The ABC has scrapped its last regular arts programme and cancelled its in-house arts productions, in a move described by the union representing ABC employees as "cultural vandalism".
The broadcaster's cost-cutting drive has claimed the scalp of Art Nation, the weekly half-hour magazine programme presented by Fenella Kernebone. Production on programmes making up the ABC's Sunday afternoon Artscape block has been halted, with future arts documentaries to be outsourced to the private sector.
The ABC also confirmed this afternoon that The New Inventors would not return next year.
Dozens of employees at the corporation have already lost their jobs or been offered redundancies in recent weeks. It is expected that more cuts to jobs and programming will be announced in the near future.
In an interview on the ABC's PM programme, the ABC's director of television Kim Dalton defended the decisions. He said that the ABC would "moving some of those resources [currently used for Sunday afternoon production] into increased primetime arts programming".
"We haven't axed our arts programming at all... in the primetime area, we have increasingly been commissioning programmes and working in partnership with independent producers across all our genres," he said.
But in a statement issued this afternoon, the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) condemned what it described as an "ideologically driven approach" pursued by Dalton. It said that the axing of the programmes raised serious questions about whether the ABC was violating its legislative charter.
"ABC staff have been gutted by this decision. They are personally committed to delivering the quality content that has made the ABC one of Australia's most important and respected cultural institutions," said Graeme Thomson, the union's secretary for the ABC.
"The cutting of Art Nation, the ABC's only remaining television arts programme, is an act of cultural vandalism."
Thomson said that the ABC was being "reduced to a mere transmission tower, broadcasting the same material from the same production houses used by commercial channels".
"What angers ABC staff is that they have been set up for failure. The internal programs have been starved of funds and promotion budgets, while external productions have had funds lavished on them and have been heavily marketed by the ABC."
The community group Friends of the ABC echoed the union's criticisms. Glenys Stradijot, a spokesperson for the group, said that the in-house production cuts were "an abrogation of the broadcaster's charter responsibilities" and warranted an inquiry into the ABC's operations.
"The ABC was envisaged as a producer of programs of cultural value and intellectual integrity. Instead it is being transformed into a platform for carrying commercial content. This is privatisation by stealth," she said.
Concerns about the ABC's commitment to arts programming emerged as early as 2009, when the broadcaster announced that it would be replacing the hour-long Sunday Arts programme with the half-hour Art Nation. The corporation portrayed that decision as being part of a shift toward giving the ABC a more substantial online arts presence.
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