The ABC has warned of cuts to investigative journalism, fact checking and regional reporting if funding provided by Labor is not renewed.
In 2013 the Gillard government gave the ABC’s news division an extra $20 million a year for three years. The funding expires in June 2016, and the broadcaster fears it will not be extended by the Turnbull government in the federal budget.
The broadcaster responded on Monday to a question on notice from Liberal Senator Eric Abetz with a statement saying the cuts would be a “significant challenge”.
“If the tied funding is not renewed, it will inevitably result in cuts to programming, content and personnel,” it said in the Senate document.
According to the ABC, the funding was used to employ 106 people and was spent on the Fact Check and documentaries section, an investigative journalism team, regional reporters and live video linking between remote areas and the capital cities.
Communications Minister Mitch Fifield has not publicly confirmed if the funding will or will not be renewed.
‘The govt doesn’t like honest reporting’
Labor’s Senator Sue Lines, a member of the Senate budget scrutiny committee, said if the Turnbull government did not renew the funding in this year’s budget it would “effectively gag” the broadcaster.
“It wouldn’t surprise me if that’s what the Turnbull government does because it doesn’t like the ABC. It doesn’t like honesty and integrity in reporting and so has hit back at the ABC, so it wouldn’t surprise me if they sought to also punish them by reducing their funding,” Senator Lines told The New Daily.
“My view is that in a democracy we need truthful reporting, whether we like it as politicians or not. That is the role of the public broadcaster, to hold governments to account and to hold anyone to account, really, and to be one of the pillars that upholds our democracy.
“Whether I like the stories they run or not, whether the ABC holds the Labor party or any political party accountable, that is their role in a democracy. We can’t support an open and free media and then seek to muzzle the public broadcaster.”
‘At risk is 10 per cent of our news budget’
Outgoing ABC chief executive Mark Scott also warned of harmful consequences if the funding is not renewed.
“We got given some money three years ago to invest in our news services and I think we spent that money well. We created local websites around the country, a team of investigative reporters, more journalists in regional areas,” Mr Scott told Media Watch on March 28.
“That funding is up now for renewal and if it doesn’t get renewed then there’ll be significant job losses and that may go all the way through to programming.
“At risk is 10 per cent of our news budget and I’ve said to Canberra that they clearly will be content and programming consequences if that money doesn’t come back.”
The ABC’s funding is reviewed every three years.