News National ABC to cull iconic shows, hundreds of jobs

ABC to cull iconic shows, hundreds of jobs

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ABC journalists have rallied around their colleagues after news that more than 400 jobs could be cut from the public broadcaster.

Veteran presenter Quentin Dempster said he expected a “lot more blood to flow” following the announcement by ABC managing director Mark Scott on Monday morning of the job losses and closures of several programs in order to absorb the $254 million the Federal Government will cut over the next five years.

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Mr Dempster, who hosts 7.30 NSW, which is to be axed, described the timing as a bit of “bastardry from Tony Abbott”.

“I feel very sorry that when we get the long white envelope it looks as though we won’t be there for the 2015 (NSW) state election,” he said.

“The devastation is in the 300 immediate redundancies. I think there’s a fair bit more blood to flow that we don’t know about.”

Mr Dempster, who has worked with the ABC for more than 30 years, said management hasn’t told staff of the specific cuts yet.

“We’re only four weeks out of Christmas,” his 7.30 NSW colleague and reporter Adam Harvey said.

“Everyone feels for their colleagues.”

Mr Dempster said cuts to regional and rural production meant the ABC would have less diversity in local news.

“At least it’s highlighted a fact that we’ve already bloody well known, that ABC is Sydney-centric,” he said.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott defended the cuts in Question Time, saying “the ABC should not be exempted from the kind of measures that are being applied to almost every other part of government”.

In parliament, Labor pursued the prime minister over his pre-election promise not to cut funding to the broadcasters.

But Mr Abbott insisted his government had “fundamentally kept faith with the Australian people”.

“We never promised special treatment for the ABC or SBS,” he said.

In his address to ABC staff in Sydney, Mr Scott said about one in 10 could become redundant as a result of government cuts to its budget.

He said the ABC was committed to using back-office and overhead savings to fund the $207 million that would be cut from its budget from July 2015.

“We anticipate that more than 400 people – close to 10 per cent of our ongoing workforce – face potential redundancy as we adjust our activities over coming months,” Mr Scott said.

“We regard the changes as vital to securing the long-term health of the organisation but I acknowledge that is no comfort to those who will lose their positions.”

One-tenth of the cuts will apply to management and administration sectors, with administrative tasks like answering phones and opening letters to be centralised and reorganised.

The ABC’s Adelaide television production studio and five regional radio offices will be closed, and remaining non-news TV production in other states will also be wound down.

Mr Scott said there would also be a rationalisation of the ABC’s television outside broadcast vans and a scaling-back of television sporting broadcasts.

The announcement also included details of proposed programming changes for ABC News, Radio and Television.

A national 7.30 program on Fridays will replace the current state 7.30 editions and will include extended cross-platform coverage of state and territory issues seven days a week.

Lateline will be moved to a new fixed timeslot on ABC News 24 and the broadcaster’s foreign bureaux will be restructured to create “multiplatform hubs” and a new Beirut post will be opened.

The number of correspondents will stay the same, including the newly created role of chief foreign correspondent.

There will also be changes to ABC Local, Radio National and ABC Classic FM programming and an overhaul of ABC TV’s sports coverage.

Mr Scott has also proposed the creation of a new regional division and ABC Digital Network, to begin in mid-2015, and a $20 million digital investment fund.

Despite the cuts, the ABC will funnel $20 million of additional savings for digital projects, including an upgrade to video streaming service iView, more online and mobile news content, and the extension of radio streaming to regional areas.

Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance federal secretary Chris Warren said it was a “sad day for the Australian media industry”.

“We’re seeing one of, if not the largest shake-out of jobs here at the ABC, where really it was totally unnecessary,” he told ABC News 24.

“Of course once the money was withdrawn from the ABC, then job losses were inevitable and loss of content and programming was the inevitable result of that.

“I think the ABC or public broadcasting is a really critical and important role that governments play, or that governments fund, particularly in the current environment where commercial media is under such enormous pressure.

“The minuscule savings they’ve got in terms of the scale of the budget they’re dealing with is really not worth the loss to Australian culture, democracy and society that flows from there.”

Prior to Monday morning’s announcement, a number of ABC employees across the board were called to early meetings with their human resources managers.

Mr Scott apologised to the broadcaster’s staff, admitting: “It’s going to be a sad time.”

Meanwhile, SBS Managing Director Michael Ebeid told his staff “it could have been a lot worse” for his network, saying the majority of the SBS cuts were absorbed by “back of house initiatives”.

Mr Ebeid also ruled out the possibility of merging Melbourne offices with the ABC, telling staff “we should all be reasonably happy”.

– with ABC, AAP

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