Samantha Liston stressed in a
separate email the organisation simply wasn’t in a position to outline
its plans given the uncertainty over its future funding:

Without a full and
comprehensive understanding of the budgetary impacts on the ABC … it
would be premature for the managing director to meet with you.”

However, community groups such as Friends of the ABC are
sceptical, with Mal Hewitt, the president of Friends of the ABC NSW and
ACT, yesterday writing in an email to members urging them to sign a
petition to prevent what they fear is a secret plan to radically
transform the ABC in a pre-emptive response to budget cuts. “The plan
must be made public,” Hewitt wrote. “The community is entitled to have
its say.”

Meanwhile, ABC staff in Adelaide are today planning to
protest outside their headquarters over rumoured plans to outsource more
of the ABC’s TV production. Adelaide is the last remaining TV
production unit outside Sydney and Melbourne, and would be especially
vulnerable to any moves to outsourcing. The CPSU is claiming up to 150
jobs could be lost.

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