Politics

Labor pledges funding boost to safeguard Australian public broadcasters from ‘arbitrary’ interference | Australian Broadcasting Corporation

Labor will pledge to safeguard the ABC and the SBS against “arbitrary ideological cuts and political interference” – including by delivering greater funding certainty for the national broadcasters.

The Labor leader, Anthony Albanese, will say on Saturday that he would provide the broadcasters with five-year funding terms – rather than the three-year funding reviews that currently apply.

Making a pre-election pitch to voters, Albanese will declare that “only Labor will protect the ABC and SBS as independent public broadcasters”.

Unlinking funding from the three-year electoral cycle “will improve the capacity of the national broadcasters to innovate as well as plan”, according to a statement to be issued by Albanese and Labor’s communications spokesperson, Michelle Rowland.

“In addition to five-year funding terms, a Labor government will review options for delivering a greater level of financial stability and certainty to the national broadcasters to safeguard against arbitrary ideological cuts and political interference,” Albanese and Rowland will say.

The statement does not identify those options, but ideas that have been floated in the past include a more open, transparent consultation process with public input ahead of funding renewals, and even legislative options.

Labor would consider those options in government, with the election due by May next year.

Albanese and Rowland will vow to “bolster the independence and stability of the national broadcasters as a guard against political interference in Australia’s democratic institutions.”

“In the face of political, social and economic instability at home and abroad, we must ensure that Australia’s instruments of nation building, democracy and culture remain strong now and into the future.”

The opposition says the five-year funding commitment is in addition to Labor’s previous commitment to reinstate $83.7m that was cut from the ABC.

The promise comes days after the ABC chair, Ita Buttrose, accused the Morrison government of political interference and attempting to intimidate the public broadcaster after the Senate established an inquiry into its complaints handling. Buttrose also described the relationship with the government as “strained”.

The inquiry was announced last week after the ABC’s complaints division told Fox News it had not upheld any of the complaints made in a lengthy submission about a Four Corners program on Fox News aired in August.

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The Senate environment and communications legislation committee, chaired by Liberal senator Andrew Bragg, launched a snap inquiry into complaints handling by the ABC and SBS, to report by 28 February.

The prime minister, Scott Morrison, defended the inquiry, saying he could not understand why the ABC “would consider themselves an exception to business as usual”.

“[The ABC] is a government agency, they have their independence and nobody is questioning that, but that are not above the scrutiny of how they conduct themselves, using taxpayers money from any other government agency,” Morrison said on Monday.

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