Rallies around the country oppose ABC cuts

Issue 
ABC presenter Quentin Dempster said the government was 'out to destroy the ABC and SBS'. Photo: Peter Boyle.

Thousands rallied in Sydney, Melbourne and cities across the country to protest the federal government's cuts to the ABC and SBS, during the week of November 18 to 25.

The week of action was organised by unions and the Friends of the ABC, culminating in a protest outside federal parliament on November 25.

About 2000 people rallied at Sydney Town Hall Square on November 22. They heard representatives of ABC staff, unions and politicians condemn the government's planned $254 million cuts to the ABC budget over the next five years.

The audience chanted "No ifs, No buts, No ABC cuts," and "Save our ABC".

A large crowd also gathered in Melbourne on November 23.

On November 24, ABC managing director Mark Scott announced details of the cutbacks from the government's slashing of the national broadcaster's budget, amounting to almost 8% in total.

About 400 staff will be made redundant, with an estimated 100 to go from the ABC's news division alone.

Flagship TV programs such as Lateline, Australian Story, Foreign Correspondent and Landline will be hit. The weekly state-based editions of 7.30 will be abolished.

Well-known radio program Bush Telegraph on Radio National will be cut. Some regional radio stations will close, along with the entire production unit in Adelaide.

"We are dismayed at the damage that this government is inflicting on the ABC," Glenys Stradijot, national spokesperson for the Friends of the ABC, said on November 24.

"The government was given no mandate to destroy the national public broadcaster. Yet, that's what it has set about doing.

"We now know the government's cuts will have a devastating impact on the national broadcaster's ability to do its job. The ABC will be unable to fulfill its charter obligations or meet its responsibility to be a truly national public broadcaster, which services Australians across the country.”

A rally in Melbourne's Federation Square to protest against cuts to the ABC and SBS.

Community and Public Sector (CPSU) national president Michael Tull said on November 24: "After promising not to cut, the government has cut millions from the ABC's budget and forced it to slash one in 10 jobs from its workforce. It is now abundantly clear that the government's cuts will seriously impact the quality of programming, despite assurances by [communications minister] Malcolm Turnbull to the contrary....

"We are absolutely opposed to compulsory redundancies and we will fight them tooth and nail. We want to protect as many jobs as possible. The ABC must consult with staff and we will be reminding ABC management of that legal obligation.

"Outsourcing is no solution to government cuts. Time and again in the public sector we've seen outsourcing touted as a way to save money, when in fact the facts show it actually costs more.”

Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance federal secretary Chris Warren commented on November 24: "We are calling for the release of the Lewis Report [on which the cuts are based], and full details of the plans announced by Mr Scott today.

"There needs to be transparency, and there needs to be adequate time for consultation with staff, their representatives and the communities affected by today's announcements. Implementation of any cuts must be put on hold until this has occurred.”

ABC TV presenter Quentin Dempster, whose NSW-based weekly 7.30 will be axed, told the Sydney rally that the Coalition government cuts involved a "power play now apparent in what is a Rupert Murdoch-directed attack on the public broadcasters of this country.

"I appeal to all political parties, including the Murdoch-intimidated Australian Labor Party, to now re-write their media policies to secure a mainstream role for ABC and SBS as editorially and creatively independent, non-commercial broadcasters or cybercasters through the digital revolution.

"No matter how many free trade agreements Australia signs in a now global economy, it is vital for the institutional strength of our democracy within the sovereign state of Australia that a taxpayer-funded public broadcasting system remains committed to audiences ... as citizens in a democracy and not as consumers to be delivered up to advertisers.

"There are forces at work in this country out to destroy the ABC and SBS and our unique public broadcasting system. We must not let this happen.”

There is no doubt the Murdoch media and government attacks on the ABC are part of a political crusade against the so-called "left-wing bias" of the national broadcaster, as well as being part of the general budget cutbacks to the public sector.

Minister Turnbull told Sky News on November 26: "The ABC under [the previous] Labor [government] just got more money every year.”

"I think there was, in effect, a political bargain between the Labor government and the ABC: We'll keep sending you more money and you just have peace on the industrial front at the ABC."

Some National Party MPs have criticised ABC management's cuts to rural and regional ABC offices as political "payback" against the Coalition.

In reality, the majority of ABC content is very much to the centre, rather than "left wing" these days. Nevertheless, any independence of viewpoint or even "balance" is too much for far-right ideologues like Andrew Bolt in the Newscorp media, or the deep conservatives of the Abbott government.

The Coalition government would much rather spend $250 million on foisting Christian chaplains in the country's public schools than allocate the same amount to maintain the funding of the ABC ensuring it can fulfill its charter.

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