Michelle Guthrie: ABC cut shortwave to operate within “funding envelop”

(Source: The Guardian via Phil Brennan)

The ABC’s managing director, Michelle Guthrie, has told Senate estimates she believes it is not her job to lobby government for more funding for the broadcaster but to work within the budget she is given.

Under questioning at a fiery Senate estimates committee, Guthrie revealed she saw her role as a manager rather than an advocate for more funding, a marked difference from her predecessor Mark Scott who was a consistent lobbyist for additional funding and critic of government cuts.

“On my second day in the job I was handed down the triennial funding in the May budget and as far as I’m concerned we operate within that three-year funding envelope,” Guthrie said.

Asked repeatedly if she believed it was her role to seek more funding to fulfil the ABC’s charter she said no because her focus was on providing content and operating efficiently.

[…]“I think what you’re asking is reasonably hypothetical. We are operating within the government’s funding envelope and making decisions on audience behaviour and technological advancement.”

She also refused to concede that anyone other than the 15 people who called the ABC to complain, or the 51 who gave submissions to a Senate committee, had been affected by the decision to scrap the shortwave radio service.

She appeared before a Senate estimates committee on Tuesday, answering questions about the decision to end the broadcasting of local radio through shortwave channels in the Northern Territory and Pacific region. The decision was been widely criticised, including by all major parties.

Guthrie was unable to provide evidence of prior consultation on the decision and claimed the ABC was not the official emergency broadcaster.

Asked by Greens senator Scott Ludlam about the “extraordinary cuts” to Radio National features, religion and music, Guthrie dismissed his premise, saying: “I wouldn’t characterise taking three music programs away from RN as an extraordinary decision.”[…]

Read the full article at The Guardian online…

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4 thoughts on “Michelle Guthrie: ABC cut shortwave to operate within “funding envelop”

  1. Ross Wood

    It seems implausible to me Michelle Guthrie claims 15 only complaints to the ABC, maybe they only recorded that number?
    Social media has made many peoples negative views on this matter clear……. it works for Trump!
    Is Guthrie acting for the current govt and its slash and burn approach to funding in order to improve their figures?
    Again this is very short sighted and may in time create costs in our influence in the Pacific, and the loss of transmission within outback areas may come back to haunt us in human terms considerably more than the short sighted financial savings.
    Newe Zealand a considerably smaller economy than Australia continues to see value in its Pacific transmissions and has made it clear it will continue its SW service for some time to come.
    The signal that ceasing R’ Australias SW service into the Pacific region does not endear us to a region our foreign minister Julie Bishop recently described as an important relationship with our close Pacific neighbours.
    Many Pacific islanders view NZ as their prime big brother, this is just more evidence of Australia’s disinterest in our region.
    Surely funding under well resourced DEFAT (dept foreign affairs and trade) could be used to fund this important service if ABC funding is insufficient.
    More complaints to local members please!

    1. RonF

      Those “15 complaints” are almost certainly only the officially presented & recorded individual complaints from people living/working within the NT (I think as much was admitted at the hearing). It almost certainly doesn’t include complaints from groups representing affected listeners (e.g. Ms Guthrie claimed no knowledge of either the representations made directly to her office, or the submission to the Estimates committee, from the NT Cattlemen’s Association), and is very also unlikely to include complaints made by social media, directly to the local offices (e.g. ABC Alice Springs & ABC Darwin), or by people in other states (such as those in northern SA & north-western Western Australia) who also relied on the ABC NT SW services.

      The number also won’t include listeners in areas with other MW/FM ABC Radio services (e.g. myself), or any RA listeners at all regardless of location.

      (By the way, video of the relevant Estimates session can be found at http://parlview.aph.gov.au/mediaPlayer.php?videoID=342225 starting around timecode 17:14:15)

      DFAT is unlikely to be able to help – it’s not really their direct remit, they’re starved of funding themselves (previous allocations from DFAT to RA & the Australia Network service were government grants administered by DFAT), and in general they’ve had their fingers burnt by such things previously (e.g. blamed for previous Australia Network contract failures).

      Are Ms Guthrie & the current board part of a general ‘slash & burn’ of the ABC? Probably.

      Is it a short-sighted decision? Yes, especially in regards to cutting the NT services _before_ their ‘suitable alternative services’ (i.e. mobile VAST receivers) were in place. (And yes, I’m well aware such receivers are unlikely to be a suitable alternative – unless they can magically be made to fit in a shirt pocket or swag, & operate with minimal setup.)

      Will it come back to haunt Australia? I think probably, at least in soft ways. I know people who were deployed to Timor Leste during the independence there, & the Solomons during the political unrest and after natural disasters, and they all recount how the locals stressed the importance of RA (& RNZI) when other communications were deliberately turned off or taken over by the military, or damaged by natural disasters.

  2. RonF

    I watched the relevant part of the Estimates hearing live the other day. Ms Guthrie in particular was absolutely hammered by the committee, looked completely unprepared for any sort of questioning, and kept wavering on the figures (e.g. initially she mentioned only 15 complaints; at other times it was 14 or 12).

    It did raise a number of other interesting questions, though, which the committee members are now aware of (e.g. the ABC stated the BoM broadcasts were a substitute for weather/disaster info, but the only ones I know of are maritime weather & conditions targeted at coastal & offshore shipping).

    The only solid answer she had was at the end when asked if the decision would be reversed: “No.”


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