‘Ignoring facts’: Q&A host fires up
Tensions ran high on Monday's Q&A panel after a question about recently-announced cuts to the Australian public broadcaster, the ABC.
The question came from a young girl named Matilda Drage and was aimed at Communications Minister, Paul Fletcher.
She asked why some people including her "favourite presenter, Pip," have lost their jobs at the children's channel of the national institution.
"Mr Fletcher, have you actually watched ABC Me? It is really good and they should get the money they need," she said.
Host Virginia Trioli asked Mr Fletcher if he was willing to "reinstate some ABC funding" seeing as he was in a "generous mood'.
Mr Fletcher responded by going into a lengthy spiel about "operational editorial and financial independence of ABC board and management" and claimed funding for the public broadcaster had increased under the federal government.
"The facts are the ABC has secure funding," he told the audience.
"We're in the first year of a three-year period of ABC funding increasing every year over that period. The ABC has been aware of its funding since the current arrangements were announced in 2018. Board and management then are charged with making decisions in relation to how they allocate that funding."
At this point ABC panel host Virginia Trioli cut the minister off, accusing him of "ignoring the facts".
"The decisions were made because of a cut," she said.
"It's not a cut. It's not a cut. It's going up," Mr Fletcher responded, as the audience groaned.
Trioli hit back: "I don't know how much more time I want to give to this backwards and forwards about it, but the funding simply has not gone up over that period. In fact, it's going down."
Former Labor leader Bill Shorten then chimed in, holding up a section of the 2018 Budget Paper, which he had brought in and highlighted to use as a prop.
"This is Page 72, and the highlighted bit, it says 'reduction'," he said.
"This is a reduction in spending on the ABC by $83.7 million over the next three years. If you don't believe Ita Buttrose and the National Party leader of New South Wales, this is in the Budget Paper."
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Trioli then went on to quote a series of figures disputing Mr Fletcher's claims, before accusing him of "ignoring the facts" and "getting cute" with his claim that funding was rising.
"The total budget will still not recover to the level as far off as 2022-23 and remains lower than 2018-19 for four years. That's what I call a cut," she said.
When Mr Fletcher once again claimed it wasn't so, she cut him off, saying: "The figures are here. We can't waste any more time. I'll go to our next question."
Viewers at home appreciated her efforts, saying she was "on fire" and "killing it" as host.
Last week the ABC announced it would axe up to 250 jobs and end programs to counter a budget shortfall of $84 million.
The network's website reports that ABC managing director David Anderson has announced 75 per cent of ABC content-makers would be based outside of Sydney by 2025. The network's travel budget will also decrease by 25 per cent.
Plans are in place to reduce the number of original episodes of Australian Story and Foreign Correspondent that are produced each year, as well as reduced funding for independent production.
The national broadcaster has urged the government against pursuing any further budget cuts.
Appearing on the ABC's Insiders program on Sunday, Mr Fletcher defended not passing on a request from the ABC's managing director for extra regional funding during last summer's bushfire season.
"Agencies within a minister's portfolio routinely put proposals," he said.
"That's as it should be. Not every proposal that comes forward gets supported.
The show's host David Speers said he had obtained a letter from the NSW Nationals leader John Barilaro to the prime minister and deputy prime minister saying ignoring this funding request for regional areas was "incomprehensible".
"There is no cut. Funding is stable," Mr Flectcher said in response. "We've got the $50 million public interest news gathering program in regional Australia for television, radio and newspapers."
The Australian media sector has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic with job cuts at a number of companies across the Australian media spectrum.
On Monday evening it was announced the future of the AAP newswire was assured after a sale to a consortium of new owners after a deal with current shareholders, including Nine and News Corp.
Following an announcement in March that the newswire would close, the consortium was concerned about the impact on Australian journalism and shared a desire to retain the agency.
"A desire to protect media diversity in Australia through ensuring the long-term sustainability of the AAP newswire and its provision of independent, quality journalism on issues that should matter to all Australians," the group said in a statement of its motivation to purchase the business.
The consortium, led by Nick Harrington, is made up of a number of people including philanthropist John McKinnon, and has been supported by senior media executive Peter Tonagh.
The new-look AAP, directed by CEO Emma Cowdroy and editor Andrew Drummond, will continue to produce content including breaking and world news, sport, court and political reporting, plus photography and a FactCheck service.
Changes to the business are expected to be finalised ahead of settlement on July 31.
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News Corp is publisher of News.com.au.
Originally published as 'Ignoring facts': Q&A; host fires up