Treasurer Scott Morrison delivered his first Budget last night and the news was grim for the ABC with the public broadcaster set to lose $48 million in funding. However, there was better news for the free-to-air players who’ve had their broadcast licenses reduced from 4.5 per cent of gross revenues to 3.75 per cent or an annual estimated saving of $163 million.
The news from Canberra last night was also good for SBS who will get just over $814 million in funding over three years, plus an extra $8.3 million for indigenous and multilingual programming. SBS will also receive $6.9 million in compensation for the opposition blocking the government’s attempts to allow it to increase its prime time ad numbers.
While SBS staff numbers have been saved from the razor, staffing levels at the ABC are now forecast to drop 81 positions from 4275 last year to 4194 this year. The ABC will spend $1.1 billion in the next financial year, a $61 million reduction compared to 2015-16.
Despite the cut to their license fees (the Communications Minister Mitch Fifield acknowledging they were doing it tough), it appears the free-to-air players remain unhappy with Morrison’s carrot last night.
Ten Network chief executive officer, Paul Anderson, said: “Despite a lengthy review and extensive consultation with the television industry, the Government’s decision only reduces this outdated and unfair super profits tax from 4.5 per cent of gross revenue to 3.375 per cent.
“While any reduction is positive, at this level our fee remains wildly out of step with fees paid in any comparable jurisdiction. This single reduction does not recognise the urgency of the challenges that this industry faces and the Government has not indicated a clear path forward to a truly sustainable fee,” Anderson said.
Seven West’s CEO Tim Worner said: “The small cut in this budget is not nearly what the industry needs to compete and innovate in a fundamentally changing media environment. We are disappointed that the Government has not recognised this.”
Harold Mitchell, chairman of industry body Free TV, described the size of the cuts as “disappointing”.
“We appreciate that the Budget delivers a small permanent reduction in licence fees however, we are concerned that the Government hasn’t acknowledged that these changes are urgent,” Mitchell said in a statement.
“In the new media environment, the government can’t afford to be complacent. We need to act now to make sure broadcasters can continue to invest in great Australian programming and in transforming our businesses.
“The pace of change is unrelenting and licence fees must be reduced to international best practice levels without delay,” he said.
However, not everyone was out to poo-poo Scott Morrison’s efforts last night.
SBS managing director Michael Ebeid appeared happy with the hand his network was dealt.
“The funding will support SBS services at a time when there is higher engagement and demand than ever before, with audiences expecting content to be delivered across a multitude of digital platforms and devices,” Ebeid said.
“It will enable SBS teams to continue delivering on our Charter by providing balanced and high-quality news and current affairs, services that aid participation in Australian life for our four million LOTE (Language other than English) speakers, and unique programs which inspire a greater understanding and appreciation of our nation’s diversity.
“In this Budget, the government has recognised the value of SBS’s role in our collective efforts to promote social cohesion, and the changing media landscape in which SBS operates,” he said.