The review into ABC and SBS efficiency is on the verge of suggesting cuts of more than $100 million year on year, according to union sources.
The MEAA says cuts are expected to “dramatically exceed the cuts of $120 million over four years in the Federal Government’s budget,” and staff have called for more transparency in the efficiency process.
The union says it has learned that the savings figure does not include the 1% reduction in the annual appropriation already announced in the Budget, nor the $88 million over four years the ABC will save following the axing of the Asia Pacific News Centre. “This would take the total cut to more than $130 million in the next 12 months alone.”
MEAA federal secretary Christopher Warren warned that the cuts, and the reduction in staff numbers, would cause irreversible damage to the national broadcaster:
“The cuts the Lewis Review is set to propose would decimate the ABC. MEAA believes such severe cuts would have a direct impact on vital, unique services that only the ABC can provide. We would likely see a reduction in the number of foreign bureaus and a distinct drop in the ABC’s rural and regional footprint.
“Specialist journalists and programs would all be hit hard. Areas like state politics, courts, science, law, religion, investigative reporting, trade, defence and national security would all be under the scalpel.”
Some of the ABC’s most prominent on air and production staff have signed an open letter to the ABC board, calling on it to support the ABC and dispense with the secrecy that has been surrounding proposed budget cuts. The letter says:
We the undersigned, express our grave concern at the ABC’s conduct through its secret consideration of a radical transformation of ABC operations, in a pre-emptive response to government funding cuts.
These cuts, now expected to be punitive and beyond plausible explanation as ‘efficiency savings’, will be in addition to the $120million already announced over four years (1% cut announced in the May 13 Federal Budget plus the $22million – recurrent – through the termination of the Australia Network contract).
The secrecy surrounding the ABC’s future is a breach of the ABC’s professed corporate values of honesty, fairness, independence and respect.
We take issue with the Managing Director’s vision that a future ABC will be structured and re-shaped primarily on audience demographic objectives by reallocating resources. A plan constructed in secret and imposed as a fait accompli can only be destructive.
ABC program makers are ready, willing and able to play a constructive role in shaping the ABC’s future. A future ABC must deliver quality, distinctive and specialist Australian content across the genres and all delivery platforms to sustain its relevance in the digital age. To do this the ABC Board has a duty and an obligation to engage the public whose trust in the institution, built over 82 years, has been fundamental to the ABC’s survival through any hostility.
We call on the Board to take decisive action in support of the ABC:
1. Publishing all plans, reviews and strategic papers for consideration by all stakeholders.
2. Engage in a public debate about the benefits of public broadcasting and the ABC.
3. Adopt transparency measures such as publication of ABC and executive board minutes and accept the legitimate role of the staff elected director to engage staff directly as a best practice measure in managing change.
The BBC has implemented openness and transparency measures in which executive level information is published online. ABC management is failing the transparency test, a deficiency made more critical now that hundreds of committed program makers are facing the axe.
The Staff and Supporters of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation
An online petition in support of the letter’s message has already amassed hundreds of signitures since being published yesterday.