Government announces deep cuts to public broadcastersOn 01/31/2019 by admin
(Transcript from SBS World News Radio)
The Abbott Government has announced deep funding cuts to the country’s public broadcasters, SBS and the ABC.
The Government says its ABC and SBS Efficiency Study shows the cuts do not need to affect the on air quality of the networks.
But critics, including the Opposition, are worried.
Ron Sutton has the story.
(Click on the audio tab above to hear the full report)
The federal government has announced funding cuts of more than $50 million to SBS and more than $250 million to the ABC over five years.
Including the one per cent preliminary cuts to each in May’s federal budget, the total cuts amount to $308 million, or about five per cent.
Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull insists a review of each public broadcaster has shown the cuts will not require either to reduce or weaken its programming.
“It’s clear that there is a great opportunity for them to modernise their businesses without reducing the resources they have available for programming. In other words, without reducing the quantity or the quality of what Australians view and listen to on ABC and SBS.”
Mr Turnbull says the Government will also move to allow SBS more flexibility in how it uses its allotted advertising minutes, so it can recoup some of its lost funding.
The changes would mean SBS could advertise twice as much at preferred times as currently allowed.
Mr Turnbull says total advertising minutes would not expand, remaining at about one third of commercial stations’ limits.
“SBS currently has a strict limit of five minutes of ads per hour. In line with the recommendation from the efficiency study, the Government intends to introduce legislation into the parliament to allow for a more flexible approach, allowing the network to average the five minutes per hour across the day but run no more than 10 minutes in any given hour. This means the existing daily limit of 120 minutes will be maintained, which is well below the 350 minutes per day commercial (stations) can devote to advertising.”
SBS managing director Michael Ebeid said in a statement, that would allow the network to earn back $20-30 million of the $53.7 million cut.
But Mr Ebeid says, while the funding cuts were anticipated, they are sizeable and will naturally be felt by the organisation.
He says national efforts to unify Australia’s diverse communities go directly to why SBS was created and, with social cohesion being tested, it is more important than ever.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has indicated Labor may try to block the proposed change to SBS advertising rules when it gets to parliament.
“Labor doesn’t believe that we need more television ads on television. This is just simply an attempt to cover up the cuts to the SBS. This is not a good move. What they need to do with SBS and ABC is just keep your promise, Tony Abbott. Just once in your life, as prime minister, keep your promise. Don’t cut the ABC. Don’t cut the SBS.”
Mr Shorten says the cuts are just one more broken election promise from Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
But he says the cuts are also about what he calls a sneaky agenda by the Abbott Government to undermine the country’s public broadcasting.
“If you don’t think that there’s politics involved in Tony Abbott cutting the ABC, well, I’ve got a bridge at the mouth of the Yarra to sell you. This is a clear case that Tony Abbott is going after his political critics because he just doesn’t like people who disagree with Tony Abbott’s narrow view of the world. This is politics. This is not about the best interests of public broadcasting in this country. Tony Abbott, what he’s doing here is a real attack on public broadcasting in this country, and these are dangerous changes.”
Greens communication spokesman Scott Ludlam calls the cuts a slippery slope to force a public broadcaster to have a greater dependence on advertising.
He says the move is ideological and the public broadcasters were already recovering from very lean times.
“We only just saw substantial lifts in triennial funding, more so for the ABC and somewhat for SBS to get it out of intensive care, during the latter period of the Rudd-Gillard Government. I think what we should expect is that, when the Prime Minister looks you in the face the night before the election and says there’ll be no cuts, that he’s not lying to your face.”
Veteran ABC journalist and public broadcasting advocate Quentin Dempster says the cuts to SBS at this time are especially puzzling and worrying.
“You’d think, with the migration rate the way it is, and in an age of terror, we need SBS and its contribution to cohesion in a multicultural, polyglot country like Australia now more than ever before, particularly as a counterterrorism measure. We need its inclusive broadcasting, its multilingual services. We don’t need any damage to SBS.”