Public dismayed: ABC cuts to go ahead

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By Alec Nejad

Rolling down Fitzroy street on a typically sunny Autumn morning in St Kilda, Melbourne University Professor Ken Inglis, wheelchair bound yet passionate octogenarian, led the charge of public broadcasting enthusiasts to the steps of Melbourne Ports MP, Michael Danby’s office.

Many came dressed as iconic ABC characters like Bananas in Pyjamas or simply with their canines in hand going for a walk, testament to their simplicity and down to earth nature of the typical ABC fan. Above all they came and did so in peace and with goodwill.

In their hands they held a message, signed by over a quarter a million other passionate supporters, with one goal in mind, to save their beloved ABC network from anticipated budget cuts. Alas, their message may have come too little or too late, or the writing may have already been on the wall.

With Tuesday night’s budget announcement, drastic staff and programming cuts for the Australian Broadcasting Network now look to be inevitable. With a major $220 million dollar contract to run the Australia Network and a one per cent budget slash on the cards, these cuts are unlikely to go unnoticed by the nearly 90 per cent of Australians who view the ABC’s content as valuable, surmises ABC’s managing director Mark Scott who also stopped short of labelling the budget’s impact on his network as undemocratic, “..a commitment was made in advance of the election of no funding cut to the ABC”, Scott equally disappointed by the governments lack of proper consultation prior to making such hard hitting and decisive decisions.

Wednesday’s demonstrators will no doubt be left reeling. Many would have expected this and be too demoralised to keep up the fight, others will regroup and plan their next move. It all began late last year when Australian activist group, GetUp, launched an online petition in support of public broadcasters like the ABC and SBS.

The petition still online is growing in names by the day and is only likely to continue steadfast in retaliation of Tuesdays budget bombshell. GetUp’s national director even chimed in to make mention of the petitions success: “This is the fastest growing petition we’ve ever had and its on the way to being our biggest, which underlines just how seriously Australians take this threat to their ABC.”

Michael Danby will also need to allay the fears of many of his constituents, 3,700 of which signatures were present on the petition he received. Once such constituent, Judy Turner, who got involved to highlight the networks importance in her community will no doubt have many questions. The issues importance evidenced by GetUp’s finding that the issue of cuts and privatisation of public broadcasters ranked as a top four issue for Danby’s electorate.

With over 60 petition deliveries that took place in cities and regional towns across every state and territory last week, including vital electorates of ministerial decision makers, Turnbull, Hockey, and Abbott, one can be forgiven for losing faith in the democratic process all together. Nevertheless, voices boomed and feet stamped across the country, and at the very least public broadcasting and media issues will stand alongside health, education, and welfare in future budget discussions and debates. Politicians take note.

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