The ABC Board Backs Mark Scott's Cuts But 'Regrets... So Many Competent And Loyal Employees Will Lose Their Jobs'

Mark Scott, ABC managing director.

ABC managing director Mark Scott announced today that 400 jobs will go, radio stations will close and the national broadcaster is facing a raft of changes.

He outlined the drastic actions being taken to ABC staff here.

Meanwhile the ABC Board, which includes Peter Lewis, the former Seven media executive who wrote the federal government efficiency study into the ABC and SBS, has endorsed Scott’s plan, while expressing regret that “so many” staff will be made redundant.

The Board’s backing is significant because the cuts strike hardest in regional areas where conservative MPs will undoubtedly feel the brunt of community anger as the extent of the losses become clear. South Australian MP Christopher Pyne is lobbying to save the Adelaide TV production facility with the sort of chutzpah only a politician can manage.

The plan outlined today heads in the exact opposite direction to the one its fiercest critic, The Australian, would like to see the ABC head.

The Prime Minister’s pre-election promise of “no cuts to the ABC or SBS” is now looking set to haunt him like Banquo’s ghost. Few in the community share the Abbott government’s entrenched antipathy towards the national broadcaster beyond ideologues on the Canberra beltway and vested-interest media companies. Aunty, despite her occasional mistakes, is up there with motherhood and the national flag in the Australian psyche.

The Coalition now faces the perception problem. As much as communications minister Malcolm Turnbull insists the 5% cuts could all be done without affecting programming, it’s hard to see how the ABC could respond in a fashion contrary to the way every other media organisation has tackled declining incomes – by shedding journalists and relying on outside sources, as well as centralising and consolidating.

The ABC will most likely gravitate to a popularist middle ground in order to prove its worth to critics. It’s a natural instinct, but that means many marginalised people will miss out, especially in regional Australia. The politicians who wanted ABC budget cuts have their wish, but now you can’t help feeling that they’re about to discover they didn’t know what they were wishing for. They’ll be hoping older viewers don’t start evoking the catch cry of one of the ABC’s more notorious TV shows from four decades ago – The Aunty Jack Show.

Here’s ABC Board chairman James Spigelman’s statement offering the Board’s support:

The ABC Board endorses the package of measures announced today by the Managing Director, Mark Scott.

The Board has been involved actively in the development of the ABC management proposals, with no less than eight board meetings to consider the initiatives. We consider that the measures announced today will, when implemented, ensure that the ABC is able to continue to deliver its Charter obligations and to retain its pivotal place in Australian society as the trusted, independent home of Australian stories and conversations.

We note that last year the Australian Parliament unanimously added the provision of digital media services as a new core function of the ABC. The national broadcaster has been, and intends to remain, an industry leader in its approach to digital media, with innovative programming and platforms driven by the input of a creative workforce. Many of the initiatives outlined today will assist the Corporation to fulfil this important new responsibility.

The package of measures also recognises that, in a context of demand for access to different services and reduced funding, the ABC must further prioritise choices. The initiatives outlined by Mr Scott comprise a carefully considered response to the twin challenges of technological change and reduced funding. They provide funds to invest in essential new online and mobile strategies that better connect the ABC with its audiences. Like the best media companies across the globe, the ABC is using its digital expertise to achieve deeper and broader audience engagement and relevance.

The initiatives maintain the ABC’s fundamental commitment to the provision of programming that contributes to a sense of national identity; that informs, educates and entertains and which reflects the cultural diversity of the Australian community. In its contribution to the process, the Board has had particular regard to its responsibility “to ensure the functions of the Corporation are performed efficiently and with the maximum benefit to the people of Australia”.

In announcing the funding cuts last week, the Minister for Communications indicated he would exercise his formal power to provide the Board with a statement of Government policy on certain matters. When such a statement is received, the Board will consider it as required by the Act.

The Board regrets the fact that so many competent and loyal employees will lose their jobs. Unfortunately, this is the inevitable consequence of the necessity to adjust to reduced funding and to ensure that the ABC is not marginalised in the new media landscape.

James Spigelman
On behalf of the ABC Board

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