Unions slam new budget cuts to the ABC

Angry Bananas in Pajamas on placards at rally against cuts
Rally in Melbourne against the cuts to the ABC and SBS on 23 November 2014. Photo: Takver / flickr

Unions have condemned the federal government's decision to cut a further $84 million from funding for the ABC in the federal budget announced on May 8.

The budget confirmed the government has frozen the indexation of ABC funding to effectively cut that amount over three years. These latest cuts come on top of the $254 million the Coalition government has already removed from the ABC's revenue since 2014.

Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) ABC section secretary Sinddy Ealy said: "ABC staff are absolutely devastated by last night's announcement. These cuts have prompted the managing director [Michelle Guthrie] to finally state what many ABC staff have been saying for some time; the ABC has been slashed to the point where it cannot meet its critical Charter obligations to serve all Australians.”

ABC chief finance officer Louise Higgins told Senate estimates on May 24 that the broadcaster had shed more than 1000 jobs since the Coalition government began its cuts in 2014. “Thirty years ago, the ABC had five platforms and 6000 employees,” she said. “Today, by contrast, we have six times the platforms but just two-thirds the staff and half the real funding per capita.”

Ealy said: "Ultimately all Australians have been casualties of these cuts, especially people living in regional and rural areas where the removal of analogue services and emergency broadcasting has had a real impact.

"This latest round of vindictive cuts has proved to staff that the ABC cannot survive another term of the [Malcolm] Turnbull government. The vast majority of Australians value and support the ABC and the news and entertainment it produces, but the government appears to deeply resent that the ABC attempts to cater to all Australians."

The Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) said the Coalition government's latest cuts to the ABC represent a "dangerous and irresponsible assault on public broadcasting in Australia".

MEAA Media director Katelin McInerney said: "The potential $43 million cut to dedicated news funding and the freezing of indexed funding at a cost of $84 million are crippling blows to the ABC and follows years of under-funding by the [Tony] Abbott and Turnbull governments.

"The timing of these cuts could not be worse: in the lead-up to a federal election when strong journalism to independently scrutinise politicians' claims and counter-claims will be needed. It is becoming increasingly difficult for the ABC to deliver original investigative journalism and local and regional newsgathering with these deep cuts to its funding.”

An opinion poll conducted by the Australia Institute (AI) found that a substantial majority of respondents supported a strong ABC. AI deputy director Ebony Bennett said: "Seven in ten Australians think a strong, independent ABC is critical to a healthy democracy. Cutting funding to the ABC is the opposite of what we should be doing in an age of 'fake news' and when the business model for journalism has been seriously disrupted."

The political nature of these cuts is clear from repeated public attacks on the ABC by right-wing commentators, Coalition politicians and Pauline Hanson, who told Sky News she wanted to "whack" the ABC come budget time.

While the constant allegations by conservative forces of "left-wing bias" at the ABC are debatable, defence of the ABC's funding and its editorial independence should be an important issue in the lead-up to the federal election. It is essential that the progressive movement and the community rally behind the ABC. An independent, public media voice is fundamental to media diversity in this country.

An on-line petition to "Save Our ABC" is currently being promoted by GetUp.

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