The ABC’s triennial funding is due to be updated in June 2022. However, this year’s budget papers show a dip of 0.8 percent (estimated to be worth $10 million) for public broadcasting and foreshadow a larger cut of 6% in real terms for the next four years, even though the indexation freeze imposed by the Turnbull Government is due to end in 2022. This comes on top of ongoing reductions to ABC funding that total $783 million since 2014.
The cuts to the national broadcaster are being justified in part because of new budget measures to support the media sector, including $30 million for SBS, a $15 million boost to Australian Associated Press, and $4 million to the Australian Communications and Media Authority to administer the News Media Bargaining Code.
This cut to the ABC’s funding stands in contrast to the government identifying digital transformation as a key ambition, with the government announcing a $1.2 billion ‘Digital Economy Strategy’. The future-facing digital funding conveniently ignores the challenges the ABC is experiencing right now due to digital technology, with digital platforms like Facebook and Google providing a tidal wave of disinformation and conspiracy theories that credible local news organisations like the ABC are trying to hold back.
This critical role the ABC plays in our digital information landscape was clearly evident during last year’s bushfires, and throughout the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Australia Institute research shows that three quarters of Australians support increased funding for the ABC to reflect its emergency broadcaster role , and the ABC remains the most trusted news source in Australia.
Despite this, the ABC continues to be frozen out of additional needed funds at a time when its role as the public broadcaster is more important than ever.