The ABC’s extensive coverage of bushfires ravaging the country threatens to push the taxpayer-funded news organisation into more budget strife with emergency broadcasting events on track to double in 2020.
There have been 670 emergency broadcasting events for the 2019-20 financial year so far, an ABC spokesman said, compared to 371 for the full 2018-19 financial year. In 2017-18 there were 256 events, a figure that had been surpassed by mid-September 2019.
These national emergency broadcasts are not part of the ABC’s charter requirements, though are considered to be of significant public benefit by the government and communities across the country, and come out of the existing $1 billion-a-year budget.
The public broadcaster has been faced with the prospect of cutting about 200 staff among other cost savings plans as it grapples with an indexation freeze imposed by the government that was forecast in the 2018 Federal Budget to eventually shave $84 million a year off expected funding.
As the inflation rate has been lower since the federal budget this impact may be reduced but this has not stopped management discussions at the ABC about the need for substantial cuts to handle the decrease in taxpayer funds.
“The cost of the ABC’s emergency broadcasting coverage come out of base funding – there is no specific government funding for this coverage,” the ABC spokesman said in a statement.
“These costs are growing,” he said.
“We will always prioritise coverage of emergency information and will continue to speak with government to ensure that we are adequately funded to serve the Australian public.”
Sources with knowledge of the sensitive funding discussions said there historically hadn’t been a huge interest from the ABC for an extra budget allocation specifically directed to emergency services but instead for an increase in overall funding.
A spokeswoman for Communications Minister Paul Fletcher said the ABC was doing an “excellent job” providing emergency information.
“No request has been made by the ABC for additional funding to support their emergency broadcasting services,” the spokeswoman said.
“Should such a request be made, the government will quickly consider it as part of a broader relief package.”
The ABC spokesman declined to comment on the amount of additional funding that might be needed or the form it would take, saying the “focus at the moment is to deliver vital information to the communities affected by the fires”.
The ABC has indicated an interest in more funding for broader regional services, particularly as private media companies struggle to keep newsrooms open in rural Australia amid declining audiences and advertising revenue heading online.
ABC managing director David Anderson told staff on Friday in an email that the coverage had been a “whole-of-ABC effort”.
“This has included extensive rolling emergency and news broadcasts for days on end and unprecedented and impressive digital story production,” he said, adding that the New Years Eve coverage had reached 3.5 million people and raised $2.8 million for the Red Cross.
Labor Communications spokeswoman Michelle Rowland said in a statement that the ABC team had been doing an “extraordinary job during this crisis” and when other forms of communication weren’t available often the broadcaster was the only means of information.
“Labor has been calling for a national response to these bushfires, and given its important role, this must include the national broadcaster,” she said.
Source: Thanks smh.com