Cost not content to be studied in ABC/SBS Inquiry

Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has announced an inquiry into the efficiency of the ABC and SBS.

The Department of Communications will conduct the inquiry with the help of former Seven West Media CFO Peter Lewis.

Turnbull says it is “a routine responsibility of the Minister to ensure that the ABC and SBS use public resources as efficiently as possible.”  The review is about cost not content according to the minister.

“The study will examine costs for the day-to-day operations which deliver ABC and SBS programs, products and services, and propose options to increase efficiency and reduce expense. The objective is to ensure ABC and SBS fulfil their Charter responsibilities at least cost to the community, and keep pace with rapidly changing practices in the broadcasting sector. It will not review the terms of the national broadcasters’ Charters, or editorial and programming decisions.”

The study’s terms of reference are to:

  • identify the real current and expected future costs of each output of the ABC and the SBS (as set out in Scope above);
  • test those costs against better practice broadcasting operational models and practices and quantify differences;
  • identify the options available to the broadcasters to improve efficiencies and the benefits and risks of such options;
  • identify any impediments to implementation of such options—this analysis may go to operational, governance, structural, financial and cultural issues within each organisation;
  • develop an ‘ideal cost-base’ for the national broadcasters and compare this with current cost base.

The study will also identify options to improve:

  • transparency of the costs of national broadcasting services to maintain confidence in their expenditure of public funds;
  • the processes and systems for decision-making across different genres, platforms and priorities; and
  • operational governance and management practices/processes of the national broadcasters including ways of enhancing the efficient and transparent management of the organisations.

ABC Managing Director Mark Scott says the ABC “has constantly reviewed its operations to deliver the best and most efficient return to Australian audiences. We have been in consultation with the Minister and will work with the Department and Mr Lewis on this new study.”

Speaking on ABC Radio’s PM program, Malcolm Turnbull denied the inquiry was part of a government campaign against the ABC:

MARK COLVIN: Yesterday in a radio interview the Prime Minister Tony Abbott strongly criticised the ABC, leading to today’s headline in the Sydney Daily telegraph, ‘The ABC of Treachery’. I asked Malcolm Turnbull if the timing was coincidental.

MALCOLM TURNBULL: Completely coincidental. No, I’ve foreshadowed some time ago that we’d be looking at the efficiencies of the public broadcasters, and this project, this study has been some time in the making and we’ve had a lot of cooperation from the management of the ABC and SBS…

MARK COLVIN: Is it, though, part of what some people are suggesting is some kind of government campaign aimed at the ABC?

MALCOLM TURNBULL: Absolutely not. There is no more passionate defender of the ABC than me. I am… I’ve said again and again that I believe the ABC is a vitally important part of our nation’s polity; it is one of the great foundations of journalism and newsgathering and broadcasting in the country; it has a very special place in Australia – it has a, in particular because it has a statutory obligation to be at all times objective and balanced and fair and accurate in its news and current affairs.

So it is, you know, the Daily Telegraph can have an outrageous headline or a partisan headline if it wishes, but the ABC cannot; the ABC has to play it straight down the middle, and you know that is part of the bargain with the Australian people, and in return for that, of course, it gets funded by the taxpayer.

MARK COLVIN: Do you agree with Tony Abbott when he suggested to the commercial radio disc jockey Ray Hadley that the ABC didn’t necessarily play it straight down the middle?

MALCOLM TURNBULL: Well, I think the Prime Minister – and everybody else, by the way – is entitled to express a view about a particular ABC program or story, and we’ve all… I’ve done that, and we’ve all complained about stories – in fact, I recall having a heated discussion with you a year or so ago about a report about the NBN. But as far as the ABC is concerned, the… it is editorially independent – that is also in the act of Parliament – but it has an obligation to be fair and balanced and accurate, and that obligation has to be enforced by the board…

Glenys Stradijot, a spokesperson for Friends of the ABC (Vic) said: “The Government’s announced efficiency review of the ABC is an outrageous and dangerous interference in the ABC’s independence.The ABC is an independent statutory authority. In spirit and at law, Australia’s national public broadcaster is meant to be independent.

 In the present climate, it is difficult not to suspect that the Government’s motives are to curtail the ABC’s activities. This announcement has come in the context of Prime Minister Abbott’s latest attacks on ABC news reporting. The Murdoch media, which helped to elect the present government, views the ABC as a competitor and has been campaigning strenuously for the ABC’s demise.
This intrusion of the Government, a department and a former commercial TV finance head is happening despite independent surveys regularly revealing that the ABC is one of the most valued institutions in the country. And it’s happening despite the ABC already being seriously under funded.
If the Government was genuinely interested in the ABC doing its job effectively, it would have released the KPMG report into the adequacy and efficiency of ABC funding which was commissioned by the former Coalition government.
That report cost the public about half a million dollars and was never released. Leaks from the report provided a damning assessment of the ABC’s inadequate funding.
It’s ludicrous for the Minister to claim that this intervention into the public broadcaster’s operation and how it spends its money will not influence the ABC’s editorial decisions. Any funding cut that results will mean fewer and poorer quality programs and services. The Australian public simply won’t stand for this.”


Tags: | |