NEWS At the end of January the Abbott government announced a review into the efficiency of Australia’s two national broadcasters, the ABC and SBS. Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has recruited Peter Lewis, a former chief financial officer at Seven West Media, to conduct a study into the two organisations. The study will examine costs for the day-to-day operations of programs, products and services and find savings.
“It is a routine responsibility of the minister to ensure that the ABC and SBS use public resources as efficiently as possible,” Mr Turnbull said in a statement.
But the decision follows mounting Coalition criticism of the ABC, and the threat of budget cuts. Prime Minister Abbott had accused the ABC of acting against the national interest and lacking “basic affection for the home team”.
The ABC’s $223 million Australia Network Asian broadcasting service is also likely to be scrapped in the May budget to save money and end the pursuit of “soft diplomacy” in the region.
“The objective [of the review] 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.”
But the study would not review the terms of the national broadcasters’ charters, or editorial and programming decisions, the statement said.
“In other words the study will not review the content of what is broadcast, but rather the cost of delivering that content and the operations that support it.”
Mr Turnbull said the study was being conducted with the full co-operation and assistance of ABC and SBS, which have both volunteered representatives to work with Mr Lewis.
“The ABC and SBS have welcomed the study as a useful and timely addition to their routine internal processes to identify efficiencies.”
Mr Lewis will report back to the minister in April.
Opposition’s criticism of the review announcement
The Federal Opposition criticised the Government’s planned efficiency review of the ABC and SBS as politically motivated, with Labor frontbencher Senator Penny Wong saying the Coalition wants to avoid scrutiny.
The Government has described the review, announced last week, as “a routine responsibility… to ensure that the ABC and SBS use public resources as efficiently as possible”, and says it will not affect broadcast charters or editorial and programming decisions.
“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 said in a statement.
However Senator Wong questioned the motivation behind the review.
“I think the agenda for the review is to seek to find a reason to reduce funding to the ABC, because the Government doesn’t like what the ABC does and says,” she said.
“I think the agenda for the review is to seek to find a reason to reduce funding to the ABC, because the Government doesn’t like what the ABC does and says.
“You only have to look at what Eric Abetz has said, what other senior members of the Coalition have said, what the PM has said.
“This is about a Government that doesn’t like scrutiny.”
Labor has also questioned the timing of the review, which was announced after Prime Minister Tony Abbott called the ABC unpatriotic for its coverage of the Edward Snowden leaks and asylum seeker abuse claims.
“This is not about finding efficiencies, it’s about cutting the ABC’s budget,” Opposition communications spokesman Jason Clare said last week.
“The Prime Minister gets some bad news and suddenly he starts blaming the media.”
Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull denies a link, saying the review is not in response to growing criticism within the Government of the broadcaster.
“[It’s] completely coincidental. I foreshadowed some time ago we’d be looking at the efficiencies of the public broadcasters and this study has been some time in the making,” he said.
“We’ve had a lot of cooperation from the management of ABC and SBS.
“What it is designed to do is to ensure that the ABC is running its business as cost-effectively as possible.”
Little economic benefit in an ABC-SBS merger
Merging SBS with the ABC would produce negligible cost savings and threaten the independent culture of the multicultural broadcaster, SBS managing director Michael Ebeid has warned.
Mr Ebeid addressed speculation about a possible merger – sparked by an efficiency review into ABC and SBS operations – at Senate estimates hearings on Tuesday night.
”We are a very efficient organisation and have been running efficiently for a long time, we’ve outsourced a lot of our key functions to providers who can do things very cheaply,” he said.
”I think there would be very little economic benefit [in merging].
”In my own experience, having done many mergers and acquisitions in my career, the culture and workflow practices and cost base of the larger organisation will often subsume the smaller organisation.”
Mr Ebeid said a merger would ”certainly change the culture of the organisation”.
”I’ve worked in both organisations and I can say the cultures are quite different in the two organisations and they provide very different services,” Mr Edeid, formerly executive director of corporate strategy and marketing at the ABC, said.
Mr Ebeid said there had been speculation about an ABC-SBS merger for 30 years and he had no concrete information that it would happen as a result of the Abbott government’s efficiency review.
ABC managing director Mark Scott told the hearing that if the ABC’s funding was cut, all of the broadcaster’s services would have to be examined for savings. This would include regional radio services and children’s television programming.
“If our funding were somehow cut, we would need to look at all our services, radio television, online, in the cities and in the bush,” Mr Scott said.
“But I’m not expecting that because of the clear commitment that was given to maintain the ABC’s funding.”
Mr Scott said the ABC was working to develop a platform to house all the ABC’s corrections and clarifications.
[Sources: www.abc.net.au; www.smh.com.au; www.theaustralian.com.au]
Abbott government commissions ABC and SBS efficiency review
Australian Cardinal appointed head of Vatican finances to relocate to Rome
Coleiro Preca accepts nomination for President