ABC — unique and essential service
by Penelope Toltz, Friends of the ABC NSW President. On April 29, 15,000 members of the public — ABC shareholders — gathered on the Sydney Opera House steps to protest against funding cuts to the national broadcaster by the Federal Government. "The Guardian" is publishing further contributions of speakers at the protest. The following is an abridged version of the contribution Good afternoon Friends of the ABC. Before I begin my speech, I would like to say a huge thank you to the hundreds of people who helped this event to happen. From our wonderful talent, to the hundreds of volunteers who came to us via the internet, the phone tree and by other means, through to our subcommittees and my hard working committee members who have tirelessly letter-boxed and emailed and handed out flyers and more, thank you from the bottom of my heart. Without you, none of this could have happened. Yesterday I received a letter from the ABC Chairman, Mr Donald McDonald, on behalf of the Board and the Managing Director, saying, and I quote, "consistent with its position in relation to functions of this type, the Board does not consider it appropriate for Directors to participate in this event." Isn't it extraordinary that the people who have been entrusted in a position of privilege to run the ABC on OUR behalf do not see themselves as being accountable to us. Section 8 of the ABC Act clearly says, "It is the duty of the Board to ensure that the functions of the Corporation are performed efficiently and with the maximum benefit to the people of Australia". I am sad that the people who make the decisions about how the ABC works, feel that they cannot put themselves in front of a democratic event such as this one — the Extraordinary General Meeting of the Shareholders of the ABC — you the Australian listeners and viewers. From the city to the suburbs, to the regions to rural and remote Australia, everyone has a program of some sort which speaks to them. If we're talking about brands — in our [economic] rationalist world branding is the thing - - then the ABC is a brand that people feel they can trust. And it is that very brand that is threatened. In times of crisis viewers and listeners turn to the ABC news because they feel that it tells them the well researched story free from commercial considerations and pressures from media moguls. When floods and fire sweep through the outback, ABC stations stay on air all night with information which often saves people's lives and also valuable stock. Think of the money that is saved, the stress and heartbreak that is averted, because the ABC is doing its job. How do you measure the worth of an organisation during these times? But it's not only in times of crisis that the ABC is an essential service, operating in the national interest. It is every single day of our lives that we rely on the ABC — to make sense of a complex world, for pleasure and enjoyment, to be challenged and more. And it is the ABC that brings us together, that lets us as a nation speak to itself and about itself. This is the discussion that lies at the heart of a healthy society, a vibrant democracy, that Mr McDonald and his friends in government don't appear to understand. The ABC Friends calls on governments of all persuasions to for once take the high moral ground and de-politicise the Board. The ABC Board should cease to be an entity of patronage for whichever party is in power. The funding of the ABC should cease to be a weapon with which to threaten staff and management. In a nation which is concerning itself with knowledge and education, the ABC has the potential to be one of our greatest educators, especially now with its online services. The ABC is unique in the way that it holds governments accountable. Today with most of our watchdogs having had their teeth pulled, the ABC is frequently the only organisation which can still perform the function of asking the questions that we as citizens would like to ask our representatives in government if we had the chance. It is no wonder that an organisation like the Friends are gaining unprecendented numbers of new members each day. In the past six months alone branches have opened in Orange, Bathurst, Manning Great Lakes, Newcastle. When you appoint boards as a form of government patronage; appoint a Managing Director whose experience is in the marketing area of commercial television only; when a government cuts $67 million out of an organisation after the previous government has already taken out $100 million over ten years. When staff are being sacked right and left, including from archives and television production, so that specialist broadcasters are under more stress than is humanly possible to bear, drop the arts budget by one third so there is no money for drama in stereo on Radio FM, make staff use buses to get to interviews while the Managing Director has a Range Rover and a liveried chauffeur driven limousine ... then is it no wonder the level of anger has never been greater amongst the voting Australian public. If you don't yet belong to the Friends of the ABC, join today. Put yourself down to volunteer or join our telephone tree. It's the fastest way we can inform each other if we are not on the internet. Go to our web site at http://www.fabc.org.au/nsw if you are on the net, for the most up to date information on what is happening with the Friends. But above all, be a concerned citizen and find out what your prospective members of parliament stand for before you vote this year. You have heard citizens from all walks of life here today speak about Their ABC. It belongs to All of Us. Let us not let it slip away, just because it has always been there. For once it is changed beyond recognition, or even worse, once it is gone, we will never see its like again. The motion is that "This meeting of the ABC Shareholders endorses the ABC Shareholders' Charter." "The motion was seconded by Rod Quantock and endorsed unanimously by the assembled shareholders.