Public broadcasting

Budget Review 2016–17 Index

Dr Rhonda Jolly

Budget measures

The new triennial funding agreement for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) was announced in the 2016–17 Budget. The ABC is to receive revenue of $3.1 billion in base operating funding over the three years to 2018–19.[1]

In addition to this funding, the Budget extends a 2013–14 Budget measure, which was provided to support ABC local news and current affairs services, particularly those services outside capital cities, for three years from 2016–17.[2] Funding over this period will be $41.4 million.[3] Previous funding for this measure was $67.6 million over four years, plus $1.8 million for capital expenses.[4]

Base funding for Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) is also included in the Portfolio Budget Statements. The broadcaster will receive $271.9 million in 2016–17, $269.8 million in 2017–18 and $272.4 million in 2018–19.[5]

An additional Budget measure provides funding to SBS following a $28.5 million funding cut imposed in the 2015–16 Budget in anticipation of the passage of legislation to allow the broadcaster to increase revenues raised by the sale of additional advertising and sponsorship.[6] This legislation was not passed and in the 2015–16 Additional Estimates SBS received an additional $4.1 million in compensation.[7] The Budget has provided a further $6.9 million for the 2016–17 financial year only, which may indicate that the Government is contemplating re-introducing legislation intended to increase advertising on SBS. At the same time, the Save Our SBS group has said that it understands that for each future year the additional advertising legislation is not introduced into law the Coalition Government will, on a year-by-year basis, give SBS compensatory funding.[8]

A further measure gives additional funding of $8.3 million over three years from 2016–17 to SBS to maintain the quality and delivery of its television, radio and online services—what this budget has labelled the SBS funding adequacy program.[9]


The ABC noted in its response to the Budget that it will seek to maintain as many of its news initiatives as possible and it will focus on delivering services to Australians in regional and outer-suburban areas. It has added, however, that ‘there will necessarily be some changes to staffing and programming’ in line with what it says is a reduced allocation of funding.[10] The online journal Crikey has noted this point and revealed that the new managing director of the ABC, Michelle Guthrie, has confirmed that the need to find savings will inevitably result in job losses.[11]

SBS has welcomed its additional $15.1 million in funding in the 2016 Budget, on top of its base funding allocation over the next three years. An SBS media release states that the broadcaster considers the Budget recognises the value of SBS’s role in ‘collective efforts to promote social cohesion, and the changing media landscape in which SBS operates’.[12]

The Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) considers public broadcasting has been ‘shortchanged’ in this Budget.[13] With regards to the ABC in particular, the MEAA argues that while base funding to the ABC has been maintained, there has been nothing done to restore previous ‘damage’ done in recent Budgets. It stresses also that the special funding measure for news services provides less funding with expectations that existing services can continue to be delivered.[14]

Andrew Dodd from the Swinburne University of Technology commented on the reduction in funding for news services, noting that the ABC’s Enhanced Newsgathering Program received $20.2 million in the last financial year of the Budget measure as introduced in 2013–14 compared with the funding now allocated for three years. However, according to Associate Professor Dodd, the ABC ‘can take some comfort from the fact that it’s not in the government’s sights for another ideologically driven round of major cuts’.[15]

Friends of the ABC labelled the Budget cuts as ‘severe’ and its National Spokesperson, Ranald Macdonald believed the broadcaster was suffering a ‘death by a thousand cuts’.[16]

[1].          Australian Government, Budget measures: budget paper no. 2: 2016–17, 2016, p. 70.

[2].          Australian Government, Budget measures: budget paper no. 2: 2013–14, 2014, pp. 98–106.

[3].          Budget paper no. 2: 2016–17, p. 70, op. cit.

[4].          Budget paper no. 2: 2013–14, op. cit.

[5].          Australian Government, Portfolio budget statements 2016–17: budget related paper no. 1.3: Communications and Arts Portfolio, p. 318.

[6].          Communications Legislation Amendment (SBS Advertising Flexibility and Other Measures) Bill 2015

[7].          Australian Government, Portfolio Additional Estimates Statements 2015-16: Communications and the Arts Portfolio, p. 53.

[8].          Save Our SBS, SBS funding business as usual, media release, 3 May 2016.

[9].          Portfolio budget statements 2016–17, Communications and Arts Portfolio, p. 323, op. cit.

[10].       Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), ABC 2016-2019 funding, media release, 3 May 2016.

[11].       C Knowlton, ABC cuts to come from budget?, Crikey, 4 May 2016.

[12].       Special Broadcasting Service (SBS), Australian audiences to benefit from SBS’s triennial funding outcome, media release, 3 May 2016.

[13].       Media, Arts and Entertainment Alliance, Budget 2016: arts and public broadcasting funding crisis continues as government maintains damaging course, media release, 3 May 2016.

[14].       Ibid. The Budget cuts referred to by the MEAA included the 2014 Budget cuts for base funding through a one per cent efficiency saving for each broadcaster which amounted to approximately $35.5 million for the ABC and $8.0 million for SBS.

[15].       Federal budget 2016: political experts react, The Conversation, 3 May 2016.

[16].       ABC Friends National, $50m Budget cuts over 3 years’, media release, 3 May 2016.


All online articles accessed May 2016. 

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