Almost 30 religious leaders have united to plead with the ABC board to refrain from planned cuts to the national broadcaster’s coverage of religion, which they say is “crucial in the life of our nation” and its identity.
Christian, Muslim, Jewish and Hindu leaders sent an an open letter to ABC Managing Director Mark Scott and Chairman James Spigelman late on Tuesday, on the eve of a board meeting on Wednesday, saying they were “especially concerned” that the proposed cuts would include:
– Abolishing the position of executive producer of TV religion, leaving ABC television without a specialist head of the topic;
– Placing the Compass program under a commissioning editor responsible for a broad range of programs, with no expertise in religion;
– The loss of Encounter, the “high quality” radio program on Radio National; and
– Cuts to staff, budget and editorial authority the radio religion unit.
“The role of the ABC in broadcasting religion is doubly important, as it is the last mainstream media organisation in print, radio, or television to maintain any discrete religious coverage,” the letter said.
The leaders requested a meeting with the board as it deals with federal government budget cuts worth $254 million over five years. Staff estimate the radio religion unit will lose about 40 per cent its staff and almost 70 per cent of its resources.
The open letter’s signatories include Melbourne’s Anglican Archbishop, Dr Philip Freier, the Grand Mufti of Australia, Dr Ibrahim Abu Mohamed, the Uniting Church’s President of the National Assembly, Professor Andrew Dutney, and the leaders of multiple Christian denominations, Jewish and Hindu organisatoins.
“We write to you because we believe that the ABC has a particularly important role in presenting religion both in its own right and as an integral part of modern Australian society, thanks to the high-quality specialist religion programming provided by both television and radio,” they wrote.
“We believe the faith and values we hold will always occupy a central part in the formation of our Australian national identity. Further, an understanding of religion plays a crucial part in grasping today’s ever more complex social and political developments both in Australia and internationally …
“It has never been more important for Australians to have access to content that builds a deeper understanding of the role of faith in the lives of individuals or society, as demonstrated in last month’s G20 interfaith summit.
“We look forward to meeting you and the Board to explore these issues.”
The Most Rev Dr Philip Freier, Anglican Archbishop of Melbourne
Dr Ibrahim Abu Mohamed, Grand Mufti of Australia
Rev Professor Andrew Dutney, President, Uniting Church in Australia Assembly The Rev John Henderson, Bishop, Lutheran Church of Australia
Commissioner James Condon, Territorial Commander, Salvation Army, Australia Eastern Territory
Rabbi Meir Shlomo Kluwgant, President, Organisation of Rabbis of Australia
Elder Jeffrey Cummings, Pacific Area Seventy, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter- day Saints
Professor Nihil Agar, Chairman, Hindu Council of Australia
Professor Raja Jayaraman, Vice Chairman, Hindu Council of Australia
Bishop Philip Huggins, Interim General Secretary, National Council of Churches in Australia (NCCA)
Elizabeth Stone, Associate Interim General Secretary, National Council of Churches in Australia (NCCA)
Simon Smart, Director of the Centre for Public Christianity Peter Wertheim AM, Executive Council of Australian Jewry Jeremy Jones AM, Australia-Israel Jewish Affairs Council Ghaith Krayem, President, Islamic Council of Victoria Maha Abdo OAM, CEO, Muslim Women Australia
Ahmet Polat, Executive Director, Australian Intercultural Society
Ahmet Keskin, Executive Director and Co-founder, Affinity Intercultural Foundation
Rev Elenie Poulos, National Director, UnitingJustice Australia
Rev Tim Costello AO, CEO of World Vision Australia
Marcelle Mogg, CEO, Catholic Social Service Australia
Lin Hatfield Dodds, National Director, UnitingCare Australia
Professor Neville Rochow SC, Joint National Director for Interfaith Relations, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Alan Wakeley, Public Affairs Department Adviser (Australia and PNG), Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Dr Brian Adams, Director, Centre for Interfaith and Cultural Dialogue, Griffith University and Convenor G20 Interfaith Summit
Professor Samina Yasmeen AM, Professor of Political Science and International Relations, University of Western Australia
Commissioner Floyd Tidd, Territorial Commander, Salvation Army, Australia Southern Territory
Bishop Peter Ingham, Chair, Australian Catholic Media Council
Rev Dr Richard Leonard SJ, Director, Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting
3 December 2014