The Guardian April 4, 2001


Murdoch abducts Aunty's children

by Marcus Browning

Former ABC managing director Brian Johns, who was at the helm when the 
former Labor Government was insidiously pruning ABC funding, has warned of 
the possible demise of the national broadcaster. Johns' criticisms of the 
Board for its compliance in allowing the national broadcaster to be left 
open to attack carry an urgent message.

Brian Johns' comments were further hammered home when it was announced this 
week that an agreement between the ABC and News Ltd had been concluded to 
allow Foxtel to carry the ABC's new digital children's channel.

This means that the Murdoch empire is closing its commercial tentacles 
around the ABC via taxpayer-funded programs for its pay television network.

As a result of the savage cutbacks to funding, said Johns last week, "the 
ABC's very place in Australian broadcasting is threatened".

Johns hammered home the extent of the Board's inactivity in the face of all 
the cuts, political assaults and legislative manipulation, saying it has 
"remained shamefully ineffectual and compliant".

He noted that the ABC "is being starved of funds at the same time as it is 
expected to move into the new, exciting era of digital broadcasting".

With the arrival of digital broadcasting "the Government's efforts have 
been directed at ensuring that the door of opportunity swings open as 
narrowly as possible". He described this as "a fatal cocktail".

Hence the abduction of ABC children's programs by Foxtel, part of the 
molestation of Aunty ABC: the Government ties her hands while private media 
interests and a clutch of right wing ideologues carry out the assault.

Not accountable

Coincidentally, Johns' comments followed requests from the Community and 
Public Sector Union (CPSU) to the ABC Board last month for more leadership 
and the clarification of a number of developments.

The CPSU, one of the unions representing staff at the ABC, sent two letters 
in February raising management decisions and governance of the ABC and 
public accountability.

There has been no response from the Board, but since that time there have 
been widespread redundancies of television production and technical staff, 
blowouts in budgets and reports of legal actions being taken against the 
ABC by former staff.

"The managing director of the ABC [Jonathan Shier] does not enjoy the 
confidence of staff nor that of the shareholders  the Australian public", 
says a CPSU statement.

"In this context, the stony silence of the Board further damages the 
reputation and standing of the Corporation."

The union has called on the Board to carry out a serious review of Shier's 
performance. This is much the same as Shier's offensive where he targets 
staff who are then found wanting under his managerial criteria, and 
subsequently sacked.

"Under his stewardship the ABC has wasted millions of dollars of taxpayers' 
money on a restructure that is ineffective and unworkable", says the CPSU.

"Loyal staff have been disaffected by a closed and autocratic style of 
management and by the growing realisation that excellence in programming 
and dedication to the various crafts upon which the ABC's high reputation 
has been based are no longer valued.

"The ABC's capacity to produce creative and independent content has been 
greatly damaged by budget cuts, redundancies, the introduction of 
commercial imperatives and his lack of leadership. It is now apparent that 
the public is losing confidence in the ABC's capacity to contribute to a 
sense of Australian culture."

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