ABC now costs each Australian four cents a day – half of what it did 30 years ago

Article by Amanda Meade /
Guardian /
February 09, 2018 /
Click here to view original /

The ABC now costs every Australian just four cents a day, half what it cost in 1987 when the famous “eight cents a day” campaign was launched by then managing director David Hill.

“We’ve learned to do a lot with our few cents a day,” the ABC’s chief financial officer, Louise Higgins, told an audience of 400 members of the public in the ABC TV studio usually the domain of Tony Jones’ Q&A. “In other words, our per capita funding has halved in real terms.”

Unlike a Q&A program, the focus at this event, the ABC’s inaugural annual public meeting, was not on the public’s questions but on presenting a united and polished ABC – one that was so efficient with taxpayer’s funds it was even handing money back to government.

“By the end of 2018 our savings over the last the five years will have increased to $324m; of which we have handed back 78% to government and put the balance back into content for you, our audiences,” Higgins told the event.

Higgins was joined by the managing director, Michelle Guthrie, and the chairman, Justin Milne, and they all delivered upbeat speeches via the autocue while giant projections of ABC programs and personalities loomed behind them.

Like Mark Scott before her and Brian Johns before him, Guthrie is focused on digital platforms in the face of declining audiences for radio and television.

Although the ABC has just been restructured for the digital age, Milne promised there was more upheaval to come in the form of ABC 2.0, which would set Aunty up for the next 20 years.

“ABC 2.0 will use technology to transform the way we serve content to our audiences,” Milne said. “And it will change how our people operate, attracting the brightest creative and technical talent and making the ABC an even better place to work.”

The ABC also launched a new branding campaign “ABC Yours”, replacing “Our ABC” from 2014 and “Everyone’s ABC” from 2002.

The ABC creative director, Diana Costantini, said: “‘Yours’ might be a simple word but it certainly carries a lot of weight. It reminds us all, every day, that the work we do is for all Australians … The ABC belongs to Australia and ‘Yours’ sums that up.”

Hosted by the ABC News Breakfast co-anchor, Michael Rowland, the meeting was streamed live around the country and included live crosses from Rockhampton and Launceston.

A full hour passed before a single question was asked by the public. Over 90 minutes there were nine questions carefully chosen from 350 that were submitted online. Each executive got to answer one uninterrupted, with apparently rehearsed responses.

The questions were few but they were well chosen. Many of the audience’s common concerns came up, including the axing of Lateline, cuts to news and current affairs, the halving of PM and The World Today and the dumbing down of Radio National. Questioners also asked about funding, bias, in-house ads on TV and radio and too many repeats of programs.

“The last thing we want to do in ABC News is in any way dumb down anything for our audiences,” the director of news, Gaven Morris, said in response to a question about changes to the news division.

It was necessary, Morris said, to let go of “legacy” programs like Lateline – “created a generation ago” – to fund digital platforms and new programs such as those fronted by Stan Grant and Patricia Karvelas.

The head of radio, Michael Mason, assured the audience that Radio National still delivered world-class radio. He said Radio National had introduced a pop culture show to its lineup of books and arts.

“It can be perceived as dumbing down, but if you listen to our one called ‘Stop Everything’, it’s done by two presenters with PhDs Lauren Rosewarne and Benjamin Law,” Mason said.