Thursday, 30 January 2014

In praise of Malcolm Turnbull for his ABC review and other news and views noted along the way

Protecting the ABC and SBS. The conspiracy theorists and Coalition government haters went into overdrive today when Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull released details of a study into the efficiency of the operations of the ABC and SBS. Almost without a moments thought the chant went up that examining operational costs as well as products and services in order to “increase efficiency and reduce expense” was actually a way of punishing the ABC for reporting things in  way the government did not like.  A moment’s calmer reflection would have resulted in the realisation that Malcolm Turnbull has actually saved the public broadcasters from the across -the-board cost cutting (strangely called an efficiency dividend by governments) affecting almost all other parts of public services. It is arbitrary cuts of that kind that would result in a lowering of standards of broadcasts. Under the arrangement Turnbull has got his Cabinet colleagues to agree to any spending cuts will be in the ‘back of house’ day-to-day operational and financial operations, structures and processes applied to delivering ABC and SBS programs, products and services. As the statement by the Department of Communication makes clear, “it is not a study of the quality of the national broadcasters’ programs, products and services, or the responsibilities set out in their Charters but of the efficiency of the delivery of those services to the Australian public.”
Who knows, if the inquiry actually identifies more efficient ways of doing bureaucratic things there might actually be more funds to spend on programming.
I doubt that the leaders of the anti-ABC cheer squad in Holt Street will be pleased at that prospect. They would have been far happier with the approach outlined on page one of The Australian this morning:
30-01-2014 cutting Here’s the full departmental statement on the review:
ABC and SBS Efficiency Study–Terms of Reference
The Study 
The national broadcasters, ABC and SBS, receive $1.2 billion in funding a year from the Australian Government. It is a routine responsibility of all Government authorities to use taxpayers’ funds as efficiently as possible and to strive for operational improvements, and the 
broadcasters are no exception.
Parliament has agreed over time to a broad range of responsibilities for the ABC and SBS which are incorporated into their respective Charters. The delivery against those Charter responsibilities, relative priorities and resource allocation are largely at the discretion of the 
ABC and SBS Board and management. There is limited transparency to the Australian public, the Government and the Parliament of the breakdown of costs of delivering the ABC and SBS Charter responsibilities and whether these could be more efficiently delivered by the 
national broadcasters.
This study will seek to clarify these costs, provide options for more efficient delivery of services (based on current practice in Australian broadcasting), identify risks and any impediments to change and assist the national broadcasters to continue to deliver their 
Charter responsibilities in ways that minimise costs and maximise benefits for the Australian community.
The study will focus on the costs of inputs—that is the ‘back of house’ day-to-day operational and financial operations, structures and processes applied to delivering ABC and SBS programs, products and services. It is not a study of the quality of the national broadcasters’ programs, products and services, or the responsibilities set out in their Charters but of the efficiency of the delivery of those services to the Australian public.
The Department of Communications will conduct the study and will be assisted by Mr Peter Lewis, formerly Chief Financial Officer of Seven West Media Limited. ABC and SBS personnel will also form part of the study’s secretariat. It will focus on all ABC and SBS activities, other than those specifically specified as out of scope below, including:
• Television 
• Radio (Analog and Digital) 
• International services 
• Digital services including online and catch-up TV 
• Production—including facilities 
• Advertising (SBS only) 
• Enterprises/retail services 
• Corporate overheads 
• Asset management and capital expenses.
The study will not be limited to looking at these activities separately, and could also look at outputs on a cross-platform basis i.e. delivery of news and current affairs across TV, radio and digital, where useful. 
Out of Scope
• Transmission costs, which will be the subject of separate advice to Government; 
• Changes to the ABC and SBS Charters; 
• Editorial policies of the national broadcasters; 
• Allowing advertising on the ABC; 
• Quality of programs/products delivered by the broadcasters.
