Cuts to ABC programs and services appear inevitable after the government’s decision to slash the broadcaster’s funding by $84 million over three years.
Expressing her disappointment, ABC MD Michelle Guthrie told staff: “This decision will make it very difficult for the ABC to meet its charter requirements and audience expectations.”
Guthrie also rejected as unnecessary the government’s proposed review into the efficiency of the public broadcasters, given the efficiency programs introduced by the ABC in recent years.
This afternoon the ABC was forced to retract an earlier statement which claimed the government had decided to discontinue an annual grant of $43 million to support news and current affairs output after Communications Minister Mitch Fifield stated there was no such decision.
Fifield said the funding of $41.3 million a year will continue until June 30 2019 and the ABC had not submitted a proposal to renew this funding.
In response, Guthrie acknowledged the government’s position and said the ABC looks forward to making the case for the funding of high-quality journalism as part of the triennial funding discussions.
SBS welcomed the extra $14.6 million in government funding over the next two years, which compensates for the Senate blocking a bill which would have enabled the broadcaster to double the number of ads screened in primetime.
SBS said it would examine the terms of the efficiency review when they are released and offered no comment.
The Federal Budget revealed Screen Australia’s funding will drop marginally from $81.84 million in the current fiscal year to $81.78 million next year, augmented by revenues of nearly $8 million from recoupment and investments.
The National Film and Sound Archive’s funding will rise from $26.2 million to $27.9 million while the Australian Film Television and Radio School’s allocation drops slightly from $22.68 million to $22.58 million.
As foreshadowed, the government confirmed it would provide $35 million per annum over four years from 2019-20 to establish the Location Incentive Program to attract international productions. It said that would create more than 3,000 jobs for Australian cast and crew and support the services of around 6,000 Australian businesses each year.
But, as expected, there were no changes to the TV Producer Offset or the Location Offset itself.
Screen Producers Australia CEO Matt Deaner lamented the ABC funding cuts, telling IF: “The justification provided was budget repair and funding other portfolio priorities, one of which is the new Location Offset top-up of $140 million over four years.”
Deaner added: “I am heartened by the ABC’s recent commitment to increased spending on Australian content and I hope this important work can continue.”
MEAA Equity director Zoe Angus warned: “These cuts represent a dangerous threat to the creation of original Australian television production, particularly drama. It is this type of short-sighted and devastating cuts to funding that has spurred the Make it Australian campaign.
“The constant slashing of funding by governments endangers the ABC’s ability to produce quality Australian screen content and fulfill its important cultural role in Australian storytelling.”
Fifield announced the government will freeze indexation of the ABC’s operational funding, resulting in net savings of $83.7 million over three years from 2019-20 to 2021-22.
Citing the 2014 government-commissioned Lewis review into the efficiency of the ABC and SBS, Fifield said he is confident the new review will find further back-office savings.
Guthrie said the ABC could not absorb the impact of the reduced funding by efficiency measures alone as the organisation had achieved significant productivity gains in response to past budget cuts. The ABC has endured a cumulative $254 million in reduced funding since 2014.
In 2018-19 the ABC will get $1.045 billion from the government and SBS will receive $281.7 million.
“The ABC is now more important than ever given the impact of overseas players in the local media industry and the critical role the ABC plays as Australia’s most trusted source of news, analysis and investigative journalism,” Guthrie said.
“Our talented and dedicated content makers consistently deliver award winning public interest journalism, regional services and critically acclaimed original Australian programs and content. Stable, adequate funding is essential if we are to continue to deliver for Australian audiences.”
In her email to staff she said: “We are at a watershed moment as a public broadcaster as we continue to strive to deliver the high standards of programming Australian audiences expect, despite escalating global competition and rising production costs.
“We will continue to pursue our strategy during triennial funding negotiations with the government this year to achieve the proper levels of funding we require to meet the expectations of not only our current audiences but those of the next generation.
“Our priorities have and always will be to our audiences and the programming we create for them. Our success in this is a tribute to the talent, dedication and high-quality work of our teams right across the country and the world.”