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Issue #1668      December 10, 2014

Editorial

Fight for your ABC in 2015

The ABC provides a wider range of services and operates across a broader geographic base than any commercial broadcaster in Australia, with regional coverage and local stations across the country. It plays a critical role during times of emergency, such as bushfires. The free-to-air ABC and SBS have suffered years of funding cuts but nothing like the sledgehammer they are being hit with by the Abbott government.

The two broadcasters were subjected to “efficiency savings” in the May budget of around $47 billion, in line with cuts to other areas of the public sector. The ABC, in May, also lost $220 million of income over the next four years with the cancellation of its contract for the Australia Network, the international news service that Murdoch so badly wanted. Then, on November 26, the Abbott government announced further cuts of $254 million over the next four financial years beginning in July 2015. The government tried to sell these whopping cuts as the “efficiency savings” the rest of the public sector was experiencing.

ABC Managing Director Mark Scott responded by applying the main cuts to programs covering news, current affairs, investigative journalism, science, religion, women’s sport and the arts. At the same time the majority of the 400 staff being sacked are the more senior and experienced employees, including 100 journalists, producers and others more likely to be on higher incomes.

The cuts go far deeper than the amount announced to cover the costs of sacking long-term employees and to meet the additional funding being allocated to online and mobile phone services. According to the ABC 2013-14 Annual Report, 84 percent of people believe the ABC plays a valuable role. No wonder there is a public uproar over the cuts!

One of Scott’s priorities is the development of online and digital media. Fortunately for the ABC, Labor had expanded the ABC’s charter to cover these areas. According to the 2013-14 Annual Report, the average number of users who visited ABC online per week was six million. The Bananas in Pyjamas page has almost three million “likes”. The same Annual Report states, “In 2013–14, ABC4Kids’ [TV channel] average weekly reach among children aged 0-4 was 330,000 (or 73.8% of children aged 0-4) …”

The children’s programs are sound and appropriate, and there is NO advertising. No one can deny the popularity or success of the ABC or its online and digital services. Therein lies the “problem”. The ABC is “too successful”!

This is all the while the commercial channels are desperate to find a way to extract money out of online users. The last thing Murdoch, with his vast newspaper empire and interest in Foxtel, wants is an ABC that is outdoing his digital and online outlets and not charging a cent. At the same time the government owes Murdoch big time for its election. Media deregulation, the Australia Network contract and removing the ABC as a competitor are some of the items high on his agenda.

The offensive against the ABC is not just about returning favours or commercial considerations. There is a strong political and ideological component. The fact it is public, not private for-profit, makes it a target. Murdoch has for years attacked the ABC for its “left bias”; this is coming from one of the most reactionary media magnates who has no space for socially enlightened conservatives, let alone the left.

The government expected the ABC to apply the cuts to its digital and online services, which ultimately would be suicidal. Scott, former Editorial Director at Fairfax and a Howard government appointee, instead hit radio and TV programs and regional services hard. But Turnbull won’t stop there. The ultimate goal is either destruction or the sale of the ABC to the likes of Murdoch to remove what is to them a “competitor”. But, in reality, none of them can compete in quality with the ABC. The battle for the ABC is one of the big struggles ahead in 2015, along with education, Medicare, trade union and democratic rights and against war.

Next article – Victorian election – More nails in Abbott govt’ coffin

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