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Hundreds to lose jobs as Australia’s public broadcaster announces deep cuts

The operating headquarters of the Australian Broadcasting Company (ABC) in Sydney. (Photo: ABC News)
The operating headquarters of the Australian Broadcasting Company (ABC) in Sydney. (Photo: ABC News)

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) is changing virtually everything about their broadcast operations as the public media organization starts to implement some $250 million AUS ($217 million USD) in budget cuts across the network.

On Monday, the ABC’s managing director Mark Scott announced up to 400 staffers were slated to lose their jobs as part of the drastic cuts in programming and talent. Those positions amount to approximately 10 percent of the ABC’s workforce.

In addition, the ABC will heavily modify it radio and television news bulletins and programs — some will be reduced or shuffled, others dropped entirely — as well as its national sports coverage. A television production studio and five local radio bureaus will also close as part of the reductions.

“We regard the changes as vital to securing the long-term health of the organization but I acknowledge that is no comfort to those who will lose their positions,” Scott told employees at the ABC’s Sydney headquarters.

The Australian government announced last week it would move to eliminate $254 million AUS ($220 million USD) from the ABC’s budget over the course of five years. Scott told employees on Monday that the the reduction in staff and resources would help the ABC save $207 million AUS ($179 million USD) that was expected to be cut from the budget next year.

Scott said the ABC would also save money by re-tooling news, sports and children’s programming. Hourly radio news bulletins will be reduced from ten minutes to five, with entire radio documentary series being dropped in favor of programs produced by freelancers. Local and regional matches will be axed, with precedent given to events of national interest. Children’s shows will be “re-shaped” to take full advantage of reduced production staff and resources, though it’s unclear exactly how the shows will be affected.

The ABC’s news division will be impacted the most: Approximately 100 journalists will be laid off, though 70 new positions will be created for the ABC’s digital news operation, resulting in an actual reduction of around 30. Foreign bureaus are expected to be downsized significantly, and any journalists that remain abroad will have to produce news stories with fewer resources.

Five regional radio bureaus — in Gladstone, Nowra, Port Augusta, Wagin and Morwell — will be shut down and their buildings sold, Scott said.

“It’s a very sad day at the public broadcaster,” Scott said in an interview with ABC Radio Sydney.

Changes will also be coming to SBS, the ABC’s multi-cultural sister broadcast network, though it won’t be nearly as impacted as the larger broadcaster. Notably, the SBS’s news magazine show “Dateline” will be reduced from an hour broadcast to 30 minutes, and the media operation will scrap plans to relocate to the ABC’s Southbank television center in Melbourne.

“It’s not an ideological decision, it’s a financial decision,” SBS executive Michael Ebeid told staffers at a meeting on Monday. “We’ve been on this drive for years, and it’s just business as usual.”

The decision not to relocate to Southbank center is expected to save SBS approximately $16 million AUS ($14 million USD). The government has asked SBS to find approximately $50 million AUS ($43 million USD) in savings over the next few years.

Public reaction to the cuts has been strong in favor of the ABC. Approximately 3,000 people rallied in Sydney against the proposed budget cuts, saying the half-billion dollars reduction would severely impact the ABC’s ability to create and distribute quality television and radio programming.

“If you cut half a billion dollars from the ABC and SBS, you can’t protect broadcasting, you can’t protect programming, you can’t protect Australian content,” Sydney politician Tanya Plibersek said at the rally.

A similar rally in support of the ABC was held in Sydney on Sunday, and another one is scheduled for Canberra on Tuesday.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is the publisher of The Desk and reports on the business and policy matters involving the broadcast television, streaming video and radio industries. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, Disney-ABC, Tribune Broadcasting and McNaughton Newspapers. Matthew is based in Northern California, has won numerous awards in the field of journalism, and is a member of IRE (Investigative Reporters and Editors).