Fire Shier — Save our ABC
ABC staff have turned up the heat on managing director Jonathan Shier over staff cuts, passing a motion of no confidence at stopwork meetings held on Wednesday last week, and putting strike action on the agenda. Shier has "demonstrated a manifest lack of commitment to the principles of independent public broadcasting", said the motion, and "shown contempt for staff". Shier met with the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) and the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) last Monday. ABC management have been asked to hand in a list of "targeted redundancies" by December 15. Shier plans to get rid of around 200 more staff: 100 from television production, 50 from technical services, up to 20 from news and current affairs and 20 to 30 from radio, according to Colin Palmer, head of employment services for the ABC. These cuts are not the direct result of further budget cuts by government. They are part of a massive restructuring involving the commercialisation and destruction of the national public broadcaster. ABC staff are holding a national stopwork meeting as The Guardian goes to press to hear a report-back and consider a nationwide strike in defence of the ABC and staff jobs. The situation was further inflamed following last Wednesday's meeting when Shier announced the axing of the science program Quantum (to be contracted out over the next six months) and the sacking of Walkley-award winning journalist Paul Barry from the highly popular Media Watch program. Paul Barry is the third Media Watch compere to be shafted — his immediate predecessor Richard Ackland exposed the "cash-for-comment" agreements between the banks and one of the most powerful corporate sector radio talkback kings. Interestingly, the final episode of Media Watch this year featured a hard-hitting Barry interview where ABC chairman Donald McDonald was tackled over Shier's management style. Popular news reader Angela Pearman said goodbye to viewers after 12 years, another forced out by Shier and his political appointees. The Howard Government has further consolidated the corporate sector's and Liberal Party's grip on the ABC with the appointment of Maurice Newman to the Board. Newman is chairman of the Australian Stock Exchange and chairman of the Deutsche Bank Australia. He is also reported to be one of Prime Minister John Howard's closest confidantes and chairs a key financial advisory panel for Treasurer Peter Costello. Communications Minister Richard Alston has also revealed that the right- wing Gerald Stone, known as the "godfather of chequebook journalism", will also be appointed to the ABC Board. These latest appointments further threaten the ABC's viability. The Howard Government had slashed $66 million from the budget by 1997, one year after coming to office. Overall its cuts to the ABC are around $90 million. These cuts led to a reduction in programming and the stripping of resources from a range of programs. Staffing levels were reduced by approximately 20 per cent. Most of the cuts occurred within radio and TV general programming. Since 1997, the ABC has increased the use of "repeats", reduced the production of television programs and deferred capital and infrastructure expenditure. Community and Public Sector Union spokesman, Graeme Thomson, said the appointment of Jonathan Shier as Managing Director had worsened an already difficult situation. "Shier's structure is dysfunctional. Huge amounts of desperately needed funding have been squandered, firstly on redundancies, then on inflated salaries for a new, expanded executive team. "The net result is a massive cutback in the budgets available for program makers which will inevitably lead to cutbacks in programs and service levels", said Thomson. The fear is that Shier's plans for the ABC may be the straw that breaks the camel's back.
What you can doThe unions and other ABC supporters are mobilising to: * defend the editorial integrity of the ABC; * oppose commercialisation; * secure better funding. If you would like to be involved in this campaign, contact your local CPSU office or e-mail: email@example.com Why not put your views on the ABC to your local MP and write protest letters to the Communications Minister Senator Richard Alston and Prime Minister John Howard. For more information phone or visit Friends of the ABC: http://www.fabc.org.au/or CPSU: http://www.cpsu.org/abc