2014-08-29 12:05:31 Releases

MEAA, the union and professional association for Australia’s journalists, is shocked by reports that the cuts proposed for the ABC’s budget may be more than double what was initially proposed.

MEAA has been advised by several trusted sources that the Lewis Review into ABC and SBS efficiency is on the verge of suggesting cuts of more than $100 million year on year, dramatically exceeding the cuts of $120 million over four years in the Federal Government’s budget.

MEAA has learned that the savings figure does not include the 1% reduction in the annual appropriation already announced in the Budget, nor the $88 million over four years the ABC will save following the axing of the Asia Pacific News Centre (APNC). This would take the total cut to more than $130 million in the next 12 months alone.

MEAA federal secretary Christopher Warren warned that the cuts, and the reduction in staff numbers, would cause irreversible damage to the national broadcaster. “The cuts the Lewis Review is set to propose would decimate the ABC. MEAA believes such severe cuts would have a direct impact on vital, unique services that only the ABC can provide. We would likely see a reduction in the number of foreign bureaus and a distinct drop in the ABC’s rural and regional footprint.

“Specialist journalists and programs would all be hit hard. Areas like state politics, courts, science, law, religion, investigative reporting, trade, defence and national security would all be under the scalpel,” Warren said.

This new revelation comes on the same day that some of the ABC’s most prominent on air and production staff signed an open letter to the ABC board, calling on it to “take decisive action in support of the ABC” and dispense with the secrecy that has been shrouding the conversation around cuts to the ABC.

The letter said: “We, the undersigned, express our grave concern at the ABC’s conduct through its secret consideration of a radical transformation of ABC operations in a pre-emptive response to government funding cuts. We take issue with the managing director’s vision that a future ABC will be structured and reshaped primarily on audience demographic objectives by reallocating resources. A plan constructed in secret and imposed as a fait accompli can only be destructive. ABC program makers are ready, willing and able to play a constructive role in shaping the ABC’s future.

“A future ABC must deliver quality, distinctive and specialist Australian content across the genres and all delivery platforms to sustain its relevance in the digital age. To do this the ABC board has a duty and an obligation to engage the public whose trust in the institution, built over 82 years, has been fundamental to the ABC’s survival through any hostility.”

The public have been urged to add their support to the open letter by signing on to the ABC house committee’s online petition.

Quoting from the open letter, MEAA’s Warren echoed the sentiments of ABC staff that the proposed cuts would “represent an approach that is punitive and far beyond plausible explanation as ‘efficiency savings’.”

MEAA joins with ABC journalists in calling on the ABC board to immediately disclose the official recommendations from the Lewis Review, and further urges the ABC board to strongly reconsider taking a path towards a severely and irreversibly depleted national broadcaster.