The ABC spends $2 million a year promoting its content on Google and Facebook in an increasingly fractious battle with commercial rivals over the battle for online audience.
Australian Conservatives leader Cory Bernardi says not only is the national broadcaster out of control when it comes to bias in political reporting, it’s now lost the plot over how to spend the more than one billion taxpayer dollars it is given every year.
The government's recent competitive neutrality inquiry is examining the online news services of both the ABC and SBS and this behaviour goes to the heart of the concerns about unnecessary ABC competition with private enterprise in profit-critical online platforms.
Chief financial officer Louise Higgins revealed the broadcaster's annual expenditure on Facebook advertising was about $1.4 million, as well as the $500,000 it would spend boosting Google search results this year.
That was about half the ABC's annual marketing budget of $4 million, which Ms Higgins said was "a very small investment in making sure that Australians are aware of the content that we're making".
The public broadcaster's spending on Google and Facebook has irritated bosses at commercial media rivals - including Greg Hywood, the chief executive of Fairfax Media, who lashed out at the ABC at a previous Senate inquiry.
"The ABC also, out of taxpayers' money, pays Google, who pay negligible tax and spend nothing on local content provision, for search engine marketing," Mr Hywood complained last year.
"That means that the ABC stories appear higher on key search terms such as national news, international news et cetera, and restricts our ability to generate revenue from our audience."
ABC managing director Michelle Guthrie, formerly a high-ranking Google executive, was not at this week's Senate hearings but has previously dismissed critics of the broadcaster's advertising spend.
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