Federal budget 2016: ABC prepares for funding cut, journalist job losses

The additional funding helped support the creation of the Killing Season, a Sarah Ferguson documentary examining Labor’s time in power under Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard. Photo: ABC TVThe ABC is bracing for a $20 million a year budget cut the broadcaster says would put the jobs of investigative journalists and reporters in regional areas at risk.
Nanjing Night Net

Funding, equivalent to around 10 per cent of the ABC’s news budget, will expire this year unless the Turnbull government provides extra money in the May budget as part of the ABC’s triennial funding deal.

The previous Labor government gave the public broadcaster $89.4 million over four years for new reporting initiatives and upgrades to its digital services in its last budget. The money was spent on new investigative journalism positions, a fact check unit, suburban newsrooms and extra money for documentaries.

“The $20m funding the news division receives is a significant amount of its annual budget,” the broadcaster said in documents lodged with the Senate.

“If the monies are not renewed as part of ABC’s triennial funding, it represents a significant challenge to the division.

“ABC News management is currently scoping contingencies in the event of further funding shortfalls.”

The ABC continued: “If the tied funding is not renewed, it will inevitably result in cuts to programming, content and personnel.”

Communications Minister Mitch Fifield has been tight-lipped about whether there will be extra money for the ABC in the May budget. But he said last week: “I can provide the assurance that the government will make sure that the ABC is well resourced to do the job it does.”

ABC sources say they are hopeful of some funding in the May budget for news services, but do not expect the full $20 million a year to be renewed.

In its written response to the Senate, the ABC said the funding supports 106 full-time positions, with more than half located outside Sydney and Melbourne. This includes new positions for journalists and video crews in Bunbury, Renmark, Newcastle, Wollongong, Broome, Alice Springs, Geelong, Ipswich and Gosford as well as a new ABC bureau in western Sydney.

It also funded a new National Reporting Team producing investigative and specialist reports across television, radio and online.

As well as the ABC Fact Check unit, the money was also used to make documentaries including The Killing Season, examining the Rudd-Gillard years, and a documentary on the history of the Nationals.

In one of his final interviews as ABC managing director, Mark Scott told the ABC’s Media Watch there would be “significant job losses” if the funding is not renewed.

Mr Scott has begun a month-long handover to his successor, former Google executive Michelle Guthrie.

The Abbott government cut the ABC’s funding by $250 million over five years in 2014.

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