News National ABC cuts not an ‘outright attack’: Hewson

ABC cuts not an ‘outright attack’: Hewson

ABC television Australia
Josh Frydenberg and other Liberals are saying party members' demand the ABC be privatised will be ignored. Photo: ABC
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The ABC, most trusted of all Australia’s media outlets, has been shrunk by $254 million, prompting sharp reactions from both sides of politics and its viewing audience.

The funding cut, which amounts to 4.6 per cent of the ABC’s budget over the next five years, is part and parcel, the government says, of its wider effort to return the budget to surplus. Supporters of the broadcaster disagree, saying it is a political attack and a broken promise.

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The government has also recommended that the roles of managing director and editor-in-chief be split, and that the board exercise greater oversight over content to ensure accuracy and impartiality.

Here are the contributions of seven prominent Australians to this heated debate, which you can join in the comments section below.

John Hewson
Former leader of the Liberal Party

John Hewson
John Hewson. Photo: AAP

I think everybody took Tony Abbott’s statement before the election as a commitment not to cut funding to the ABC, in what he said and the way he said it. They weren’t referred to the small print.

However, it is true that both Hockey and others had said that there would be an efficiency dividend across the government. I’ve supported efficiency dividends for quite some time.

I don’t think it’s an outright attack on the ABC as such. I don’t think there’s any mileage in that. I would think a large percentage of listeners of the ABC are Liberal constituents.

I am a very strong defender of a strong and independent public broadcaster, and that is basically what we have. I’m not one of those people who thinks that there is a natural left-wing bias in the ABC.

Professor David Flint, AM
Former chairman of the Australian Broadcasting Authority

David Flint
David Flint. Photo: AAP

I doubt this is a political attack given the quantum. The reduction is not that much different from what one would expect from a government that does have a very substantial debt to service and debt to reduce. If they wanted to attack the ABC, they could do something bigger than this.

The ABC could be carefully husbanding their money to produce not only as good a service but perhaps even a better service, and that requires a lot of attention. Many of us in life have had to operate with less and less money. It’s very common in the commercial area to do that, and in the public area and the universities for example.

The ABC has a minister who is very favourable to it and the wisest thing they could do would be to listen to him. Malcolm Turnbull is no enemy of the ABC and no doubt fights for the cause of the ABC in the cabinet.

Eric Beecher*
Former editor of the Sydney Morning Herald, owner of Crikey

Eric Beecher
Eric Beecher.

The ABC is by far the most important media organisation in Australia, and getting more important every day as the business model for commercial media and journalism collapses. Australia has never needed it more.

Of course it should carry its share of budget cuts, at the same level as other government agencies, but this week’s announcement goes way beyond that. These cuts are ideological, vindictive, petty-minded, coercive or all of the above.

Having said that, I believe the ABC needs a much clearer charter than the vague document that currently exists. That charter should provide more detail and nuance about the ABC’s role, priorities and relationship to the marketplace and commercial media. All of which would make budget-cutting more coherent and reduce the level of personal, subjective interpretation from its board and management.

Dr Margaret Simons
Centre for Advancing Journalism director

Dr Margaret Simons
Dr Margaret Simons.

ABC funding should be regarded as an investment in national cohesion, in education and in citizenship. I see no evidence at all that the government actually understands what it is doing by cutting the national broadcaster.

We live increasingly in a media-enabled world, in which media — perhaps more than any times since Federation — is part of nation building, part of what binds a nation together. To cut the national broadcaster at a time like this without a great deal of thought about the implications or the strategic impact is distressing and short-sighted.

I suspect the cuts have elements of both an attempt at a genuine cost saving and also a political attack.

Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull
Speech in Adelaide announcing the cuts

Malcolm Turnbull
Malcolm Turnbull.

After working closely with the broadcasters for the last eight or nine months it is clear that there is a great opportunity for them to modernise their businesses without reducing the resources they have available for programming; in other words without reducing the quantity or quality of what Australians view and listen to on ABC or SBS.

If the management of the ABC think they cannot find a five per cent saving through efficiencies, they are selling themselves short and letting down the people of whose resources and trust they are the custodians.

Shadow Communications Minister Jason Clare
Speaking to ABC Lateline

Jason Clare
Jason Clare.

People know that the Prime Minister promised the night before the election there’d be no cuts to the ABC, and he said that along with a long list of other promises: no cuts to health; no cuts to education; no changes to the pension, and he’s broken all of them, this is a long laundry list of lies.

All organisations can be more efficient, and the ABC is no exception to that. Whether it’s a private or a public organisation, it should be more efficient.

But I’d argue that to be good to the prime minister’s word we should find efficiencies inside the ABC and SBS and then invest them in more programs, more services for the Australian people.

Glenys Stradijot
ABC Friends national spokesperson

Australia’s national broadcaster is already seriously underfunded. As a share of government funding, ABC funding has almost halved since 1996.

Cuts of this magnitude can only be intended to scale down the public broadcaster. Talented staff will be lost, programs and services axed, and quality cut. The ABC’s capacity to record and reflect the lives and interests of Australians outside Sydney will be further diminished.

The Abbott government appears intent on ensuring the independent public broadcaster is starved of funds to perform its important role of scrutinising government.

* Eric Beecher is also chairman of Motion Publishing, producers of The New Daily.

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