Staff cuts announced at the ABC studios in Ultimo, Sydney. Photo: Wolter Peeters Illustration: Ron Tandberg
Reality bites for ABC staff as 400 face the axeThe programs losing resources under cuts
Senior journalists at the ABC were called into a meeting with management on Monday afternoon and told a quarter of them would lose their jobs under the federal government’s $254 million funding cut.
And hours after Prime Minister Tony Abbott denied breaking a promise to strip funds from the broadcaster, a Coalition senator has conceded Mr Abbott did in fact pledge not to cut funding.
In the Sydney newsroom, six of the 24 senior journalists face redundancy and two of the six junior reporters may also lose their jobs.
Staff members were in shock, with one saying: “It’s like Survivor. Who’s going to be voted off the island?”
Journalists were given a sheet of paper with a list of skills benchmarks and told if they were unable to meet them they would face losing their jobs before Christmas.
The new benchmarks focused on the ability to report stories across multiple platforms including mobile and online.
The news came as a blow to newsroom staff who thought the job losses would mainly affect management and backroom operations.
ABC managing director Mark Scott faced robust questioning from 7.30 host Leigh Sales, whose own program will not be spared from the cuts.
She asked her boss why the state-based edition of the 7.30 was being axed when online opinion site The Drum would continue despite a plethora of similar sites on offer.
Mr Scott told her cost was a factor in the decision but said savings were not the only driver in choosing which programs are axed and which would stay.
“It’s a balancing act,” he said. “There’s no single formula you can apply.”
He denied that the broadcaster’s news and current affairs programs were being targeted, saying the majority of cuts were coming from administration and management.
About 100 journalists of the 1,000 employed by the broadcaster nationally would lose their jobs but he said they would hire about 70 new staff with expertise in mobile and online content.
“There’s no joy in letting staff go,” he said.
He also revealed the federal government had not set aside extra money to fund the redundancy program with the finances to come from the ABC’s existing budget.
Nationals Senator John Williams said on Monday: “Look, to be frank and honest, Prime Minister Tony Abbott did say before the election there would not be any cuts to the ABC.”
The NSW Senator’s comments followed questions in Parliament to Mr Abbott about an interview he gave on the eve of last year’s election, in which he vowed there would be “no cuts to education, no cuts to health, no change to pensions, no change to the GST and no cuts to the ABC or SBS.”
Mr Abbott denied breaking a pledge not to cut funding to the ABC and SBS, saying his government had “fundamentally kept faith with the Australian people” and that the Coalition was simply applying to the ABC the kind of “efficiency dividend” it was applying to almost every other part of government.
Asked about the government’s refusal to acknowledge the broken promise a week after $254 million in funding cuts to the ABC were announced, Senator Williams said Mr Abbott had also promised to “fix the budget mess” and that the cuts were necessary to do so.
Senator Williams, a former farmer, said he was “disappointed” about the decision to axe ABC facilities in regional areas, but said the belt tightening was needed.
“We’ve all got to suffer some pain,” he said. “It’s either a bit of pain now or severe torture later, and I’d rather have the bit of pain now.”