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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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31 comments

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31 thoughts on “‘I’m not happy’: ABC staff scandalised as salaries revealed

  1. Merve

    I am puzzled at just what The Oz was trying to achieve with this article. All I can see is that the ABC manages to have some of the best talent in this country for much less than commercial stations would pay. Their war on the ABC is bizarre.

  2. NasaPJN

    Guess these guys now know how Tony Abbott feels when things get leaked. Maybe the “outraged” few should speak with Snowden……. 🙂

  3. puddleduck

    The Australian continues its ideological attack on the ABC, at Rupert’s behest, no doubt. If he can’t demolish the ABC via favourable appointments to the board, perhaps he wants to assist competitors lure the talent away? Or by infighting amongst the talent.

    The ABC salaries are nice, considering they don’t work a full year. But I don’t begrudge most of them – good operators who do good work in the public interest.

    Appalled that Chris Bath gets nearly $1million a year. What is wrong with this country?

  4. Mark from Melbourne

    When can we expect to see News publish their staff and management’s salaries?

  5. Mark from Melbourne

    Oh and News could perhaps try and be better at what they do rather than just whinge about ABC. The amount of money they have spent on their web presence is many times what ABC has spent, it’s just that they’ve done a crap job and wasted most of it on consultants and re-designs.

  6. stephen Matthews

    Tony Jones is clearly underpaid

  7. Nici

    The Oz is doing what The Times did in the UK in the lead up to their election and in the aftermath: seeking to undermine the state-funded broadcaster because it is a serious competitor to the News empire.
    The revenge theory posed by NasaPJN is also very interesting. Although why the OZ would consider itself to be on Abbott’s side, when it claimed only to be holding the previous government to account, is anyone’s guess.

  8. Bill Laswelll

    @merve – see above comment for oz’s motivation.

  9. Dennis Bauer

    The breakup of the ABC starts,it will be interesting to see if the Murdoch press end’s up with it eventually.
    divide and conquer, works every time.

  10. Dogs breakfast

    I’m looking forward to an expose by the Australian on the salaries of their senior staff splashed on the front page.

  11. Aphra

    The really surprising thing is that most of those named, who are so very good at what they do, are paid so very little.

  12. zut alors

    This reeks of ratings envy from the Murdoch camp. Lachlan is aware even if Ten Network on-air ‘talent’ was paid five times Tony Jones’s salary they still wouldn’t get an audience. It’s doubtful even Lachlan can bear to watch ‘Wake Up’.

    Several of the ABC staff listed deserve more than the figures being touted.

  13. Merve

    @BL. Sure, I understand the OZ war on the ABC, I can’t understand why they think showing how relatively poorly paid good talent is at the ABC, compared to the commercial media where no talent airheads get paid multiples of the ABC salaries.

  14. Bob the builder

    I can’t believe the union would support keeping salaries secret! Everyone’s salary should be public knowledge – and, at least at the top, they should be a lot lower, $200K+ is obscene for anyone to be earning. No wonder they’re so out of touch with ordinary people.
    As for Philip Adams whingeing about his pay not being as high as others – he’s already rich, why would he want more just so he can win a pissing contest?

  15. Gary Gaunt

    Here’s a great fun game for Crikey to sponsor,

    Ask Crikey readers, who as a cohort are a bit smarter then the average, to rearrange the salaries of the persons in the order they think they should be.

    And include Phillip Adams at a nominal $200,000 of interest. Personally I think he is worth any two of the others.

  16. Joel B1

    Funny how lefties don’t or can’t grasp the difference between paid-for-by-the-public and private.

    I guess that’s why Crikey has so few subscribers.

  17. klewso

    “Class warfare” – it’s terrible isn’t it, the way Labor uses it?

  18. Merve

    Love the headline for the article.

    “On air and off, the ABC spares no expense on its stars”

    Spares no expense. Seriously???

  19. PhilGC

    Comparisons with commercial media are spourious. This is an apparent star chamber anointing needy individuals over others. If the majority of these people have a market value why don’t we let them go to the market, and see how long they retain value. This is not to disparage obvious skills but if it takes silly money for certain individuals to retain a comittment to public broadcasting and the organisation chooses to secretly reward vanity and conceit then we are in trouble. This will explain why a senior regional ABC journo is lucky to get $50,000 a year and true local content is at a minimum.

  20. Nick the Hippy

    An exclusive by the Australian. They reveal what real journalists get paid.

  21. Brad

    They’re all overpaid except for Philip Adams. In contrast a senior research scientist with a PhD and 15 – 20 years experience can expect 120-150k. I fail to see why so much value is put on reading a TelePrompTer. I suspect there are plenty of capable people able and willing to do their jobs for half the pay. Funny thing, the value put on different jobs.

  22. Merve

    These guys do more than read a teleprompt.

    In breaking news, Rupert pays his ex wife 1.5 billion dollars to divorce him.

  23. Deipnosoph

    Joel B1 – you’re amongst thinkers here.

    We’re satisfied that the Senate has looked into whether ABC salaries should be disclosed, and they decided that it wouldn’t serve the public interest. You will have noted from this article that it will lead to higher salaries, and loss of talent.

    I actually always feel sorry for subscribers to The Oz. Have you ever seen their comments section? Not many thinkers there.

  24. Damian Lloveda

    This is great. Open governance is great.
    If the ABC’s salaries are released and private media think they can cherry pick individuals for lower pay.
    Great, i want public interest journalism – from people who care about subject matter and working for the public broadcaster. I myself would rather be paid 200 000 than 1 million if it were for the public good.

  25. bluepoppy

    It’s not that ABC staff are paid too much, more the commercial networks overpaid.

  26. leon knight

    I am struggling to think of a single commercial news or current affairs presenter that comes near any of these ABC people for talent (bar Chris Uhlman who struggles a bit to maintain balance),at any price.
    I would hope that they will all resit poaching and stick with the ABC because of the prestige and satisfaction that comes with doing a good job, free of editorial influence and commercial pressure to manipulate the truth.

  27. AR

    I’d like to know what Gerontius is paid for his curmudgeonly appearances (can’t call them ‘contributions’)on Inciters and how many stars his o/n Melbourne hotel suite rates – no way that he flies down on Sunday mornings for the show.
    I’ve given up hoping to know how his one “manwatch dog” Institute is funded.

  28. Kevin Herbert

    I worked on a failed daily morning business program on the 7 Network in the late 80’s.

    The host was on $200K + a performance bonus…and that’s 25 years ago.

    Nine’s breakfast program co-host Lisa Wilkinson is on $600K pa plus a bonus…and she was recently crying into her notes giving the Andrew Olle lecture about the difficulty for female journos.

    If you’re on the tele every night during prime time, you should be on at least $750K pa.

    Extremely Little Timmy Bailey – 10 Evening News’ weather spruiker – is on $750K…ask him.

    The ABC pays peanuts.

  29. Itsarort

    Hmm, and where do those commercial channels get all that money to pay their presenters such whopping salaries…? Commercials! And who pays for the commercials…? Yep, the consumer. The average punter gets a lot more bang for his buck from Aunty that’s for sure.

  30. condel

    The numbers are frankly consistent with the ABC being frugal.

  31. Jayden

    Good to see more transparency – paid incomes of politicians, corporate executives, royalty, movie stars, public servants, entertainers, nurses, school teachers, tradespeople, shop attendants and commercial media broadcasters are often published – Why not ABC media broadcasters? Transparency in paid incomes for Union Officials would be an interesting disclosure, we might see ABC media broadcasters pursuing a different discipline.

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