By William Olson
Opposition communications ministers have called out the Morrison government’s continued hypocrisy in its funding of its broadcast interests – granting $10 million of public to Fox Sports, weeks after revelations of continued cutting millions of dollars in funding to the ABC.
While $41 million of funding was recently found to be cut to the ABC in late June by the Morrison government in a move that may also result in as many as 250 jobs shed by the national broadcaster, the funnelling of money to Fox Sports is also not the first of its kind.
In 2017, amid the absence of a paper trail that would have otherwise outlined the motives of such a move, the Turnbull government under the guardianship of then-communications minister Mitch Fifield extended a $30 million grant to Fox Sports – presumably to increase airtime for events and programming for women’s, niche, and under-represented sports on the Foxtel block of channels over a four-year interval, as outlined in the 2017 federal budget.
Fifield, at the time, said the grant was merely part of a “broader media reform package”.
However, South Australian senator Sarah Hanson-Young – reasonably aghast at the ongoing cost of cuts to the ABC totalling $783 million since 2013 – assails the brazen appearance of the grant to Fox Sports.
“Another day, another public hand-out to the Morrison Government’s [Rupert] Murdoch mates,” said Hanson-Young, the Greens’ holder of the communications portfolio.
“Giving tens of millions to Fox Sports while cutting funding to the ABC really is the height of arrogance,” she added.
The Federal Government cuts hundreds of millions of dollars out of the ABC, but gives $40 million of public money to Murdoch’s Fox Sport… oh, the smell of corporate welfare. pic.twitter.com/vJeiK67ZLq
— Sarah Hanson-Young💚 (@sarahinthesen8) July 22, 2020
Paul Fletcher, the Morrison government’s minister for communications, has defended the extending of the grant, citing that Foxtel’s block of Fox Sports channels – between the presence of women’s professional sporting leagues such as the WNBL, WBBL, Super Netball, AFLW, NRLW, and the W-League, all of which currently operating under existing broadcasting deals – has provided a platform for a doubling of women’s sport coverage in programming hours since 2016.
“With six dedicated sports channels and a wide range of sports news, Fox Sports has a strong commitment to broadcasting sports and events that may not otherwise receive television coverage,” Fletcher said on Wednesday.
Nonetheless, Hanson-Young feels that the government grant money can be better spent on enhancing the public broadcaster, and went as far as suggesting that women’s sporting leagues should be on national free-to-air broadcasters such as the ABC and SBS, and not on any of the Fox Sports channels.
“This funding program for Murdoch’s Fox Sports says everything about the priorities of the Morrison Government. The Morrison Government is handing out millions of dollars of taxpayer money to a private, corporate broadcaster while slashing funding at the public broadcaster,” Hanson-Young exclaimed.
“Any support for the broadcast of women’s sport should be going to the public broadcasters which fans can watch for no further cost.
“The ABC has suffered from repeated budget cuts under the Coalition Government, some $783 million since 2014, and is now cutting jobs and news services to stay afloat. If there is money to go around for broadcasting, it should go to the ABC and SBS.
“The PM needs to reverse the funding cuts to the ABC. He can easily find the first $10 million by taking it back from Murdoch and putting it where it will be the most benefit to broadcasting and promoting women’s sport and where fans can actually watch it without forking out more money,” Hanson-Young said.
Meanwhile, Labor front-bencher Michelle Rowland, the ALP’s shadow minister for communications, while assailing the government in restricting viewership of women’s sport to pay-TV platforms, hit a direct link between the aggregate total of $40 million to Fox Sports for what is now a six-year interval and the “sport rorts” scandal on the government’s watch stemming from last year’s federal election.
“The Morrison Government left women and girls ‘changing in cars or out the back of the sheds’. Now, they’re keeping taxpayer-funded women’s sports coverage behind a pay wall,” Rowland said.
“Australia’s sportswomen deserve better. Young girls can’t be what they can’t see.
“At a time when Australia is in recession, many households are facing unemployment and money is tight, $10 million would go a long way to supporting sports coverage to which all Australians can see for free,” added Rowland.
But like Hanson-Young, Rowland maintained that the Morrison government – a body that claims to be empowering women’s sport leagues and participation on Fox Sports – has its end-game priorities misplaced.
“Despite spending more than $250 million pre-election on community sports infrastructure, the Morrison Government failed to fund hundreds of worthy women’s sports projects because it prioritised marginal seats over merit.
“Today’s announcement just proves this government will always put political gain before real support for women and girls in sport,” Rowland said.
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