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Action hots up to defend the ABC

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by Louisa L.

Mark Scott, head of the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC) appointed in 2006 by John Howard, has impeccable Liberal links. He worked for NSW Greiner Liberal government as chief of staff to the Education Minister Virginia Chadwick and as a senior advisor to notorious Education Minister Terry Metherell.

Metherell was roundly defeated when 80,000 teachers and supporters overflowed Sydney's Domain in August 1988, the high point of protest against attacks Metherell orchestrated on every facet of the public education system.

Mr Scott then became Editorial Director of John Fairfax media group before his ABC appointment. So when he comes out swinging against attacks on the ABC, rather than mildly excusing it all, either the cuts are too crippling to excuse or implement (as most top public service managers seem to do), he's copping pressure from elsewhere, or both.

Gobsmacking fantasy
Despite promises of no cuts to the ABC and SBS, the Abbott Government quickly announced a one per cent cut to the ABC's budget.  A review conducted by former Chanel 7 finance boss Peter Lewis was given to the ABC and SBS boards in confidentiality, but between $50 and $100 million in cuts is rumoured.

The government also gifted the ABC's overseas broadcasting to US multinational Sky, controlled by Murdoch's 21st Century Fox.

Senator Mitch Fifield, the Government's communications spokesman in the Senate,  Communication Minister Malcolm Turnbull and even backbencher Andrew Laming all ridiculed claims programs will have to be axed because of the cuts.

Fifield, Turnbull and Laming's statements that it will all be back room efficiencies, easily dealt with imaginatively but not impacting on programming, are gobsmacking fantasy. Turnbull said the ABC could cut $200 million and maintain quality broadcasting, perhaps mistakenly thinking people would be relieved if it were less.

The aim is to cripple the public broadcasters' ability to develop Australian culture and tell the truth. Voices against the corporations that run Australian must be silenced. 

Over 57,000 sign in 40 hours
But in late September, in less than 40 hours, over 57,000 people signed an online petition organised by GetUp and Friends of the ABC calling on the Board to fight the cuts. Many emailed or phoned the Board. On October 1, with just 24 hours’ notice, 400 determined people turned up outside ABC headquarters in Sydney to deliver the petition.

Quentin Dempster and Jonathan Holmes gave powerful speeches, and people roared for the Board to listen. When the Board, which had indicated it would briefly meet Jonathan Holmes, refused to do so or accept the petition, saying they were too busy the waiting crowd gasped. It didn't look good.

But Mark Scott has come out fighting and mass action helped ensure it. Scott is likely to compromise, but there's a fighting mood amongst supporters of the ABC, and that isn't going away any time soon.


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