ABC, SBS not damaging viability of commercial media

Mariam Cheik-Hussein
By Mariam Cheik-Hussein | 13 December 2018

An independent review by the government has found the ABC and SBS are not competing unfairly with commercial rivals.

The Inquiry into the Competitive Neutrality of the National Broadcasters was released yesterday and was led by former Foxtel boss Peter Tonagh after claims were made by politicians that the public broadcasters had an unfair advantage.

The report found the public broadcasters we're not breaching competition neutrality, which seeks to ensure competition is not distorted by public entities taking inappropriate advantage of government ownership.

It did, however, suggest the ABC and SBS could be more transparent and improve on internal procedures.

“Given their market shares, and other factors, this inquiry considers the national broadcasters are not causing significant competitive distortions beyond the public interest,” the report said.

“Competitive neutrality is not intended to prevent public entities from competing, nor to relieve discomfort from competitive processes which bring benefits to consumers.

“Australian media consumers have rapidly adopted and enjoyed new services brought forward by competition.”

Free TV welcomes the panel's recommendations around transparency, but said it has not set out the changes needed to address the shortcomings.

“We have consistently said we stand with all Australians who want strong, vibrant and distinctive national broadcasters,” Free TV CEO Bridget Fair said.

“However, we do not believe the panel gave sufficient weight to the evidence provided by the commercial sector of competitive neutrality issues associated with recent investment and programming decisions of the ABC and SBS.”

SBS said in a statement it welcomes the findings, adding it will consider the panel's recommendations in detail.

“As the terms of reference noted, competitive neutrality principles do not imply that government organisations cannot successfully compete with private businesses,” SBS said.

“SBS is engaging more Australians than ever before as a result of a well-defined strategy, content audiences won’t find anywhere else and efficient operations, all in service of the SBS Charter.”

ABC also said it welcomes the findings, highlighting it’s international companies that are likely to increase pressure on the domestic market.

“Recognising the ABC should be able to adapt to new and emerging technology and audience behaviours, the independent expert panel agreed the ABC is operating in the public interest and in line with its charter,” the ABC said.

The inquiry follows calls led by News Corp papers, such as The Australian, for the ABC to be privatised or have funding slashed. Nine, formerly Fairfax, has to a lesser extent joined this push.

News Corp declined to comment while Nine referred AdNews to Free TV's statement.

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