ABC emergency broadcasting team to be restructured as part of funding cuts

The ABC's coverage saved lives during the summer's bushfires, research has found. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong
The ABC's coverage saved lives during the summer's bushfires, research has found. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong

The ABC's emergency broadcasting division is set to be broken up and roles returned to local radio teams under the restructure of the national broadcaster announced on Monday.

Broadcasting information during emergencies like bushfires is both expensive and priceless. The summer bushfire season just experienced across Australia added $3 million in costs to the ABC's bottom line.

Research commissioned by the ABC and submitted to the bushfire royal commission found the ABC saved lives during the fires, with 59 per cent of survey respondents in bushfire zones saying they acted on information from the ABC to ensure their personal safety or the safety of others.

Seven out of ten people surveyed said they acted on information from an ABC emergency broadcast or content.

Two roles are set to be made redundant under the plan, including the manager of emergency broadcasting, The Canberra Times understands.

An ABC spokesman said the broadcaster was still in consultation with staff and would not comment on individual employees.

"Any suggestion the ABC is reducing its emergency broadcasting capabilities is simply not true," the spokesman said.

"The proposed changes to our emergency broadcasting planning responsibilities and moving the emergency broadcasting team back into content areas would ensure local teams have greater control over this coverage during emergencies such as bushfires."

The spokesman said there would be "absolutely no change" to the way the ABC covers emergencies.

"In fact, we believe this proposal would provide an improved service without as many management layers between local decision-making and broadcast."

Controversy over the funding cuts to the national broadcaster continued on Thursday as Prime Minister Scott Morrison argued there had been no cut to funding.

Mr Morrison said the ABC's overall funding was increasing each year.

"There are no cuts," he told reporters in Sydney on Thursday.

ABC managing director David Anderson said on Wednesday that operational funding would be more than 10 per cent lower in 2021/22 than it was in 2013.

The overall amount the corporation receives from government will rise from $1.062 billion in 2019/20 to $1.071 billion in 2021/22.

But an indexation freeze in funding is set to cost the ABC $84 million over those three years.

After the freeze was announced in 2018, the organisation's then managing director Michelle Guthrie said the ABC had suffered $254 million in cuts since 2014.

The prime minister said journalists at the ABC had it better than colleagues in private outlets which have faced job losses as advertising revenues dry up.

"I've got to say if you're working in the media industry today, if you're a journalist today, the safest place for you to be is actually at the ABC because your revenue is guaranteed in that industry by the government," he said.

"For journalists working in so many other media companies, they are doing it really tough."

Mr Morrison also backed a push to have 75 per cent of content-makers located outside of the Ultimo headquarters in Sydney by 2025.

"We're trying to get the ABC out of Ultimo and into the rest of the country so I think that's a good change," he said.

Labor is pinning the job losses on the Morrison government.

"The media is in crisis. Scott Morrison should be strengthening ABC news, not gutting it," opposition communications spokesman Michelle Rowland said.

  • With AAP
This story ABC emergency broadcasting team to be restructured as part of funding cuts first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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