ABC staff warned: prepare for the worst

ABC staff have been warned to prepare for painful budget cuts, job losses and the "tragedy" of the government scrapping the Australia Network international broadcasting service.

In an email to ABC employees, ABC board member and veteran journalist Matt Peacock argues even a small reduction to ABC funding will threaten jobs and lead to cutbacks in regional areas. He also says the ABC is being targeted by the Murdoch press, which he claims has a commercial agenda to limit the public broadcaster's reach.

"It looks like a difficult road ahead," Mr Peacock writes in the email, which warns of a "serious threat to jobs and our continued growth".

"These are tense times at the national public broadcaster, with sustained attacks by the Murdoch media, politicians and others," he writes. "Worse may be to come."

Fairfax Media has reported the government is considering applying an "efficiency dividend" to the broadcaster and ABC executives have been planning how they would cope with budget cuts of 10 per cent and upwards.

Mr Peacock's intervention, which was cleared for release by ABC chairman James Spigelman, highlights the concern within the broadcaster about next week's federal budget. These are Mr Peacock's first public comments since he joined the board as staff-elected director last April.

While noting the Coalition promise not to cut ABC funding during the 2013 election, Mr Peacock writes: "Any cuts will have major effects. There is no real flexibility within current services to trim 'fat'. We have already seen the result of previous cuts. Inevitably, they increase centralised production from Sydney, with a corresponding cutback to regional and state-based facilities and less local output.

"Already the Commission of Audit has signalled that the $30m provided by the previous government to pay for news initiatives and digital costs will not be ongoing. That money will have to be found from somewhere else if our output in these areas is to continue."

Mr Peacock, best known for exposing the dangers of James Hardie's use of asbestos, writes that real budget cuts over three decades have already left the ABC "a shell of its former self".

He also addresses speculation the government will axe the $223 million Australia Network.

"Australia Network has just secured the biggest coup of any western media - access to the entire Chinese audience through web-based services, as well as a similar deal with Indonesia," he writes.

"It would be a tragedy to waste these successful initiatives. However, if the government does walk away from its contract with the ABC for this service, some job losses seem inevitable."

Mr Peacock writes the network has been targeted by the "Murdoch media".

"Murdoch has a clear agenda - he wants it for his own commercial service," he writes.

Britsh broadcaster BSkyB, part owned by Rupert Murdoch's 21st Century Fox, is a co-owner of Sky News, which competed with the ABC for the Australia Network tender.

Mr Peacock urges his colleagues to provide "independent, accurate and impartial coverage" amid any budgetary pressures or attacks from commercial outlets.

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The story ABC staff warned: prepare for the worst first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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