There is a sudden outbreak of optimism that the ABC, at least, is likely to get significant new funding in the budget.

Minister for Communications Stephen Conroy was making all sorts of positive noises and exciting the ABC troops in this speech last night, and ABC Managing Director Mark Scott was sounding very confident on ABC Radio’s AM program this morning.

It would seem that all the softly softly lobbying might be paying off, with Conroy adopting a lot of Scott’s rhetoric in his speech, including the much beloved “town square” metaphor that has been heard almost ever since Scott got into the job.

While he didn’t commit to anything specific, ABC hearts were all aflutter at remarks like this:

With the advent of digital media, and the many and varied challenges the online and multichannel environment pose, it is more important than ever that the ABC is able to continue its role as a comprehensive national broadcaster. The Rudd Government has made clear its intention to ensure the strength and independence of the ABC, and to position it to take on future challenges and embrace emerging opportunities.

The ideas and proposals contained in the ABC’s triennial funding submission indicate that we can expect more such visionary developments in the future.

A fair summary of that “vision” was in Scott’s press council address last year.

So it would seem that it might be yes to the new digital children’s channel, at least. More channels than this — such as a public affairs and an education channel — will involve decisions about spectrum as well as funding, and that means difficult decisions regarding Foxtel’s bids to be allowed spectrum, the treatment of the so-called digital dividend and so on and so forth. Complicated stuff.

Still, you’d have to say that this close to budget night, the signs are good.

Whether SBS’s funding pitch is in good shape seems more doubtful, with Managing Director Shaun Brown’s latest outing being his “Oliver Twist” appeal for the Government to give more money despite the fact that SBS has taken advertising dollars.

Meanwhile announcement of the new board members for the ABC and SBS is apparently imminent, with Conroy saying he plans to present them “in the very near future”.

Not before time. A shortlist of names has apparently been in the in-trays of Canberra for some time now.

But even now, some of those who might be considered leading contenders have not heard a word and are wondering whether this means they are out of the running.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
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