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Ita Buttrose lashes government over handling of ABC funding cuts

“We raised a number of issues but were particularly interested in seeing ‘the information – data, models and assumptions – which formed the basis for the savings estimates provided in the report’,” Ms Buttrose wrote.

“I appreciate you have a busy schedule but we would appreciate an answer to our queries.”

Ms Buttrose said several media reports, which ABC management believes were informed by Mr Fletcher, had suggested the ABC “had neglected to ‘collaborate more closely with SBS'”.

“This is incorrect,” Ms Buttrose wrote. “David Anderson has had several conversations with SBS about sharing costs”.

A Peter Tonagh-led review of the public broadcasters was handed to the Morrison government in March last year, but its details were kept confidential as the ABC developed plans to cut costs. Some recommendations – such as an increased focus on digital growth, improving the ABC’s iview platform and reducing investment in products that are not central to the ABC charter – were effectively adopted in the plan announced yesterday, but an ABC spokesman said that if all had been implemented there would have been more cuts.

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In the September correspondence between the pair, Ms Buttrose said the board said several proposals in the review “lack enough detail to allow an evaluation of whether the suggested savings can be realised”.

“In some cases, the savings estimates are presented in aggregate for the two national broadcasters and it is unclear what proportion of them has been attributed to the ABC, rather than SBS,” she said.

In particular, the review estimates that the national broadcasters could together save “a minimum of $45 million” by reducing multichannel services and “between $80 million and $115 million per annum” through focusing expenditure on what it characterises as “core” activities and a greater focus on digital delivery.

“However, it provides no information as to how these figures were derived or the proportions attributed to the ABC,” she said. Sources said Ms Buttrose had also raised the issue with Mr Fletcher at a face-to-face meeting between the pair at ABC’s Ultimo headquarters on Tuesday.

Mr Fletcher and Prime Minister Scott Morrison staunchly defended the level of funding provided to the ABC, insisting the government has not cut its budget, and backed the national broadcaster’s efforts to be more focused on regional and suburban Australia.

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“There are no cuts … the ABC’s funding is increasing every year,” Mr Morrison said on Thursday. “The ABC would be the only media company or organisation in Australia today whose revenue, their funding, is increasing. It would be the only one in the country. We are seeing regional mastheads by commercial newspapers abolished.”

The ABC announced a range of cuts on Wednesday, including 250 job losses and the end of the 7.45am radio news bulletin, in a bid to save $40 million until 2022. Managing director David Anderson also announced plans to cut poor-performing content, reduce episodes of Australian Story and Foreign Correspondent and lease space at the ABC’s Sydney headquarters in Ultimo. The measures triggered a wave of criticism about the funding squeeze imposed on the broadcaster by the Coalition in recent federal budgets.

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