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Issue #1922      July 6, 2020

Editorial

Stop ABC Cuts!

On 24th June, Managing Director David Anderson announced the ABC’s five-year strategy, outlining proposals that would see major cuts to the national broadcaster. Among the cuts were: the lost of 250 jobs; the axing of $5 m from screen production; the 7:45 AM radio news bulletin; and a twenty-five per cent cut to the travel budget. According to the ABC, the cuts are being made “to meet the federal government’s $84 million budget cut.”

The cuts came in the form of a pause in the annual funding indexation (a tool for ensuring that funding remains in line with inflation) from then Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in 2018. In the last two financial years cuts to the ABC have amounted to a loss in $15 m (2019-20) and $28 m (2019-20). This financial year amounts to the largest phase of the cuts at $41 m.

However, these recent cuts are but the latest attacks launched at the ABC. Ever since the Coalition returned to power, the ABC has seen a loss of $783 m, starting with the Abbott government, who planned to cut the ABC’s funding by $254 m over five years.

The left-wing think tank Per Capita puts these funding cuts in perspective: “The national broadcaster’s 2019-20 operational revenue from government of $879 million represents a decrease in real funding of $367 million per annum, or 29.5 per cent, since 1985-86.” Therefore, despite what Federal Communications Minister Paul Fletcher says, that the funding “increases each year,” in real terms, the ABC is haemorrhaging. Of course, Fletcher places the loss of jobs not on the government, who has frozen ABC funding, but on the ABC board and management.

In the age of internet streaming and the proliferation of independent media outlets, some may ask: “What good is spending nearly a billion dollars on a national broadcaster?” It was not long ago that devastating bushfires ravaged through our continent. According to The Guardian (UK) independent research released by the ABC found that “60 per cent of people in bushfire-affected areas said information from the ABC helped ensure their safety.” Furthermore “81 per cent of people were aware of the ABC as an information source and one in two used it as their main source of information during the summer crisis.” Additionally “ABC News Online was [found to be] the most trusted news website,” with the “ABC’s Emergency website [being its] most trusted platform (74 per cent trusting it ‘greatly’).” Trust for ABC Local Radio and ABC News TV never dropped below 70 per cent. It suffices to say that the coverage of the bushfires provided by the ABC, which cost the ABC $3 m over the period with no additional funding provided, literally saved lives. It will be of no shock if similar research finds near-identical results over its coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the concluding remarks on her report, executive director of Per Capita, Emma Dawson states: “While ruling out the privatisation of the ABC, as demanded by rank and file Liberal Party members and the champions of free market fundamentalism who populate the ranks of its favoured think tanks, the current government has instead pursued a policy of slowly eroding the ABC’s funding base and its capacity to meet its charter.”

And this is how we will see the end of our great national broadcaster if we allow the Coalition to pursue its current course. Axing the ABC will likely be a move too far for most people. However, by cutting away at its budget, the Coalition will ensure that it will slowly, and most assuredly, be incapable of performing its function, which in turn will be used to justify further cuts.

Next article – Gig work survey shows urgent need call to regulate

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