It is quite a few years since I was on the board of the ABC – yes, I know what you are thinking. Fat lot of good you did, Judith. And you are probably right.
But I just love the current efforts of the ABC to resist any meaningful disclosure of the pay packages of the top earning ABC ‘talent’. I hesistate to use the term worker or employee; certainly, in my day, quite a lot of the ‘talent’ was employed through service companies, which also employed members of their families. Even as a board member, it was difficult to extract any real information about the remuneration arrangements and levels of the radio and television presenters.
And yes, employing these people through service companies did probably make the ABC party to a form of tax avoidance, although the presenters would declare that they didn’t have any right of tenure as most ABC employees do. Mind you, I always thought that a number of these presenters were engaging in a high degree of hypocrisy by publicly banging on about the evils of individual contracts and WorkChoices while taking full advantage of individual contracts themselves.
THE ABC could be forced to disclose details of the pay packets of its top broadcasters and producers at programs such as Media Watch, Four Corners and Mornings with Jon Faine after it lost two appeals to block access to the information.
The national broadcaster received $1 billion in government funding in the last financial year and spent $486 million on wages and superannuation.
But the ABC does not want to provide a breakdown of who its biggest earners are.
The network lost its most recent appeal just before Christmas when the Administrative Appeals Tribunal ruled against it, rejecting the ABC’s arguments and saying some evidence it had put forward was not relevant and “of little assistance”.
A Freedom of Information request was lodged more than two years ago by the Herald and Weekly Times, seeking access to documents “dealing with salaries, or any payments” paid to program makers working on 13 programs, including those listed above, for the financial year ending 2010.
The ABC refused to hand over the documents, which include individual employment contracts, Australian Workplace Agreements, Individual Transitional Employment Agreements, pay slips and other “payment records”.
According to the ABC’s annual report for the 2012 financial year, 401 employees earned more than $150,000 each – an increase from 312 the previous year.
The ABC employs the equivalent of 4603 full-time employees.
You really have to laugh. According to the ABC Annual Report:
The ABC recognises its responsibility to the Australian people as a publicly-funded broadcaster, and adopts high standards of corporate governance.
Really? If it were to adopt high standards of corporate governance, it would not be fudging its remeration report, which is pretty much what was required of companies 15 years ago. All that can be found out are the earnings of the top six officers within bands and note that the term ‘officers’ excludes all presenters.
And openness and transparency as part of high standards of corporate governance? I don’t think so. Take these statements from the Annual Report.
The Freedom of Information Act 1982 (“FOI Act”) gives the public the right to access documents held by the ABC. During the past year, the ABC received 30 requests for access to documents under the FOI Act. One request was granted, four were granted in part, 20 were refused and one was withdrawn. Four requests were still being processed at the end of the financial year. Of the 20 requests which were refused, 16 were outside the scope of the FOI Act. Part IIof Schedule 2 of the FOI Act specifically excludes documents relating to the ABC’s program material from the operation of the FOI Act.
Prior to the launch of the revised ABC Editorial Policies in April 2011 (see page 85), the ABC Editorial Policies included an aim to respond to complaints within 28 days. Between 1 July 2010 and 30 June 2011, ABC Audience and Consumer Affairs responded directly to 17 241 audience contacts.Of these, 11 833 (68.6%) received responseswithin 28 days.
In other words, use every excuse under the sun to withhold information from FOI requests and dither away while ‘handling’ complaints. (Recall the Finkelstein suggestion that complaints be handled within days … sure.) Note also that less than 10 per cent of complaints are ‘upheld’.
I had also forgotten what an incredibly SELF-CONGRATULATORY organisation the ABC is. If anything, it seems worse than it was during my tenure on the board. (Incidentally, the staff’s attitude to the board was completely dismissive, along the lines … well, you are here for a short time, we are here for ever, so we will ignore you.)
The Strategic Plan 2010 –13 commits the ABC to striving to maintain its leadership position as aninnovative and independent media organisationserving the needs of all Australians. It sets out six high-level strategic goals for the ABC:
Audience focused—to provide a range of mediaexperiences to meet the needs and expectations of diverse audiences
High quality—to consistently deliver content which reflects the ABC’s commitment to quality, independence and high editorial standards
Innovative—to pursue new ideas, opportunities and partnerships, and grow our capabilities for the future
Values based—to demonstrate ABC Values in every aspect of our work
Efficient—to maximise the efficient and effective use of resources
Responsible—to be visible and active in the community, setting high standards of social,environmental and regulatory responsibility.
But here’s the rub – WHEN THE ABC MARKS ITSELF ON THESE CRITERIA (sub-categories, included), THERE IS NOT ONE AREA IN WHICH IT DOES NOT REGARD ITS PERFORMANCE AS EITHER SATISFACTORY OR OUTSTANDING. I am not making this up.
Where do you begin?
Another thought – gross misrepresentation by the ABC in its Annual Report.
“In real terms, the ABC’s operational revenue has declined over time.”
Actually, not since 1997-98, it has not. And there were special reasons for the high figures in the mid 1980s.
And note the use of operational revenue. The government is for ever kicking in extras here and there, including of coure the now uncontestible Australia Network, which are not counted as operational revenue.