A proposal to dismantle ABC’s digital radio services – including Double J and Triple J Unearthed – has been put forward in a new review of Australia’s public broadcasters.
According to the Lewis efficiency review, a private government investigation into the ABC and SBS commissioned by Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull in January, dumping Triple J’s digital brands is “high on the list” of cost-cutting recommendations, as The Guardian reports.
As well as encouraging the Government to put the two-months-old Double J and Unearthed stations on the chopping block, the review – led by former Seven West Media officer Peter Lewis – also suggests that ABC and SBS should begin charging for content and public services, offload assets, sell property, increase advertising, and outsource production of locally produced content.
Other revenue raising proposals include charging a fee for ABC’s iView service, or potentially merging it with SBS’s own catch-up service – as well merging the Melbourne SBS office with that of ABC’s.
Among the transformations that would potentially lead to the loss of jobs and services includes selling ABC studios in each state and abandoning the construction of the new $90 million ABC studios in Melbourne that the previous Labor government committed to backing in the 2014 Federal Budget. Although, sources suggest that scrapping the facility – which is already being built – would be too costly at this stage.
Ultimately, the review’s recommendations – including introducing paid subscription models, selling off property, and outsourcing production to the private sector – indicates that ABC could generate around $70 million in savings.
As Fairfax reports, Coalition members are downplaying the public broadcasting efficiency recommendations, which have not yet been made available to the public.
“This is not a policy of the government. This is not something that we’ve put out there,” said Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, who described the Lewis review as a “report to government, not a report from the government.”
Likewise, Minister Turnbull said this week that the review was designed to protect ABC programming from changes in the 2014 Federal Budget, which sees public broadcasters facing cuts of $43.5 million.
Meanwhile, ABC Managing Director Mark Scott told staff this week that he’s set up an office to investigate the Lewis review’s findings compared to the ABC’s own internal budgetary analysis. ‘‘The Lewis review is not prescriptive and final decisions on how the ABC operates and spends its budget lies with the ABC board,’’ he said.
But lobby group ABC Friends, who have long opposed proposals by the Liberal Party to privatise the ABC, says details of the Lewis review should be make public regardless.
“Australians are entitled to know what is being considered for their national public broadcaster. Full details of the cost-cutting review must immediately be made public,” said spokesperson Gleny Stradijot, in a statement that also questioned the review’s namesake, Peter Lewis.
“Minister Turnbull needs to explain why his appointee to head the review does not have a conflict of interest,” said Stradijot, questioning why the former Seven West Media – a commercial competitor – was heading up the review and “given access to confidential information about the internal operations of the ABC and developing recommendations for its future.”