A meeting of about 60 Radio National staff in Ultimo on Thursday unanimously passed a motion expressing “lack of confidence” in the senior management of ABC Radio.
The wording of the motion outlines four areas of concern to staff, and it calls on the Community and Public Sector Union to immediately convey staff concerns to ABC boss Michelle Guthrie and the ABC’s staff-elected board director, Matthew Peacock. It follows a period of upheaval at Radio National — last week, the ABC revealed seven potential redundancies in the division to staff, including the departure of veteran ABC broadcaster John Cleary, who was the ABC’s staff-elected board director for three years from 1988. Radio National has a new boss in former Sydney Morning Herald editor Judith Whelan — expectations were high upon her arrival earlier this month that she had been brought in to oversee a period of change, which appears to be what is happening.
The areas of concern highlighted by the motion are:
“1. The continuing erosion of specialist programming in music, features and religion is a serious breach of the ABC Charter and a disservice to the Australian audiences that the ABC is funded to serve.
“2. A systemic failure on the part of the senior Radio management to genuinely engage or listen to the professional advice of Radio National staff about major change including the recently announced cuts to ABC jobs and programs.
“3. The unnecessary introduction of inefficient and additional layers of senior Radio management in program areas — we need staff who actually make programs not more managers.
“4. The erosion of the editorial and managerial responsibilities of Executive Producers and Content Directors.”
Radio National is primarily represented by the CPSU. But the ABC’s other staff union, the Media, Arts and Entertainment Alliance, has also expressed concern on behalf of its members, last week calling on the ABC to explain its radio strategy after recent changes. That statement read that “MEAA members at the ABC are deeply concerned at the latest cuts and are particularly disappointed that such a major management decision was released via press release, without any real consultation with the staff or audience members. The proposal appears at odds with recent assurances given by Guthrie to federal senators that no programming changes at RN were being considered.”
That was prompted by the release of ABC Radio’s 2017 schedule, which confirmed the axing of all music programs on Radio National, as well as the axing of the four-hour Sunday Nights religious program, which was helmed by Cleary (the ABC has announced a replacement tentatively called ‘God Forbid’). A follow-up meeting about the announcements on Tuesday was, Crikey has been told, rather heated.
In April, several of the ABC’s most high-profile radio presenters filed a joint letter to the ABC board protesting a new top-heavy management structure that introduced several new executive positions to the division, at an estimated cost of between $500,000 and $1 million. Asked about the high cost of the new roles, an ABC spokesperson told Crikey that “the outlay we’ve made into all new and upgraded roles represents a modest investment against the saving we need to make for reinvestment into content”.