“[The Olympics are] 16 days every four years. It was an incredibly hard decision to make… but we are facing such tight budgetary pressure that we’re being forced to make hard decisions. This is one we thought about long and hard.”
Ms Whelan said the public broadcaster would save about $1 million by not calling Olympic games. She stressed the public broadcaster would still be covering the international sporting event for its news bulletins.
Not everyone is satisfied with Ms Whelan’s explanation. While interviewing her on Tuesday, high-profile radio host Virginia Trioli suggested $1 million was “bang for the buck” given how many Australians engage with the Olympics.
“Just adding that up quickly in my head, that’s about the cost of four middle managers at the ABC,” she said. “There are many of us at the ABC who could name a few of those that could be winnowed out.”
The ABC Radio Melbourne host also asked: “This is, really, the ultimate political chess move isn’t it; … the one big thing the government would not want to lose from the ABC?”
But Ms Whelan, a former editor of The Sydney Morning Herald, rejected any suggestion the cost-savings measure was a tactical ploy to highlight the broadcaster’s funding woes. ABC management has previously warned of “inevitable” cuts after the Coalition’s $84 million funding freeze contained in the 2018 budget.
“We’re minimising the cuts to content as much as we possibly can,” Ms Whelan said. “We’ve been reducing middle management at the ABC for the past five years. We debated on it long and hard. But, no, it’s not a political chess move.”
Australian Olympic Committee president John Coates has aired his disappointment at the ABC’s shock decision, saying it will especially disappoint rural and regional Australians who might not have access to commercial or television coverage of next year’s event. Communications Minister Paul Fletcher agreed the ABC’s decision will “no doubt surprise and disappoint many Australians”.