One day after Prime Minister Tony Abbott publicly criticised the ABC for not painting a rose-coloured view of Australia in its news coverage, the Minister for Communications, Malcolm Turnbull has announced an “efficiency study” across both national broadcasters, ABC and SBS.
The study, due to begin next month, is described as being within the Minister’s responsibilities for ensuring that the broadcasters are using public resources as efficiently as possible:
“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.”
Mr Turnbull says the study is not intended to review, direct or scruitinise program content or editorial:
“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 news gathering and broadcasting in the country.
“It has a very special place in Australia, 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.”
Peter Lewis, formerly Chief Financial Officer of Seven West Media, will assist the review and both ABC and SBS have pledged their co-operation.
The report arising from the study will be provided to the Minister and the Chairs of the ABC and SBS on completion, due for April.
The Abbott Government is also reported to have its sights on scrapping the $223 million contract to the ABC for providing the Government’s Asia Pacific television service, Australia Network. The suggestion has been criticised by Acting Leader of the Opposition, Tanya Plibersek, as a “tit-for-tat” strategy by the Government and the breaking of a pre-election promise by Tony Abbott that there would be no budget cuts to ABC and SBS.
In 2011 the former Gillard Government awarded the Australia Network contract to ABC although Ms Gillard’s predecessor Kevin Rudd had earlier recommended the contract go to rival bidder Sky News.