Regional ABC services need a funding boost to meet the needs of viewers and ensure minimum media diversity requirements are achieved, a think-tank says.
But while there is almost universal support for increasing the public broadcaster’s regional budget among Labor and Greens voters, it varies in coalition-held electorates.
The Australia Institute’s latest report ‘Heartland: Why the bush needs its ABC’ shows support amongst coalition voters in cabinet minister Barnaby Joyce’s New England electorate is strong at 52 per cent, and in Christopher Pyne’s seat of Sturt 57 per cent support a boost.
But it’s a different story among Liberal voters in Malcolm Turnbull’s Sydney electorate with only 26 per cent in favour.
“The minister for the ABC appears to be the member with the most opposition to the ABC in his electorate,” the institute said on Wednesday.
More than 90 per cent of regional Australians access some type of local content each week, with regional media viewed as an “essential democratic institution”.
But with a third of regional areas failing to meet minimum media diversity requirements, as set out under the Broadcasting Services Act, the institution is in decline.
The ABC’s state-based 7.30 program and radio show The Bush Telegraph were axed following government funding cuts.
Commercial broadcasters and Fairfax Media have also slashed services and staff in regional areas.
To expand regional services the ABC needs more money, the institute said.
“Addressing issues at the ABC is central to any approach to tackling the decline of regional media,” it said.
The report comes as media reform pressure mounts from commercial regional broadcasters with former deputy prime minister Tim Fischer fronting the newly-launched Save our Voices campaign.
The campaign wants to repeal the reach rule, which prevents TV licence holders from broadcasting to more than 75 per cent of the population as well as the two-out-of-three rule which limits ownership of radio, TV and newspapers.
Mr Turnbull is sympathetic to removing the reach rule, but Prime Minister Tony Abbott has put any changes on hold.