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Aussie pubcasters get budget boost

Australian public broadcasters the ABC and SBS have avoided further budget cuts.

Paul AndersonThe organisations feared they would be subject to more funding cuts as part of the Australian government’s latest budget statement, but the ABC will in fact receive A$3.1 billion (US$2.3 billion), while SBS will get A$814 million.

This means they will receive around an combined extra A$50 million to service news, current affairs and multicultural services over the next three years.

However, the ABC’s budget will fall around A$48 million overall this year, and the pubcaster warned it would have to make staff and programming cuts to its news operation.

Australia’s commercial free-to-air broadcasters were also handed a 25% reduction – around A$163 million – in the licence fees they are duty-bound to pay.

This is in response to over-the-top services such as Netflix and Apple TV, which do not pay licence fees to offer their content.

However, the decrease from 4.5% of gross revenues to 3.375% is much lower than Network Seven, Network Nine and Network Ten have been lobbying for, and all three released statements criticising the decision.

Ten’s CEO, Paul Anderson (pictured above), said: “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 … this industry faces and the government has not indicated a clear path.

Tim Worner, Network Seven’s chief executive, said the licence fees were “outdated and not sustainable”.

“We appreciate that the Budget delivers a small permanent reduction in licence fees,” said Harold Mitchell, CEO of the Free TV lobbying body. “However, we are concerned that the Government hasn’t acknowledged that these changes are urgent.

“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.”

However, the pay TV body ASTRA damned the changes, claiming they amount to a A$150 million free TV broadcaster “unconditional hand-out”.

“ASTRA is deeply disappointed the government has chosen to add to an already large deficit by providing television proprietors with tax cuts,” said the association’s CEO, Andrew Maiden.