Budget cuts for ABC, SBS, Screen Australia – IF – 13 May.14

The ABC and SBS will lose a combined $43.5 million in funding over four years and the ABC’s contract for the pan-Asian Australia Network is being terminated.

Screen Australia will incur a $25.1 million funding cut: $5.2 million in 2014-2015 and $5.3 million, $7.3 million and $7.3 million in the ensuing years. This may affect programs such as the revamped Enterprise Industry scheme, whose annual allocation depended on the Budget.

In the financial year ending June 30 the agency received $100.8 million. The government will achieve savings of $87.1 million over four years by reducing funding to arts programs administered by the Attorney-General’s Department, the Australia Council and Screen Australia. It said these savings would be redirected to “repair the Budget and fund policy priorities.”

The federal Budget imposes a 1% cut in base funding of both public broadcasters, described as a “down payment” on an efficiency study commissioned by Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

“By sharing the load, we lighten the load,” said Turnbull, while claiming better work practices would make it easier for both broadcasters to find the savings.

The government claims the savings can be achieved without cutting programs or compromising editorial independence. The ABC will lose about $35 million and SBS about $8 million.

The ABC’s 10-year contract for the Australia Network was worth $223 million, funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. As slight compensation for breaking the contract, the ABC will get $10.6 million.

The budget makes no provision for funding the Australia Network, implying the service will disappear despite recent deals signed by the ABC to expand its presence in China and Indonesia.

The government will cut $3.3 million over four years from the Australian Communications and Media Authority, which will also be subject to the 2.5% dividend applied to most government agencies.

Ending the Australian Interactive Games Fund from July 1 will save $10 million, a big blow for games developers.

ABC managing director Mark Scott said, “The funding cuts will be disappointing for audiences. The government gave repeated commitments before and after the election that funding for the Corporation would be maintained.”

Scott warned the funding cuts would result in redundancies and a reduction in services. He described the decision to end funding for Australia Network as very disappointing, given the ABC was only one year into the 10-year contract.

“Countries around the world are expanding their international broadcasting services as key instruments of public diplomacy,” he said. “The ABC had negotiated a detailed strategy with DFAT to develop relationships with major broadcasters in the region and to target locals likely to trade, study in or travel to Australia. This partnership had resulted in expanded audiences in key markets and was on track to deliver all agreed targets.

“This decision runs counter to the approach adopted by the vast majority of G-20 countries who are putting media at the centre of public diplomacy strategies to engage citizens in other countries.

“It sends a strange message to the region that the government does not want to use the most powerful communication tools available to it to talk to our regional neighbours about Australia.”

Scott added the ABC will also have to manage the cessation of funding for its online disability website ABC Ramp Up.

SBS managing director Michael Ebeid said, “SBS is already a lean and underfunded organisation and as such the $2 million per year funding cut announced in tonight’s Budget will be felt across the organisation. However, we fully recognise that this is a tough Budget.

“Through various government review processes, the Board and I have demonstrated that SBS has a lean and agile culture, with innovative employees that are, by necessity, highly-skilled at delivering more with less. We would be concerned should there be a further reduction in our funding as this would invariably impact on our content and audiences and, in turn, on our commercial revenue.

“As SBS does rely heavily on commercial revenues, we regularly plan for changes to our overall funding and will now identify savings to absorb this funding cut which minimises the impact on SBS content and our audiences.

“SBS is an efficient organisation which delivers enormous value to the Australian community with its modest funding, and providing services that reflect our unique multicultural Charter will only become more important as Australia continues to grow in cultural complexity.”


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