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Government undertakes efficiency study of ABC, SBS

Communications minister Malcolm Turnbull has announced that his department will conduct “a study of the efficiency of the operations” of the ABC and sister public broadcaster, SBS.

The efficiency reviews will not look at either broadcaster’s charters or editorial or programming decisions.

The announcement comes in the same week as the Prime Minister questioned the ABC’s editorial focus.

“It is a routine responsibility of the Minister to ensure that the ABC and SBS use public resources as efficiently as possible,” Turnbull said in a statement on Thursday.

“Over time Parliament has broadened the charter responsibilities of the ABC and SBS. But the means by which these responsibilities are delivered, resources are allocated and priorities determined is at the discretion of the national broadcasters’ boards and managements – with varying levels of transparency to the government of cost drivers or scope for efficiencies,” he added.

“The study will examine costs for the day-to-day operations which deliver ABC and SBS programs, products and services, and propose options to increase efficiency and reduce expense.”

“The objective is to ensure ABC and SBS fulfil their Charter responsibilities at least cost to the community, and keep pace with rapidly changing practices in the broadcasting sector. It will not review the terms of the national broadcasters’ charters, or editorial and programming decisions. In other words the study will not review the content of what is broadcast, but rather the cost of delivering that content and the operations that support it.”

Peter Lewis, formerly chief financial officer of Seven West Media Limited, will assist the Department in conducting the review.

Controversy has surrounded the ABC this week, starting with the prime minister Tony Abbott calling the broadcaster unpatriotic over its coverage of asylum seeker abuse claims and the Edward Snowden leaks, saying the ABC “took everyone’s side but Australia’s”. That coincided with a story in The Australian newspaper that the government is considering closing down the ABC-run Asia Pacific satellite TV service, Australia Network.

However the timing of the coverage of the ABC’s issues and the announcement of the review was completely coincidental Turnbull said. He told the ABC’s PM program on Thursday that work on setting up the review had started several months ago.

Earlier the communications Minister distanced himself from the Prime Minister’s comments saying politicians should not tell the ABC what to write and that its “internal programming and editorial decisions” were the responsibility of the broadcaster’s own board and executive.

“The study is being conducted with the full co-operation and assistance of ABC and SBS, which have both volunteered representatives to work on the team [conducting the study,” Turnbull said. “The ABC and SBS have welcomed the study as a useful and timely addition to their routine internal processes to identify efficiencies.”

The government’s review will start in February and is expected to be complete by April.

Malcolm Tunrbull’s interview with 7.30’s Leigh Sales on the ABC can be seen here

A defence of the ABC by 702 Drive presenter Richard Glover can be heard here 

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