The ABC will lose about 80 staff resulting from the termination of the Australian Network contract.
The forced redundancies will fall mostly across the Asia Pacific News Centre and ABC International, and will have a significant effect on Radio Australia, including the axing of three RA programs.
The Department of Foreign Affairs’ Australia Network contract was worth about $220 million over 10 years and funded many reporting and operational positions in the Melbourne ABC headquarters and a range of extra reporters in international bureaux. The contract was cancelled as part of the Abbott Government’s first budget in May, with the termination coming into effect 90 days after the cancellation – some time next month.
Staff have been told this week that the funding cut means “the scope and size of our International service must change in order for the new service to be fully sustainable within current funding. The ABC’s converged International media service must now be delivered for the 2014/15 FY with a 60% reduction on the funding previously available.”
As a consequence of the proposed changes the ABC anticipates that “there will be significant staff impacts across the Asia Pacific News Centre and ABC International, with the exception of International Development, where projects are separately funded.”
A consultation process has begun to restructure the remaining staff to best serve the ABC’s Charter requirements for international broadcasting. Internal consultations will discuss how the cuts will impact staff, content and programming and how the ABC plans to run the converged International service in the future.
A proposed new model for a leaner international presence has been developed and will “focus on maintaining and developing those parts of our current service where we have strongest audience engagement and where we have the greatest potential for growth,” according to internal ABC documents, seen by radioinfo.
Growth priorities will be:
- Radio Australia broadcasting to the Pacific and the Mekong countries
- a limited television service for the Pacific under the Australia Plus brand
- an Australia Plus digital, mobile and social media service
- program and content syndication across Asia and the Pacific
- media partnerships
- support for ABC International Development projects
- a focus on both local and expat audiences
RA Cuts and restructuring
Radio Australia will “remain central to the International broadcasting model and will continue to broadcast a 24/7 schedule,” but with some cuts to staff and programs.
The Asia Pacific and Asia Review programs will be axed, as will the RA Morning program.
According to internal discussion documents, network content will now be delivered “through deeper collaboration with ABC News and ABC Radio and through collaboration with SBS.”
The flagship Pacific Beat will continue, as will RA’s hourly news bulletins, but English language staff will be cut and English programming will be sourced from current ABC Radio and ABC News content.
Language services in Tok Pisin, Khmer and Burmese will be delivered through a mix of reduced original content coupled with translated ABC content and content from SBS. The model for the French language service still remains in doubt.
AustraliaPlus website content will be “consolidated” and will build from the existing Australia Plus presence to “provide both English language content and non-English language content from the one Australia Plus portal.”
With the main Australia Network tv channel closed, the ABC will still try to provide a limited television service to the Pacific, “comprising a daily six-hour stream containing a mix of genres sourced from ABC, SBS and through co-production. This offering will include APNC content, ABC News bulletins and ABC News 24 content as well as a selection of ABC-produced sport, lifestyle and children’s programs.”
Asia Pacific news production will be centralised in Melbourne, “which will enable a digital production capacity to be maintained as well as deliver flexibility for other programming requirements.”
The APNC’s correspondent positions in Delhi, Jakarta, Beijing, the Pacific and Parliament House will be axed, as will the RA Pacific and Asia Finance correspondent positions in Melbourne and Sydney.
“With the loss of DFAT funding, we will not be in a position to produce the same volume of content or operate with the same breadth of editorial capacity. However, we are determined to retain a specialist international news team in the APNC that is committed to delivering accurate, independent news” says the internal discussion paper.
Community and Public Sector Union president Michael Tull says “the Government has put the ABC in an impossible position… we are very disappointed that up to 80 people will be sacked. This is an appalling way to treat hardworking staff as they won’t have a say in whether they get to keep their jobs.”
The CPSU is “outraged” with the process of forced redundancies and believes the ABC may be “in breach of its industrial obligations” in the way it is handling the redundancies.
It is believed that DFAT is insisting that only jobs directly associated with the contract are to be targeted, tieing the ABC’s hands on how it approaches the redundancy process.
Staff positions to be cut
News and Current Affairs redundancies are expected to be mostly in tv, with the following positions targeted:
- Nine presenter/producer positions will be reduced to five with the decommissioning of Business Today, 5pm TV bulletin, Asia Pacific, Asia Review and changes to format, content and output for The World
- Two EP positions will be reduced to one.
- Four International correspondents and two Canberra correspondents will be axed
- The current 30 producer/reporter positions will be reduced to 21 positions with the decreased number of programs generating less workload.
- Three Radio Australia correspondent positions covering Asia Finance and the Pacific will be axed
- The number of editors, tv directors and production staff will also be reduced.
At the BBC
Earlier this year the BBC faced a similar kind of funding problem, with British Foreign Office funding being chopped and the BBC having to fund all the operations of the BBC World Service from internal funds. The BBC is funded by fixed licence fees, not by annual budget appropriatioins, so the funding model is very different from the ABC’s, but it is interesting to follow some of the debate about the BBC’s internalional service now that the corporation has “taken back” funding of the “soft diplomacy” broadcasting operation from the Foreign Office since April 2014.
Some relevant articles from British media are below.