ABC Alumni Senate Committee Submission

ABC NEEDS URGENT FUNDING OVERHAUL TO STOP POLITICAL INTERFERENCE

ABC Alumni has called for an urgent overhaul of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation funding process, to protect it from political harassment and editorial interference.

The call was made today (March 6) in a supplementary submission to the Senate Committee investigating allegations of political interference in the ABC.

“There is a compelling need to strengthen both the ABC’s funding base and the mechanisms of delivery, to protect the Corporation from political harassment and outright interference in its editorial processes,” the submission said.

“The existing ABC triennial funding model, whereby government can, at a whim, cut budgets mid-cycle, is at the core of the serious issues relating to the ABC’s editorial independence, which are the subject of this Inquiry.

“This three-year cycle has also proved inadequate for the Corporation to confidently plan ahead, to properly fulfil all of its Charter obligations, and to carry out its operations efficiently.”

The submission was presented by ABC Alumni Jonathan Holmes, Matt Peacock, Helen Grasswill and Quentin Dempster.

INCREASE FUNDING CYCLE FROM 3 TO 5 YEARS

ABC Alumni said the current three-year funding cycle should be increased to a minimum period of five years, quarantined from government-initiated adjustments during a cycle.

“A shorter funding period, with uncertainty about medium-term and longer-term funding levels, is crippling for any media organisation, especially in this time of digital disruption,” the submission said.

The Senate Environment and Communications References Committee is investigating claims of political interference, with particular reference to the sacking of ABC Managing Director Michelle Guthrie, and the conduct of then Chair Justin Milne and the Board.

Also under scrutiny are the ABC Board structure, composition and appointments, Government influence on ABC editorial decision-making, and the role of funding uncertainty in facilitating political influence.

The Committee can also consider governance, legislative and funding options to strengthen the editorial independence and strength of the ABC to fulfil its charter obligations.

ABC FUNDING V CPI SINCE 2014 (ABC)

Extraordinary pressure to sack journalists who infuriated the government and jeopardized funding

Read our opening statement to the Senate Committee - delivered by Jonathan Holmes

Matt Peacock, Helen Grasswill & Jonathan Holmes at the Senate Committee hearing

FIVE YEARS OF 'SAVAGE CUTS'

The Government has stripped more than half a billion dollars from the ABC since then Coalition leader Tony Abbott pledged “no cuts” during the 2013 Federal election campaign.

As a result, about one thousand people have lost their jobs.

ABC Alumni said the frequency and magnitude of the cuts inflicted on the ABC over the past five years are “akin to political interference”.

“It has meant that a raft of core ABC services valued by its audiences and fundamental to public broadcasting have either been drastically reduced or lost.

FUNDING USED AS A WEAPON

“It is abundantly clear that the Coalition Government, urged on by commercial media organisations in pursuit of financial benefit, has been overtly hostile to the ABC,” the submission said.

“Funding has been used as a weapon. The present situation is more precarious than many Australians who ‘love and trust’ the ABC are aware.”

ABC Alumni said the ABC budget, at a minimum, should be restored to the indexed equivalent level of 2014, allowing the return of lost or diminished services and a renewal of innovative service delivery to all Australians.

And Alumni called for the immediate restoration of funding for ABC international broadcast services, with substantial increases to meet growing geo-political complexity in the Asia Pacific region.

Read the full submission here and our earlier submission here