ARMED with placards and passion, a group of protesters determined to protect the national broadcaster marched on Barnaby Joyce’s office in Tamworth yesterday morning.
Part of a nationwide day of action organised by grassroots advocacy group GetUp!, about 25 protesters delivered a petition summary to Mr Joyce’s office calling on the federal government to maintain funding levels to the ABC.
Despite a pre-election pledge by Prime Minister Tony Abbott to not cut funding to “Aunty”, ABC managing director Mark Scott told a senate estimates hearing last month he could “give no guarantees that any services would be spared, including rural services if our funding was cut”.
A number of Coalition members have also been critical in recent months of the ABC’s “left-wing bias”.
Armidale’s Jeff Siegel, spokesman for the protesters in Tamworth yesterday, said Mr Abbott’s talk of budget cuts and austerity measures had ABC supporters concerned.
“There is a lot of talk that everyone has to share the pain and that ABC isn’t exempt from the cuts,” Mr Siegel said.
“We are here to urge our local member to protect the ABC and SBS from funding cuts and fulfil Mr Abbott’s promise from before the election.”
Mr Siegel was joined by residents from Tamworth and Armidale’s “Friends of the ABC” group at the rally.
The group bore placards with slogans including “ABC cuts = erosion of our national identity” and “protect our ABC”.
They also delivered bananas to Mr Joyce’s office, representing much-loved ABC program Bananas in Pyjamas, and a cake with a chocolate ABC logo.
Mr Siegel said a national broadcaster was vital in helping frame issues of national importance and set editorial standards for the commercial media.
“We believe ideologically you have to have a national broadcaster if you’re going to have true democracy and egalitarianism,” he said.
“You need an impartial broadcaster that won’t be influenced by commercial interests.”
He said the ABC was particularly important in regional areas.
“We really depend on ABC here, especially ABC Local and Radio National,” Mr Siegel said.
The protests took place in 60 electorates across Australia and a petition opposing cuts has garnered almost 250,000 signatures. Mr Joyce was in Canberra when the protest took place but declared his support for the role the ABC plays in regional communities.
“I’m an avid listener of the ABC and it’s an important part of the social fabric of regional Australia,” Mr Joyce said.
“However I cannot comment on what may or may not be in next Tuesday’s budget.
“What I do know is this will be a tough budget, but we will deal with Labor’s debt and deficit disaster in ways that are fair.”