The bosses of Australia’s commercial TV networks and news organisations have lambasted ABC and SBS for allegedly using taxpayer dollars to chase commercial audiences.
Senior executives with Fairfax Media, Network Ten and Foxtel have thrown their weight behind claims the public broadcasters are shifting away from their remit.
In a statement issued to nine.com.au, Fairfax Media chief Greg Hywood called on Communications Minister Mitch Fifield to “pull the reins” on the networks.
“At the very time the Turnbull government has reform legislation in Parliament to deal with the structural issues facing the commercial media sector, its own agencies – the ABC and SBS – are using taxpayer dollars to distort the content market,” he said.
“This madness needs to stop. Senator Fifield needs to pull the reins on such activity – hard.”
Hywood’s comments come two months after he told the Senate Select Committee on the Future of Public Interest Journalist the ABC was creating addition pressure for commercial players.
“Current media regulations designed for a legacy market prevent local media effectively competing for scale with international players such as Facebook and Google,” he argued in May.
“ABC is creating additional pressure on commercial media by aggressively competing for the same audience that commercial media rely on by providing online content for free undermining our ability to create a sustainable model.
“The ABC also pays Google out of taxpayer’s money, who pay negligible tax, and spend nothing on local content provision for search engine marketing, that means that the ABC stories appear higher on search terms such as national news, international news and restricts our ability to generate revenue from our audience.”
Meanwhile, the boss of the struggling Network Ten Paul Anderson took aim at SBS.
“SBS On Demand is a good product with a lot of top notch US drama but that’s what it is, a commercial product, just like the SBS food channel,” he said.
“SBS is clearly chasing commercial audiences and using government funding to do it. Is that what it was set up to do? I don’t think so.”
SBS On Demand is currently hosting US series A Handmaid’s Tale, for which it recently emerged the public broadcaster outbid Nine for the rights of the series starring Elisabeth Moss.
Peter Tonagh, chief executive of News Corp-owned Foxtel has also suggested taxpayer money could be better spent.
“I have great respect for the SBS but I would have thought that our taxpayer money would be best spent on programming that is consistent with their charter and would not otherwise be available to Australians. US series and Hollywood movies are already well represented on commercial and subscription television,” he said in a statement issued to nine.com.au.
The comments come as the Turnbull Government’s media reform policy waits to appear before the Senate.
The package, which includes licence fee relief for commercial TV and radio broadcasters, restrictions on gambling advertising during live sporting events, and the abolishment of the two-out-of-three ownership and 75 percent reach rules, has already passed the House of Representatives despite the Labor Party voting against it.
The TV networks are also pushing for the abolishment of a requirement to produce at least 130 hours of first-release children’s content per year, per network.
Nine.com.au has approach the Minister for Communications for comment.
© Nine Digital Pty Ltd 2017