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Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Federal Budget Boost for ABC, SBS, VAST and AAP

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS), the Viewer Access Satellite Television (VAST) service, and the Australian Associated Press (AAP) are all beneficiaries of the Australian Federal Government’s 2023-24 Budget.

The Labor Government says it is delivering on its election commitment to five-year funding terms for the national broadcasters – with annual funding of AUD$1.1 billion for the ABC and $334.9 million for SBS. Previous funding cycles were three years in length and, from 2018, were subject to a freeze on annual indexation by the previous Coalition Government.

The ABC and SBS will receive an additional $72 million over four years to extend and roll three previously terminating programs into ongoing funding. These include:

  • ABC Enhanced News Gathering, which supports regional journalist positions in regional bureaus throughout Australia;
  • SBS Media Sector Support, which provides news, content, subtitling and English learning resources to Australians who speak languages other than English, with a focus on Chinese and Arabic communities; and
  • ABC and SBS Audio Description, to make screen content more accessible to audiences who are blind or vision impaired.

The ABC will also receive $8.5 million over four years to expand transmission infrastructure in the Pacific under the Indo-Pacific Broadcasting Strategy. The funding will provide further access to Australian content, boosting media connections in the region.

The Federal Government is also funding the extension of the Viewer Access Satellite Television (VAST) service across regional and remote Australia for an additional seven years until 2030-31. This supports the provision of free-to-air commercial television to over 1.5 million Australians. The VAST service was established by the then-Labor Government in 2009-10. While the former Coalition Government reverted to short-term contract extensions, Labor says it recognises the importance of stability and certainty for industry and consumers when it comes to long-term investment.

The Federal Government will also provide $5 million to help sustain the Australian Associated Press (AAP) while the News MAP (News Media Assistance Program) is developed to guide news media policy intervention, and support public interest journalism and media diversity.

The Government will also provide $2.5 million for the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development, Communications and the Arts to partner with the Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Council of Australia (FECCA) to support media literacy in culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities. This partnership aims to empower multicultural communities to combat harms associated with the proliferation of deceptive information including mis and disinformation, and support improved economic and civic participation.

ABC Welcomes Five-Year Funding

The ABC has welcomed what it calls “funding certainty” delivered in the 2023 Federal Budget, the first of the new five-year funding cycle.

In a statement, Australia’s biggest national broadcaster said, “In a rapidly changing media environment, the budget provides financial stability and allows the ABC to continue delivering on its charter, serving Australian audiences across the country and in our region.

“It is particularly important that the Government has decided to incorporate the Enhanced Newsgathering (ENG) program into the ABC’s ongoing operational funding base. The ENG program, which supports around 70 journalists and content makers, delivers more tailored news to local communities and has allowed the ABC to invest further in specialist resources that provide vital context and analysis. The program has been operating since 2012-13 as a terminating measure and has been renewed three times.”

The National broadcaster also welcomed ongoing funding for audio description (AD) services. This has also been rolled into the ABC’s base funding.

“The ABC’s commitment to audio description services has been vital for blind or visually impaired audiences,” said the broadcaster. “In the last financial year, the ABC broadcast 1260 hours of unique audio-description content including many premiere events or first-possible releases, across broadcast multi-channels. The funding allocation means AD services will be extended to ABC iview.”

The ABC has also welcomed additional investment into the distribution of Australian content throughout the region as part of the Indo Pacific Broadcasting Strategy.

“This funding will enable the ABC to increase the return on investment in Pacific focused content which it is already creating under the 2022 funding envelope of the Indo-Pacific Broadcasting Strategy. A significant component of the funding announced in this budget will be directed towards further expansion of the FM footprint of ABC Radio Australia.

“Our research shows that FM radio transmission is the most cost-effective medium with the highest potential to reach audiences in the region,” said the broadcaster. “The ABC is already achieving substantial success with new content under increased Government funding including the flagship pan-Pacific news program for TV and video on demand The Pacific.”

ABC Managing Director David Anderson said: “The funding provides a solid foundation as the ABC continues to evolve its services to meet the needs of Australian audiences. The next five years will be crucial to the ABC as we navigate significant changes in media consumption, industry-wide cost pressures and increasing requirements to modernise and adapt to new technology.

“I will soon announce a new Five-Year Plan setting out the ABC’s priorities. The plan will ensure that we embrace the opportunities of the future, and that the ABC remains the most important cultural institution for all Australians.”

Commenting on the funding extension of the VAST satellite service until 2031, Free TV CEO, Bridget Fair said, “This announcement is fantastic news for the 1.5 million Australians who rely on the VAST satellite platform for their free television services. After years of temporary funding commitments, Minister Rowland and the Albanese Government have provided some much needed certainty.”

“We thank the Albanese Government and Minister Rowland in particular for their long-term commitment to ensuring that all Australians, regardless of where they live, can continue to come together to watch great Australian content on their televisions for free,” Ms Fair said.

Meanwhile, Lisa Davies, Chief Executive of the Australian Associated Press (AAP), also welcomed the Government’s Budget announcement.

“As Australia’s only independent newswire, AAP is the backbone of public interest journalism,” she said. “We are dedicated to accurate and impartial reporting, and to protecting Australians from misinformation and disinformation through the essential work of AAP FactCheck.”

Ms Davies said AAP looked forward to working with the government on the NewsMAP program and continuing its “vital contribution to a diverse media landscape that serves all communities, including in rural and regional areas”.

“AAP’s journalists, photographers, and fact checkers work tirelessly to inform and educate, covering the issues that matter to Australians and our democracy,” she said.

The support includes $1.8 million in 2022/23 and $3.2 million in 2023/24.

Other Budget announcements in the Communications portfolio included:

  • an additional $132.1 million over four years to the eSafety Commissioner to improve safety online, increasing its base operational funding from $10.3 million to $42.5 million per year;
  • $10.9 million to support the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) to establish an SMS Sender ID Registry to help fight scammers; and
  • the roll-out of a cell broadcast National Messaging System, and investment of $10.1 million to establish a Taskforce to progress a Public Safety Mobile Broadband (PSMB) capability. The Taskforce will establish the framework for delivering a mobile broadband service that provides Public Safety Agencies with fast and secure voice, video and data communications and instant access to data, images and information in critical situations.


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