The Guardian June 20, 2001


Axeman Shier's frenzy continues

by Andrew Jackson

In another disastrous week for the ABC, the national broadcaster has been 
attacked for its lack of Australian content, its falling ratings, and the 
sacking of an employee with 30 years service. Meanwhile, John Howard's 
personal friend, Managing Director Jonathon Shier, (described this week as 
a "limousine-driven disaster") continues his revolving-door employment 
policy, stacking senior positions with Liberal Party mates.

The axe fell last week on Ros Cheney, head of ABC Radio's Arts Department. 
Upon returning from a month's holiday, she was told her position had been 
abolished due to "restructuring" and that she had 30 minutes to leave the 
building.

Staff in the Arts department were shocked, and called a 24-hour strike in 
support.

In the same week, Mr Shier confirmed the short-listing of Pru Goward as an 
anchor for a Sunday morning political chat show.

Ms Goward is another John Howard buddy and collaborated on his biography. 
Mr Shier is on record saying the ABC needed more "right-wing" commentators.

And Ms Goward has certainly shown whose side she is on.

In an article in the Sydney Morning Herald this week titled "Let 
business do business", Ms Goward: celebrates free-enterprises victories 
over the environmental movement; and says corporations don't get the good 
press they deserve; human rights legislation is a hurdle for business; and 
that businesses should not have to abide by ethics and morality.

Mr Shier was the target of blistering criticism this week from Kerry 
O'Brien, in a fiery interview on the ABC's own "7.30 Report".

A highlight of the interview was Kerry O'Brien asking: "Jonathan Shier, how 
much more time do you think you could reasonably expect to demonstrate to 
the public that you can actually do this job?"

Mr Shier was also attacked over his "revolving door" hirings and firings, 
which Mr Shier has justified in the past by saying he wanted to give the 
government value for money, which he says is measured by high ratings.

But he was taken to task by Mr O'Brien, who asked him to then justify a 
drop in audience share from 18 per cent down to 12.6 per cent in the first 
six months of this year.

Rather than taking responsibility for the ABC's woes, Mr Shier made the 
spurious claim that the ABC's falling TV ratings were to blame on the 
Channel 10 reality show "Big Brother".

There were also sharp words from Bob McMullan, Labor's Arts spokesperson, 
who lashed the Government over its destruction of the ABC.

"The report that the position of Radio Arts Editor is to be axed reinforces 
the concern many Australians have about the Government's commitment to our 
cultural identity and the future of our cultural industries, " Mr McMullan 
said.

"Last year ABC Radio's budget for artists' fees was slashed by a third, 
leading to less income for Australian actors, writers, producers and 
musicians, and more recorded and non-Australian programming."

It would seem that the Howard Government is standing by with a nod and a 
wink to the decimation of Australian arts programming on the ABC.

* * *
"Something (unfair) In The Air" Actors on the ABC's only remaining adult drama series, "Something In The Air" are up in arms over the broadcaster's rescheduling of the program to Saturday nights. Actors had signed contracts to work for 40 weeks and produce 40 half-hour shows. These were to broadcast at the rate of two hours per week. Under the new timetable, the ABC is screening only one hour per week; thus the actors were providing the ABC with 80 weeks' programming for only 40 weeks' pay. Anne Phelan, who plays the popular character Mon Taylor on the series, says the cast and crew worked "excruciatingly hard" and up to 15 hours a day. "None of us would have signed that particular contract, at that rate of pay, to work those hours, if we knew that this was going to happen", she said.

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