NEWS The ABC and SBS are facing severe cuts of around $200 to $300 million over five years in the mid-year budget update, as the federal government prepares to announce the second round of cost savings to be imposed on the broadcasters. This expected magnitude of the cuts was confirmed by sources from both the broadcasters and the government.
The government is expected to make the case for the cuts in the context of the two broadcasters receiving a total of $6.9-billion, five-year funding allocation.
Telecommunications Minister Malcolm Turnbull said that the magnitude of the cut had been finalised, but he would not confirm if it had been approved by the cabinet, and said “we’ll be making some announcements about all of that before too long but I won’t pre-empt it today”.
“We’ve come to a conclusion on the level of cuts, yes, and the management of both companies are aware of that and the nature of those cuts will be public before too long,” he told ABC radio in Tasmania.
The second round of cuts flow from an efficiency study led by Peter Lewis and come after a $35.5 million, four-year cut in the last budget. Before the election, the Coalition promised no cuts to the ABC or SBS.
Some redundancies are expected to follow the announcement, while there is a growing expectations that a number of programs will also be axed. Among the programs expected to go are the state-based editions of 7.30, while on Monday the ABC’s Big Ideas program tweeted that it would not return to air in 2015.
The two broadcasters will be encouraged to work together to make savings on transmission contracts, distribution costs for TV catch-up services SBS On Demand and ABC iView and contracts for services such as mobile phones.
Other ideas that have been floated include switching off the ABC2 channel as early as next year, centralising television production in Sydney and Melbourne, inviting SBS to leave its Melbourne headquarters and selling off the ABC’s fleet of outside broadcasting vans.
One government source said that one of the hardest things to achieve during the review process was getting the two broadcasters to work together. “The ABC sees the SBS as a poor cousin, SBS thinks the ABC want to eat them, so getting them to work together has been a challenge,” the source said.
A spokesman for the ABC said the broadcaster had “yet to receive official confirmation” of what its expected budget cut would be but senior sources at Auntie confirmed the funding cut was expected to be in the range of $200-$300 million.
In September, Mr Turnbull said the ABC’s annual budget was well over a billion dollars and “people are talking about $200 million over four years. So when you look at it that way…even the numbers that are being floated do not represent a very large percentage of the ABC’s revenues”.