The ABC’s most senior local television producer says the cuts to the national broadcaster’s South Australian operations will be devastating for the local industry.
The SA-based executive producer of television factual, Margot Phillipson, told InDaily that yesterday’s cuts were “disturbing” in their lack of transparency.
Phillipson, a 37-year ABC veteran, said the loss of the ABC’s in-house production capacity would be “devastating” for the local film and television industry.
In yesterday’s announcement to staff across the country, ABC managing director Mark Scott confirmed what many had speculated for weeks – the South Australian television production unit at ABC’s Collinswood Studios will close.
In a statement to staff Scott said: “Our aim in delivering the savings required by the Federal Government is to focus primarily on overheads and back-office functions. But, as I have stressed repeatedly over the past few months, there is no simple quarantining formula for cost-cutting.”
It is expected that around 40 people will lose their jobs in South Australia; according to Phillipson only four of them are in ‘back room’ jobs. The majority holds positions where they are producing television, radio or online material.
“They are all directly related to content and that content is very much influenced by what happens in South Australia,” Phillipson told InDaily. “People here who have been targeted, only four of them are back room – all the rest are directly involved in content making. So the lack of transparency to understand what his actual real plan is is somewhat disturbing.”
Phillipson conceded there were some savings to be made from outsourcing production to the independent sector. However, she said that programs her team has produced have made substantial sales, some earning twice their production budgets.
“I don’t know if they’ve ever actually factored in the money that comes in the back end,” she said. “Most of the programs we’ve made in South Australia have sold and sold overseas. I also think that it is quite difficult for programs or production companies who haven’t done a lot of work for television to turn around and make a cost-effective program.”
She argues that programs like The Cook and the Chef and Poh’s Kitchen could not be made under an independent production model. This model currently sees the ABC pay a license fee to an independent production company to make a program or series. This fee is only a percentage of the overall budget, leaving the production company to make up of the remainder with investment from Screen Australia, the South Australian Film Corporation and private investors. However, the government agencies do not invest in lifestyle or cooking programs.
“The Cook and the Chef is very much a regional production, only made because it had a local person who can work it, who can present it. Same with Poh’s Kitchen. The ability to get those programs up on to the ABC has decreased and the rate of external production that comes from South Australia that gets up on the ABC is pretty slight.
“My plan is to prod Mark Scott and Richard Finlayson (ABC Director of Television) when they are here (today) and try and see if we can get some affirmative action to help get production up in South Australia again for the independents. I’m really keen to find where I can work for the producers, because the producers in here have got such a wealth of experience. They are really good at what they do and they’re so versatile.
“We’ve been so lucky to have this opportunity to work in this little area and had such fantastic programs to work on. You can’t but think it’s got to be going somewhere. It’s not just going to die because our jobs at the ABC are dying.”
Phillipson said staff were prepared for the announcement on Monday.
“We all heard half an hour beforehand so we knew what was coming,” she said.
“I think people just took it in their stride and started to think about what it really meant for them. There was the worry that they’d be immediately put off.”
While there were no tears in the room at the announcement of redundancies she did notice some of her colleagues disappear for a while. The tears that did flow were for one ABC worker whose job had been saved.
“I think that affected us more than anything,” she recalled. “(It) was so good to have the good news of someone who’s had a tough time and was absolutely devastated about losing their job, hadn’t lost it. That’s when the tears flowed.
“When I found out one of my colleagues in Melbourne had two weeks and he’s gone I have to say that shook me up. I found that hard. But it’s worse in the private sector – in the private sector you get marched out the door.”
Phillipson believes her staff had been aware for some time that the news was inevitable.
“It’s not a shock on the intellectual level but it’s a total shock on the emotional level,” she said. “People are pretty strong, but there’s probably tears at home.”
As for her own future, local production will continue until May-June next year. After that, it seems unlikely her position will be required.
Scott was interviewed on ABC 891 breakfast today and defended himself against accusations that he was creating a “Sydney-centric” ABC.
He said he was a “fan” of the internal television production in South Australia but he needed to find more efficient ways to produce content.
“I’ve supported the team here,” he said. “We’ve tried hard to keep the studio open but when you’re dealing with a $250 million funding cut and you need to save more money to reinvest in the online and mobile future of the organisation to ensure that we remain strong and relevant and compelling you sometimes have to go to those list of things that have never been top of your priority.”
Scott said the ABC would continue to make programs around the country by working with independent producers.
“It strikes me it’s somewhat of an insular ABC mindset that says the focus of all this needs to be on programs that are made by people, say, who are employed in this building,” he said.
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