The Guardian May 21, 2003


"Dismantling the ABC"

"Steady as she goes, dismantling the ABC", that's how Terry Laidler, a 
Friends of the ABC spokesperson described the government's Budget 
allocation to the ABC for the next three years.

Shortly after its election in 1996, the Coalition Government cut the ABC's 
triennial funding by $66 million (12 per cent) per annum. The current 
budget has failed to restore ABC funding, let alone give it the boost it 
needs to meet new challenges.

"The Budget is in surplus. Concessions have been promised to multinationals 
and high-income earners. Precious public funds have been returned to 
ordinary Australians in tax cuts so tiny they are meaningless. Yet the 
Government has failed to properly fund the country's most significant 
provider of information and culture.

"It is difficult not to believe the Government is seeking to undermine the 
national broadcaster and interfere in its independence.

"The Government was warned by the ABC's managing director. In full 
knowledge there will be cuts to ABC programs if the ABC is forced to 
continue with insufficient funding, the Government has refused to grant 
even a moderate increase.

"The Government has even failed to commit the funds required for the ABC to 
continue its increased regional production and programming, an initiative 
which resulted from one-off funds the Government targeted to regional 
audiences for political advantage prior to the last Federal election", said 
Mr Laidler.

One-off funding of $17.8m per annum over four years, announced shortly 
before the 2001 election, is due to expire in the funding period covered by 
the current Budget.

The ABC is funded on a triennial basis and 2001 is not a year in which ABC 
funds would usually be addressed.

At the time of announcing the National Interest Initiative, Senator Alston 
said: "This additional $71.2m (for four years) should enable the ABC to 
increase local production and programming in regional Australia 
significantly. This will generate jobs and stimulate the growth of new 
media in regional areas".

The government's provision of a one-off targeted grant instead of adequate 
triennial funding highlights the dangers of such practice for the proper, 
ongoing maintenance of the ABC.

As Terry Laidler points out, "the Government is holding an axe over the 
ABC' s head. Starved of adequate ongoing funds, it would be impossible for 
the ABC not to be concerned about whether or not the Government will feel 
favourably disposed to it when the funds for regional services expire.

"If ongoing funds are not granted, will the ABC abandon its increased 
services for regional audiences, or will another area of the ABC be cut, as 
funds are transferred to cover the loss?

"In its Budget, the Government has failed in its responsibility to ensure 
the country's independent national broadcaster will thrive", concluded Mr 
Laidler.

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