They want four corners not three, two bananas not one and they wouldn’t mind both the Q and A.
That was the message from 1000 people who flocked to Martin Place in Sydney on Saturday to protest against feared funding cuts to the nation’s public broadcaster in the May budget after the Abbott Government announced an efficiency review of the ABC and SBS.
Veteran ABC journalist Jonathan Holmes told the animated crowd the ABC was already producing efficiency dividends “like iView and ABC 24 and radio digital channels popping up everywhere”.
Mr Holmes said there may or may not be a budgetary crisis in Australia, but there was a crisis of democracy.
“People simply don’t trust the politicians anymore. That’s why, God help us, …so many people are voting for Clive Palmer,” he said.
The former host of ABC Radio’s breakfast show in Sydney, Adam Spencer, accused politicians of dressing up their loathing for the broadcaster and political motives with an argument claiming inefficiencies.
The community advocacy group GetUp!, which has been behind a Save the ABC campaign including advertising on billboards and organising a 245,000-signature petition, has indicated it will step up pressure on the Abbott government ahead of the budget in two weeks.
Young ABC supporter James Khlentzos, five, said his motivation to join the sign-wielding crowd was to ensure he still got to watch his favourite show Octonauts.
For his father Dion Khlentzos, democracy was his motive.
“I think it’s essential to our democracy that we have a essentially neutral media that is able to scrutinise government without fear or favour and without commercial interests,” he said.
In Melbourne, hundreds attended a rally against the cuts.
The crowd was reminded of Prime Minister Abbott’s pre-election pledge that there would be no cuts to funding for the ABC or SBS.
“Does anyone here think that was ambiguous?” said David Risstrom, president of the Victorian branch of Friends of the ABC, drawing a loud chant of “No!”.
“I ask this government … keep to your promise. That’s as little as I ask today – you made a promise, keep to it!”
Mr Risstrom urged rallygoers, which had gathered at Fed Square around midday (AEST) on Saturday, to contact government MPs over the coming days until the federal budget is handed down.
He said ABC’s Australia Network service appeared set to be dropped and “who knows what else we’re about to lose?” should severe funding cuts be made.
Another speaker, author Elliot Perlman, said the ABC served vital functions, including recording Australia’s unique culture, informing Australians about the world and also as an emergency warning service during times of natural disaster.
“It does this 24/7 and it has been doing it for almost 100 years,” Mr Perlman said.
“… When a government starves the ABC it tears the most fundamental cultural fabric of this nation and the people of Australia will duly note the identity of the vandals.”
Concerns about the ABC have heightened in recent months after the coalition accused the broadcaster of bias over its reporting of asylum seeker torture claims.