Terms of reference
The study will provide an objective assessment of the efficiency of the ABC and SBS in delivering their services. The study will: 
• identify the real current and expected future costs of each output of the ABC and the SBS (as set out in Scope above); 
• test those costs against better practice broadcasting operational models and practices  and quantify differences; 
• identify the options available to the broadcasters to improve efficiencies and the  benefits and risks of such options; 
• identify any impediments to implementation of such options—this analysis may go to operational, governance, structural, financial and cultural issues within each 
• develop an ‘ideal cost-base’ for the national broadcasters and compare this with current cost base. 
The study will also identify options to improve: 
• transparency of the costs of national broadcasting services to maintain confidence in their expenditure of public funds;
• the processes and systems for decision-making across different genres, platforms and priorities; and 
• operational governance and management practices/processes of the national broadcasters including ways of enhancing the efficient and transparent management of the organisations. 
Without further limiting its scope, the study should: 
• Consider the return on investment of the public funding for the national broadcasters, 
including in terms of audience or other usage; 
• Analyse costs at the level of services (eg ABC1, ABC2, Radio National etc); platform (television, radio, online); audience brands (eg ABC 4 Kids, or News); program 
genre; and in relation to specific Tied Funding such as the National Interest Initiative; 
• Provide breakdowns of these costs in States and regions, and by audience or user demographic; and 
• Quantify, as far as possible, the costs of operating at locations across Australia.
In undertaking the task, the study will have regard to:
• The ABC and SBS Charters, legislated obligations and editorial and operational independence from government; 
• Ratings, audience reach and other relevant audience measures for the ABC and SBS programming; 
• Changing audience demand, particularly increasing use of catch-up and online services; 
• The role of ABC and SBS in provision of emergency services information; 
• The geographic spread of services and infrastructure, their importance to communities compared to the costs of maintenance; and 
• The relative importance/performance of the ABC and SBS compared to other broadcasting services in local markets. 
The report arising from the study will be provided to the Minister and the Chairs of the ABC 
and SBS on completion.
The project will commence in February 2014 and deliver its final report in April 2014.
So you don’t think global warming is real? Tell that to the Fijians. From the Fiji Times of 15 January:
Maybe there’ll still be a role for people after all. Those self scanning things at supermarkets have a cost after-all. They may save on the wages of checkout operators but the cheating by the self-serving customers is apparently immense – 1.7 billion pounds a year from UK supermarkets according to a survey reported today
An international view. News coverage from outside Australia seems to be getting less and less so if you are interested in an international view may I recommend my regular daily features on this blog – Asian newspaper front pagesEuropean front pages and American (north and south) front pages? Not tht I can’t be parochil too – there’s always my morning coverage of the Australian papers
Some other news and views noted along the way.
  • On A Roman Street, Graffiti Celebrates ‘SuperPope’
  • Detention Of Al-Jazeera Journalists Strains Free Speech In Egypt – “The case has shown just how far Egypt has backslid on the goals of an uprising that began three years ago this week. Demands at the time included greater freedom of expression; this case has had a chilling effect on journalists based in Cairo. Of course, Al-Jazeera is a special case. The Egyptian government is angry with the wealthy Gulf nation of Qatar, which funds Al-Jazeera, for its support of the Muslim Brotherhood and accuses the channel of biased and sometimes untrue coverage. But for Fahmy’s family, the news is a shock. This fun-loving guy who was preparing to wed his fiancée is now in prison and accused of something they say they know is absolutely untrue.
  • U.S. readies financial sanctions against Ukraine: congressional aides
  • Russia to await new Ukraine government before fully implementing rescue: Putin – “President Vladimir Putin raised the pressure on Ukraine on Wednesday, saying Russia would wait until it forms a new government before fully implementing a $15 billion bailout deal that Kiev urgently needs. Putin repeated a promise to honor the lifeline agreement with Ukraine in full, but left open the timing of the next aid installment as Kiev struggles to calm more than two months of turmoil since President Victor Yanukovich walked away from a treaty with the European Union.”
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