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Journalism

Nov 20, 2013

'I'm not happy': ABC staff scandalised as salaries revealed

The salaries of senior figures at the ABC have been leaked to The Australian -- and all hell has broken loose at Aunty today. Some staff think they're being underpaid, while there are concerns top journos will now be poached by commercial networks.

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ABC managing director Mark Scott has apologised to staff for a massive security breach that has led to the salaries of over one hundred employees being released to the media. The ABC will launch an investigation into the leak.

The list of ABC salaries, published in today’s Australian, is being scoured by ABC employees around the country and will give some staffers an upper hand in salary negotiations with the broadcaster. Phillip Adams, who has presented the popular Late Night Live program on Radio National for 22 years, is not included in the list of top paid employees. He tells Crikey he will raise the apparent discrepancy with management.

“I’m not happy … always accepted the fiction that we were paid much the same,” Adams said this morning by email. “[S]eems I’m heavily discounted. Half price. Will be discussing it with ‘upstairs’.”

Adams emphasised his remarks were “no joke”. Other staff — who feel they are being underpaid compared to their colleagues — are also likely to raise concerns with management.

In an email this morning, Mark Scott told ABC staff: “I want to apologise that information like this has not been securely managed. Staff are entitled to be concerned and upset. I have asked for a full and complete investigation about how this highly confidential material was accessed.”

The ABC’s investigation is expected to centre on the broadcaster’s payroll office in Adelaide. It has not escaped the ABC’s notice that the story was broken by South Australian political journalist Sarah Martin rather than one of the paper’s media reporters in Sydney or Melbourne.

According to the documents, which cover the 2011-2012 financial year, Q&A and Lateline host Tony Jones is the ABC’s highest paid journalist. The top 10 highest-paid journalists are:

  1. Tony Jones, Q&A and Lateline host, $355,789
  2. Juanita Phillips, newsreader, $316,454
  3. Quentin Dempster, 7.30 NSW host, $291,505
  4. Richard Glover, 702 Drive host, $290,000
  5. Jon Faine, 774 Mornings host, $285,249
  6. Leigh Sales, 7.30 host, $280,400
  7. Chris Uhlmann, 7.30 political editor, $255,400
  8. Fran Kelly, Radio National Breakfast host, $255,000
  9. Barrie Cassidy, Insiders and Offsiders host, $243,478
  10. Virginia Trioli, ABC News Breakfast host, $235,664

The ABC’s Ultimo headquarters are abuzz about some surprising anomalies in the pay rates for senior staff. 7.30 NSW host Quentin Dempster, for example, was paid more in 2011-12 than national 7.30 host Leigh Sales even though Sales’ program airs four nights a week compared to once for Dempster’s. 4 Corners star Sarah Ferguson didn’t make the list — despite her Walkley-winning scoops. And Virginia Trioli earns around $84,000 more than her ABC News Breakfast co-host Michael Rowland.

Chief online political reporter and Kitchen Cabinet host Annabel Crabb earned $217,426. Sports broadcaster Gerard Whateley is another top earner with $222,740.

In his email to staff, Mark Scott said that “some of the information is clearly wrong and other parts out-of-date”. Crikey understands the much-discussed $172,000 published salary for Scott’s executive assistant is incorrect. “It’s laughable,” a senior ABC source said, estimating it was double the actual figure.

Many in the ABC expressed surprise this morning at how little some well-known presenters are paid compared to hosts in the private sector.

Channel Seven news anchor Chris Bath reportedly earns $900,000 a year and Sunrise presenter David Koch $1 million. Karl Stefanovic and Tracy Grimshaw are said to earn $1 million plus at Channel Nine, with Today show co-host Lisa Wilkinson on around $750,000.

“The idea ABC people are paid extravagant salaries is crap,” a senior staffer said. “In commercial TV, presenters can earn three times as much.”

The ABC has long resisted freedom of information attempts for the information to be released on the grounds it would put the broadcaster at a disadvantage to its commercial rivals.

Michael Tull, the national president of the Community and Public Sector Union, which represents ABC employees, said:

“The only people who will benefit from these revelations are commercial media outlets who now know how much they have to put on the table in order to secure the services of the ABC’s top on air talent. Given the ABC’s pockets are not as deep as rivals, it is the ABC and the viewing public that stands to lose out. The ABC is the most transparent and scrutinised media organisation in the country and the publication of the salary details of hundreds of staff is both unwarranted and unnecessary.”

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