Pacific leaders to raise ABC cuts with Aus government at Palau meeting | Asia Pacific

Pacific leaders to raise ABC cuts with Aus government at Palau meeting

Pacific leaders to raise ABC cuts with Aus government at Palau meeting

Updated 22 July 2014, 16:57 AEST

The impact of recently announced cuts to Radio Australia and other international services of the ABC looks set to be raised with Prime Minister Tony Abbott at next week's Pacific leaders meeting in Palau.

The proposed cuts will see programs axed, including Asia Pacific, and 80 jobs lost from services to the Pacific and Asia.

Correspondent: Jemima Garrett

Speaker: Ralph Regenvanu, Lands Minister, Vanuatu; Sean Dorney, Pacific Correspondent, Australia Network; Professor Stephen Howes, Development Policy Centre, Australian National University

GARRETT: The cuts are the ABC's response to the Australian government's decision in its May budget to cancel the $223 million ten-year contract for Australia Network Television.

That amounts to a 60 per cent cut to funding for the ABC's International services so some difficult decisions had to be made.

The proposed changes announced last week will see the ABC keep a 6-hour television service for the Pacific, to be called Australia Plus and its existing Australia Plus online and mobile services.

Radio Australia will continue as a 24-hour service with hourly news bulletins from 5am until 6pm but all its programs made for a Pacific audience, except Pacific Beat, will be axed and replaced by domestic ABC programming.

Pacific Beat will have reduced resources.

Vanuatu's Land's Minister, Ralph Regenvanu, is disappointed.

REGENVANU: We knew that there was going to be some cutting because of the statements by the government prior to the election. However, we were hoping it wasn't going to be this extensive, especially to the Pacific service because as you know throughout the Pacific often the services of ABC, Radio Australia are the services people use to access news, more than even our national broadcasters. In Vanuatu for example, in many places throughout the country they access news about the world, and even about Vanuatu, from the ABC because the reach of the national broadcaster Radio Vanuatu isn't as extensive as the ABC and often you can't get the same service you get in terms of news content.

GARRETT: All the ABC international division's correspondents, including its Pacific Correspondents and Canberra Correspondents will have their jobs abolished.

Multi-award winning Pacific Correspondent Sean Dorney is one of those facing redundancy.

DORNEY: It doesn't surprise me in the least that my job has been declared to be non-existent anymore because principally I was working for the Australia Network service and in the budget that was what was cut. So I have been the Australia Network Pacific Correspondent and I was pretty certain as a result of that budget cut my job would no longer exist but what does surprise me a little is that other jobs that weren't actually part of the Australia Network set up, but part of Radio Australia, have also gone in this rejuggling that the ABC has done to try and maintain some sort of a service across more than just radio

GARRETT: The Australian government's decision to end funding for the Australia Network was made after it had been angered by ABC reporting of Australian spying on Indonesia's President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and his inner circle.

But there was more to it than that. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop saw Australia Network as a poor use of the soft-power diplomacy dollar., There was criticism of the process for letting the Australia Network contract and Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull said with internet options available Australia Network's service had been 'overtaken by technology'.

Professor Stephen Howes, Director of the Development Policy Centre at the Australian National University, says the ABC has a particularly important role to play in the Pacific where media choices are thin on the ground, and he is taken aback by the proposed changes.

HOWES: I am pretty surprised and stunned to be honest. Obviously there had to be cuts with the loss of the network and I guess with the new era of integration that was going to have some spill over on to radio but we didn't expect the cuts of this size, especially too impact Pacific correspondents and programming. That is an are where we are very active in our research and where there are quite a large number of Australians interested in the Pacific, working on the Pacific and they really rely on Radio Australia to bring that news. While it is good that Pacific Beat has been spared it is very hard to see how Pacific Beat will continue to function with all the cuts to it and going on around it.

GARRETT: ABC Managing Director Mark Scott lobbied the government to save the ABC International television service. On budget night, he said the decision 'sends a strange message to the region that the government does not want to use the most powerful communication tools available to talk to our regional neighbours about Australia'.

The proposed changes have been put to staff for consultation. During that period Mr Scoot is unavailable for comment.

In documents given to staff, the ABC says the changes focus on maintaining and developing the services with the strongest audience engagement and the greatest potential for growth.

Vanuatu's Lands Minister Ralph Regenvanu says the cuts will affect Australia's relations with Pacific countries.

REGENVANU: There is going to be a reduced presence of Australia throughout the region because Radio Australia and ABC have been like the presence of Australia throughout the communities.

GARRETT: Is this issue likely to be raised with Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott at the Pacific Islands in Palau next week?

REGENVANU: Yes, I believe it is. I believe a number of leaders will be raising this issue in particular.

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