The view from Billinudgel

Bad sports
What is Foxtel doing with $30 million of taxpayers’ money?

It was a week that featured the same-sex marriage imbroglio, the NBN disaster, the water-rorting in the Murray-Darling Basin endorsed by Barnaby Joyce, and now the accusations about Commonwealth Bank turning a blind eye to money-laundering for terrorists.

Inevitably a scandal over $30 million of taxpayers’ money to Foxtel tended to get lost in the rush. But it remains a scandal nonetheless, especially when the government admits – no, boasts – that there is no record of the transaction; apparently the cash was simply handed over in a brown paper bag with a wink and a nudge.

It was intended, we are told, to be used “to support the broadcast of underrepresented sports on subscription television, including women’s sports, niche sports and sports with a high level of community involvement and participation”.

Worthy enough ideals, certainly, but surely there must have been some research into the plan, most obviously whether the money might be better spent on free-to-air channels where the audiences are far larger and easier to access.

As it is, we have no idea what Foxtel is going to do with the lot – presumably not simply trouser it to prop up what has, to date, been a loss-making venture. Communications Minister Mitch Fifield merely said that it was part of the overall media package, and Foxtel refused to comment.

It must therefore be assumed it was a sweetener for Rupert Murdoch and his fellow moguls and had nothing to do with policy. So much for open and transparent government.

Foxtel, of course, already gets regular free kicks from the conservatives, usually in the pages of its stablemates through the Murdoch empire. One of the silliest came last week from the Australian’s Janet Albrechtsen, who spent her column extolling the wonder and beauty of what can be loosely described as the network’s current affairs programs.

Albrechtsen described Outsiders – once the purview of Mark Latham but now taken over by Ross Cameron and Rowan Dean – as “a cracking show … the No 1 subscription show in its timeslot”. Well, yes. But its audience can hardly be called massive. Indeed, there are times when it can hardly be called visible, except for the relentless cross-promotion provided by News Corp.

But Albrechtsen was undeterred: another right-wing rant, Paul Murray Live, is lauded as “rocking the ratings … the top-rated talk show across Foxtel”. Yes. Even less unpopular than Outsiders. Albrechtsen clearly has her evenings full.

Perhaps she is lovelorn; her devotion to Peter Dutton the week before suggests she has abandoned her earlier idol, Tony Abbott, and moved on in search of fresh meat. But there is something missing: for all the immigration minister’s manifold attributes, Albrechtsen has resisted telling us she loved the magnificent hairiness she swooned over with Tony.

Never mind, perhaps it will feature in a Foxtel special. Surely Dutton could arrange a swift backhander to fund the program – according to Albrechtsen, he can do anything. And since public broadcasting – the ABC and SBS – must be abolished immediately, there will be no shortage of funds for Foxtel and its struggling multibillionaire proprietor. Over to you, Mitch – and don’t bother about the paperwork.

It’s only taxpayers’ money, and there is plenty more for Rupert where that came from.

Mungo MacCallum

Mungo MacCallum is a political journalist and commentator. His books include Run Johnny Run, Poll Dancing, and Punch and Judy. Visit his blog, The View from Billinudgel.

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