‘Completely excluded’: budget delivers $58.6m to media but ABC misses out


The Morrison government handed out an extra $58.6m to the media sector in the budget but the ABC missed out on the largesse.

SBS got $30m, newswire Australian Associated Press received $15m, community broadcasting got $8m and the media regulator secured $4.2m.

According to the forward estimates in the 2021-22 budget, the ABC’s indexation pause is set to end next year, but a tied-funding grant of $14m for local and regional news may not be renewed, leaving a potential shortfall of $10.2m in operational funding.

The budget states the ABC’s operational funding will drop from $880.56m in 2021/22 to $870.34m in 2022/23, a net loss of just over $10m.

Last year, the broadcaster’s managing director, David Anderson, said the summer bushfires had added an extra $3m in emergency broadcasting costs at a time the corporation had to absorb an ongoing annual budget cut of $105.9m including the indexation pause.

The indexation pause was imposed on the ABC in 2018 by the Turnbull government and amounted to an $84m cut overall.

A spokesperson for the communications minister, Paul Fletcher, said on Wednesday that no decision had been made about ABC funding over the next triennium, including indexation, and the news funding program was not reflected in the forward estimates because it had an end date.

“But that doesn’t mean any decision has been made on whether to continue or discontinue the program,” he said.

Former ABC senior bureaucrat Michael Ward, who has calculated the ABC would have lost $1bn between 2014 and 2024 under a Coalition government, told Guardian Australia the restoration of the indexation would add $4m to the budget next year but that would be offset by the loss of the enhanced newsgathering fund of $14m.

The program, which has been in place since 2013 and has previously been renewed twice by the Coalition, gives the public broadcaster an extra $43.7m over three years for local news and current affairs, including regional newsrooms and specialist investigative journalists.

“SBS got some extra funding, Screen Australia got some extra funding, there was money for Australian children’s television and AAP, everyone got something, except the ABC,” Ward said.

“The ABC seems to be now completely excluded from policy thinking and funding. Funding for regional news, local content and Australian children’s programs is extremely important. However, it is hard to understand the decision to continue to exclude the ABC from these arrangements.”

The Greens called on the government to renew the news program funding next year.

“The ABC is facing death by a thousand cuts by the Liberals who can’t handle the public broadcaster doing its job and holding those in power to account, and our democracy is going to be far worse off for it,” media spokesperson Sarah Hanson-Young said.

Fletcher unveiled an additional $8m for the nation’s 450 community radio broadcasters.

“The community radio sector has made a valuable contribution to Australians throughout the 2019-20 Black Summer bushfires and Covid-19 pandemic,” Fletcher said.

The AAP newswire received an injection of $15m on top of the $5m the government gave them in September 2020 after the 86-year-old service admitted it was struggling financially and had turned to crowdfunding.

The money will help AAP deliver regional, national and international news to regional media outlets across Australia, Fletcher said.

The media regulator, the Australian Communications and Media Authority, has been given $4.2m to implement the news media and digital platforms’ mandatory bargaining code.

The Australian Children’s Television Foundation was granted a boost of $11.9m over four years to support quality children’s television content.

“ACTF has played a pivotal role in the success of iconic Australian programs, such as Round the Twist and Dance Academy, and more recent productions including Bluey, Hardball and Little J and Big Cuz,” Fletcher said.

The Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance chief executive, Paul Murphy, welcomed the funding for AAP and the community radio sector but said the ABC and SBS funding needed more clarity.

“Overall, funding of public broadcasters will fall in real terms with nothing to replace the massive cuts since 2013,” Murphy said. “The expected cessation of the regional and local news gathering funding is shortsighted and will hurt those communities it is meant to help.”



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