Competitive neutrality of ABC and SBS to be investigated

April 13, 2018

The Turnbull Government has set out the terms of reference for an inquiry into the competitive neutrality of the ABC and SBS and appointed a three-person panel to look at whether the national broadcasters are using their privileged status to smother commercial operators.

The Australian newspaper reports, a paper sets out the scope of a wideranging inquiry into how the ABC and SBS operate within their markets and how they compete with the private sector. The degree of multi-platform competition has long been criticised by Australian Conservatives founder, Senator Cory Bernardi.

“Competitive neutrality principles provide that government business activities should not enjoy net competitive advantages simply by virtue of their public sector ownership,” a statement issued by the office of Communications Minister Mitch Fifield said.

The government has told the inquiry to focus on:

  • The application of competitive neutrality principles to the business activities of the ABC and SBS, including in operational decision-making and risk management. The cost structures of business activities.
  • The regulatory obligations for the ABC and SBS compared to those for private sector operators, insofar as this these relate to competitive neutrality principles.
  • The adequacy of current compliance and reporting arrangements.
  • Complaints and accountability mechanisms operated by the broadcasters, insofar as they relate to competitive neutrality principles.

The panel will also make observations on the role of national broadcasters in the modern media environment, according to the terms of reference.

It comes after media industry leaders demanded a review of the charters outlining the purpose of the ABC and SBS in light of evidence they were ramping up activities that encroached into the commercial sector.

The organisations were told to return to their public service roots, stop chasing viewers, provide more regional content and face restrictions on their ability to use taxpayer funding to out muscle commercial rivals.

The inquiry is part of the government’s media reform package which also includes a probe by the competition regulator into the growing power of tech giants like Facebook and Google.

To read the full article by Darren Davidson and Stephen Brook, click here.

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