ABC managing director Mark Scott has foreshadowed a downsizing of the national broadcaster, including job losses, programming cuts and property sales as a result of budget cuts.
Mr Scott told Senate estimates hearings the axing of the Australia Network international broadcasting service will lead to job losses – including a reduction in the ABC’s number of foreign correspondents. A voluntary redundancy process will begin within weeks.
The government cut $35.5 million from the ABC over four years in this year’s budget and further cuts are expected following an efficiency review into the ABC and SBS.
ABC managing director Mark Scott appears before Senate Estimates at Parliament House on Wednesday. Photo: Andrew Meares
The budget described this year’s cuts as a “down-payment” on the efficiency review, which has been handed to the ABC and SBS managing directors in draft form.”We seek to find efficiencies but sooner or later you reach the end of the efficiencies,” Mr Scott said.
“The easiest levers to pull in budget cuts are programming cuts. You can cut a drama series and save millions of dollars with one decision.
“You get to the point when there are interesting decisions you need to make when it comes to efficiencies. Just to foreshadow … things will be discussed around OB [outside broadcasting] vans, levels of internal production and the property assets we hold.”
Mr Scott said his priority was to not cut programming, including Australian drama. But he could not guarantee any programs or services – including popular children’s program Peppa Pig – could be spared until he knows what future budget cuts the government is considering.
“We have contracts to continue to deliver Peppa Pig, but of course the service we provide depends on the funding envelope provided,” he said.
Mr Scott argued any efficiencies identified at the ABC should be reinvested into the broadcaster. He said the ABC has found $40 million in efficiencies over the past five years, which have funded innovations such as the iView catch-up service and ABC News 24.
Mr Scott said he was concerned the $10.6 million compensation for the termination of the Australia Network contract was insufficient and would leave the ABC out of pocket.
Mr Scott came under hostile questioning from Coalition senators, who said it was only fair the ABC accept a funding cut when all government agencies were being asked to find savings.
ACT senator Zed Seselja questioned the ABC’s decision to appoint veteran journalist Paul Barry, whom he described as a “savage” critic of News Corp, as the host of Media Watch.
Senator Seselja also questioned why conservatives have not been appointed to host news and current affairs programs such as Lateline and criticised a Chaser sketch depicting commentator Chris Kenny having sex with a dog.
Mr Scott has since apologised for the Kenny sketch but defamation proceedings continue.
Mr Scott said Mr Barry had performed his job fairly and dispassionately and that ABC staff should be judged on how they perform their jobs, not who they vote for.
There were lighter moments too.
When Nationals Senator John Williams revealed he was not familiar with Peppa Pig, Mr Scott offered to send him DVDs for his “edification and education”.
“My brother and I are former pig farmers – I’ve seen enough of pigs and smelled enough in my life over many decades I can assure you,” Senator Williams said.