Coalition rejects ABC cries

by Chris Griffith
Published 25 February 1996 in The Sunday Mail


my face


The federal coalition yesterday rejected concern that the ABC had genuine financial problems in implementing new programs to replace axed state editions of The 7.30 Report.

The coalition's comment follows the ABC's disclosure yesterday that budgetary restraints had caused the corporation to cut its new Brisbane-produced Australian Correspondent program from one hour to around 30 minutes. It is understood the program will go to air in late April.

The ABC's national head of news and current affairs, Paul Williams, said he wanted to assess pilots of Australian Correspondent before deciding its timeslot and its eventual duration.

"There is no doubt I am worried about the budget for ABC television news and current affairs," he said.

Australian Correspondent's funding woes follows similar concerns about Stateline, another new ABC program which was operating on a shoe-string budget of just $700 per week in Queensland.

The national 7.30 Report, Australian Correspondent, and Stateline were three programs ABC managing director Brian Johns announced last year after a community backlash against the axing of the seven state 7.30 Reports.

The addition of Stateline and Australian Correspondent to the ABC's lineup was designed to counter criticism that the ABC would no longer provide adequate state and regional programming.

Yesterday coalition communications spokesman Senator Richard Alston said he did not believe the ABC had a genuine financial problem in fully funding either program.

"It is a conscious choice of the ABC not to fund these programs, I don't accept they have a genuine budget problem. It's about priorities", he said.

Senator Alston said an incoming coalition government would ensure the ABC remained committed to covering state and regional affairs.

The chairman of the Queensland Friends of the ABC, Dr George Blair-West, yesterday called for the immediate quadrupling of the ABC's $700 weekly budget for Stateline.

Mr Blair-West said the ABC was insulting viewers by claiming that Stateline was an adequate replacement for the Queensland 7.30 Report, despite the best intentions of the journalists.

He said Stateline's $700 budget was in contrast to the ABC's spending on "some Sydney-based productions".

Mr Blair-West said the ABC programming budget was paying the price for the corporations excesses of the past, especially its Pay TV venture, its defunct Broadcast News Australia (BNA) news copy service, and the blowout in its Australian Television (ATV) service.

A spokesperson for communications spokesman Michael Lee said the federal government would not comment on ABC programming which were an internal ABC matter.