Victorians will lose one of their mainstays of statewide news with the axing of the ABC's flagship 7.45am radio news bulletin, as federal government budget cuts bite deeper into the national broadcaster.
Ballarat ABC Friends have lashed the deep cuts, saying they will make it almost impossible to deliver the vital news service that more than 77 per cent of people rely on for accurate information.
The ABC will also slash up to 250 jobs as it grapples to deal with $84 million sliced from its funding. ABC Life will be rebranded, ABC Comedy repurposed and underperforming news programs reviewed.
No division will be spared as the broadcaster tries to save $40 million under a five-year plan as it battles to deal with operational funding that in real terms will be more than 10 per cent lower in 2021/22 than it was in 2013.
Community advocate and Ballarat ABC Friends member David McPhail said the losses to the national broadcaster were all the more painful given how almost three quarters of Australians trusted it as an independent news source.
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Mr McPhail writes in an opinion piece on the latest blow to the national broadcaster that he sees the insidious hand of right-wing think-tank the IPA and its ongoing efforts to privatise the ABC.
"Never in the history of our media have so many newspapers been temporarily or permanently closed, and with commercial radio and television cutting expenses, including their news services, and the possible trimming of AAP despite it surviving, has there been such an overwhelming need to have a strong ABC," Mr McPhail said.
"Our democracy depends on a strong, independent and properly funded ABC."
ABC managing director David Anderson said on Wednesday: "This is a difficult time for us, as it is for the broader economy and community as we all struggle with the events of this year".
ABC journalist Sarah Gerathy lamented the end of the popular 7.45am bulletin.
"Heartbroken to see that the most relevant, comprehensive radio news bulletin in the country, the ABC's 7.45am news bulletin, is being consigned to the scrapheap," she said. "A treasured part of so many people's morning from Prime Ministers to pensioners."
Mr Anderson said the audience for the 7.45am bulletin had declined. "The task that we have is to find savings as well as invest in services to the future."
Communications Minister Paul Fletcher welcomed the new digital focus of the ABC and backed plans to move three-quarters of content-making staff out of the ABC's headquarters in Ultimo, Sydney, by 2025.
"Sydney is not Australia," he said.
Labor leader Anthony Albanese said the ABC wasn't Sydney-centric and its summer bushfire coverage saved lives.
"It is appalling that the government hasn't recognised that," he said. "Democracy can't be taken for granted - it's fragile in many parts of the world. I think the ABC has a critical role."
The Community and Public Sector Union spokesman Sinddy Ealy said it was utter madness for the government to be forcing job cuts during the coronavirus-induced recession. The union wants the government to halt its $84 million funding freeze for the ABC.
The Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance said the broadcaster was already doing more with less.
"These vindictive cuts have been ideologically motivated to undermine the ABC's independence and its news-gathering ability," CEO Paul Murphy said.
ABC Life will become ABC Local, which will cost half those staff their jobs as content is sourced from across the broadcaster. The ABC's property portfolio will also go under the microscope, with management hoping to relocate or lease unused office space.