Solution to ABC budget cuts

Here is an idea for how the ABC might deal with the inevitable round of cuts next Budget.

Clever bureaucrats when faced with funding cuts go for the jugular. They attack some popular vote-sensitive function and announce it will be cut. The backlash often results in a funding rethink.

The ABC has lost $330 million in annual funding in the eight years to 2018, about a third of its 2010 budget.

In 2017-18 it was down to $865 million or just 9.5 cents per person per day, down from 19 cents a day in 1987.

If you convert the figures to 1987 dollars you get the famous 8 cents a day of the 1987 campaign compared to 4 cents a day (in 1987 dollar terms) today.

In short, the ABC has lost half its funding over the past 30 years. Small wonder it is full of cheap panel and cooking shows and overseas drama series.

Nonetheless, it does a pretty good job.

As my mother said to me years ago in her nursing home communal lounge where the TV was locked permanently on to a commercial channel: “Crispin, can you imagine life without the ABC!”

Most of the funding cuts were accommodated through efficiencies, but now all fat, duplication and waste is gone. Any more cuts will have to go to core production.

So here is the big idea. Instead of salami slicing and hurting every area of ABC endeavour, why not go for the jugular. The ABC should announce that it is ending all coverage of sport.

The savings would go to meeting the cut first and any left over go to Australian drama and documentaries. SBS should do the same.

The screams from the politicians, particularly the Coalition ones, would be loud indeed. But the ABC could quite reasonably argue that conservative commentators have long called for the ABC not to replicate what the commercials can do. 

Of course, that commentary has been directed at news and current affairs, but the fact is the commercials do not do news and current affairs the way the ABC and SBS do – concentrating on news of consequence; investigating matters of public importance and exposing malfeasance.

However, the ABC sports coverage is little different from the commercial coverage. Further, sport is a spectacle and a result. Bias and error are rare and quickly correctable, unlike political coverage.

Further, there is little of public importance in sport. It does not matter one whit whether NSW or Queensland wins the State of Origin or whether Australia or England wins the ashes.

Elite competitive sport is a business. The ABC should not be wasting precious public money paying the eye-watering amounts of money demanded for the right to televise 30 or so, usually men, move a ball across the ground.

Nor should it contribute to sport’s exposure and audience generation which amounts to free advertising and drives the cost of broadcast rights ever higher. The commercial channels can do it well enough.

Sport is so thoroughly commercial that there is an argument that its coverage offends the commercial-free demands of the ABC’s charter.

The ABC’s sports coverage cannot avoid giving free advertising to the sponsors whose logos are emblazoned across every sports ground and uniform. Indeed, it is worse than free advertising. The ABC is in effect paying the advertiser rather than the other way around.

Lastly, the argument that coverage of sport sets a good example for fitness and team spirit falls flat. Many elite footballers end with wrecked bodies or brain damage through soccer headers. 

Everyday fitness for ordinary people has nothing to do with the commercial spectacle of elite sport, which encourages couch potato viewers more than active participation.

And for every aspirational example in elite sport there are two or three examples of elites sports people engaging in illegal or disreputable conduct, the latter of which gets the most media coverage.

As to how much the ABC would save from axing sport, it is hard to say. The ABC’s media arm said: “It would be difficult to work out. ‘Covering sport’ is a very broad search term – the ABC would cover sport in a whole lot of ways across multiple teams – for example in News, Grandstand, on radio, in regional coverage.” It directed me to the annual report. I had already looked at that and it provided no answer. 

Further, information on the cost of sport coverage in both the 2014 and 2018 reports into ABC and SBS efficiency was specifically redacted. Perhaps it was too embarrassingly high.

Even if the ABC does not lose funding it should still look at cutting sport and increasing Australian drama and documentaries.

But the ABC should get more money, not less. The BBC, for example, gets four times the per capita funding than the ABC gets. That’s why it does such an unparalleled job, without even considering dropping sport.

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I CANNOT understand why British Prime Minister Theresa May argues that a second Brexit referendum would be undemocratic and disrespect the will of the people. That would hold if there was no evidence of a change in public opinion, or if the Government was in open defiance of the referendum result, or if there was no new information that would likely have changed people’s minds.

That is not the case now. Polls suggest a majority think the earlier vote was a mistake because both an exit with a deal or without a deal come at too high a price. 

In a democracy it is the latest opinion that counts and it is not undemocratic to seek it when events reveal that the earlier opinion is unlikely to be a majority one. After all, was it undemocratic to hold the 2016 referendum at all, given that in 1975 the British people voted 67 per cent in a referendum to stay in the EU.

If there could be an update of the 1975 referendum because of changed circumstances, why can’t there be an update of the 2016 referendum?


This article first appeared in The Canberra Times and other Nine mastheads on 19 January 2019.

11 thoughts on “Solution to ABC budget cuts”

  1. I heartily agree. I loathe cricket and intensely dislike Rugby League, AFL and other pugilistic trades. If the corporations that run such activities want coverage on government stations, they should put their hands in their pockets and pay for them to be broadcast, rather than the other way around. An extra 10 minutes of real world news in News Bulletins wouldn’t go amiss

  2. The BBC gains about 70% of its income from the licence fee. I can’t see the introduction of same in Australia being accepted at this late date.

    Comparing the BBC’s situation with those of the ABC and SBS is indeed similar to comparing Valencia oranges with Granny Smith and Pink Lady apples.

  3. Hear hear, especially “Even if the ABC does not lose funding it should still look at cutting sport and increasing Australian drama and documentaries”!

  4. Mouthpiece for left ideology?

    Yeah, that’s why they have The Guns Fall Silent, a Summer of Cricket, shows for the chronically untalented T Switzer and A Vanstone, and 3 x Religion shows versus 1 x Science show.

  5. Why do you compare the BBC to the ABC funding models? In the UK, the licence fee pays for the BBC whereas in Australia the ABC/SBS are directly funded by the taxpayer. Can’t compare apples to oranges Crispin!

  6. ABC sport? Could not agree more. So-called “professional” sport lost me when betting became widespread. How could anyone ever have faith in the result of an event when it only takes one small act by one person to swing a large amount of money to a gambler? The non-ABC commentaries are constantly commercial to a bizarre extent, and it is increasingly difficult for the ABC to not promote some special interest merely by displaying the playing surface. The whole scene has been utterly traduced, and public money should take no part in promoting it.

  7. Amen to the ABC and SBS axing sport. It makes complete sense. We already have saturation level sport on tv and radio. Even a brief RN news broadcast will contain a ridiculously high percentage of sports news. Why is it more important than any other topic? It’s a persistent myth that Australians are blindly devoted to sports – many Australians don’t care a fig about it. I’d rather the ABC and SBS invest their limited funds in employing the best producers, journalists and technicians they can afford so they can restore the ever-diminishing quality and quantity of their programmes. Too many highly experienced people have already been lost from ABC and SBS due to punitive budget cuts. Get rid of sports coverage!

  8. Thanks for the chance to comment. Your idea might have merit if the coalition were set to be elected again but this is apparently not going to happen. I would say that Labor, when elected, will more than likely increase the ABC allocation – at least in the short term.

  9. The ABC dropping televised sport probably wouldn’t have much effect now that women’s sport is also going professional, but dropping Grandstand on radio would certainly cause a reaction in the bush. ******* How sure are the pollsters in the UK that another referendum would give a different result? Telling voters they are a bunch of idiots is not usually a successful way of changing their views c.f. independents generally being re-elected in this country.

  10. Crispin, the ABC is a mouth piece for left/far left ideology.
    Their budget should be cut 10% each year until they offer unbiased news.

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