The Guardian December 13, 2000


ABC strike

by Peter Mac

As ABC management tried with increasing desperation to justify their 
privatisation-driven destructive policies, striking staff have been buoyed 
by support from members of the public, from community organisations and 
from the ALP, whose communications spokesman has stated that the ALP was 
"entirely sympathetic" to the strike.

ABC Chairman Don MacDonald and arch conservative Board member Michael 
Kroger were jeered when they arrived for the last Board meeting of the year 
recently, and workers constructing new extensions to ABC headquarters in 
Sydney also took strike action in support of ABC staff.

The community group Friends of the ABC has been overwhelmed by members of 
the public seeking to join the organisation.

The long-simmering industrial dispute was prompted by the recent sacking of 
Media Watch host Paul Barry, the non-renewal of popular newsreader 
Angela Pearman's contract, the disbandment of the highly respected ABC 
Science unit, further cuts to ABC News and Current Affairs (reportedly as 
high as $8 million), the commercialisation of parts of the ABC, revelations 
that 200 more jobs will go and the stacking of the ABC board with Howard 
government supporters ...

Meanwhile, the ABC Board has approached the Federal Government for $40 
million in extra funds (that is, a partial reinstatement of recent cuts).

This is not to say that they want to use the money to rehire sacked staff 
or reinstate axed quality programs.

Part of the money is to be used for new regional programs, new programs for 
young children (potentially one of the most lucrative areas of ABC multi-
media production), and experimental programs for digital TV (also 
potentially highly lucrative for a commercialised ABC)  to be largely 
produced by the private sector for the ABC.

However, perhaps the biggest sector of the new allocations is to be used 
for  wait for it  new multi-media programs for the business sector.

ABC management described this as "Distinctive television, radio and new 
media content about business, entrepreneurial activity and personal 
investment in the changing economy".

In short, broadcasting for the rich and privileged minority. 

The request for extra funding has placed the Howard Government in an 
awkward position.

On the one hand the initiative is consistent with the commercialisation 
direction of the current management, which in turn reflects government 
policy.

On the other hand, the government can hardly provide additional funds for 
such an initiative  particularly the business-oriented programs  
without inviting more condemnation from the public for its cuts and 
sackings to date.

Prime Minister John Howard last week stated: "The government has complete 
confidence in the Board of the ABC, but that does not mean that we will 
always share the board's view of the funding priorities that we have to 
meet in relation to government responsibilities."

Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance Assistant Federal Secretary Mark 
Ryan expressed his disgust that the Shier plan did not include funding for 
news and current affairs.

Anticipating further industrial action, the Secretary of the ABC section of 
the Community and Public Sector Union, Graeme Thomson, commented that: "No 
amount of additional funding is going to protect the ABC from Shier's plans 
for commercialisation and for the destruction of the specialist units on 
which the ABC's independence and integrity is firmly based."

ABC staff have now called for Shier to step down or be sacked, and for the 
ABC to return to its place as national broadcaster.

On the picket line outside the ABC headquarters, the President of Friends 
of the ABC, Ms Penelope Toltz, commented: "I hope that the troglodytes that 
are supposedly in charge of this place understand that the people who make 
the programs and the people who listen to the programs are actually the 
most important people  that we own the ABC, they [the troglodytes] do not 
own it."

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