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Outsourcing ABC production work 'would not hit quality'

"The Lewis review is not prescriptive and final decisions on how the ABC operates lie with the ABC board": Mark Scott, ABC managing director.

"The Lewis review is not prescriptive and final decisions on how the ABC operates lie with the ABC board": Mark Scott, ABC managing director. Photo: Glenn Hunt

Outsourcing more ABC television productions to commercial producers would not diminish the quality of programming or the broadcaster's identity, according to the independent production sector.

Fairfax Media revealed on Tuesday that the Abbott government's efficiency review into the ABC has identified ''significant scope'' for savings by increasing the use of external production studios rather than filming television programs internally.

The confidential review, led by former Seven West Media executive Peter Lewis, found the ABC could rake in about $70 million by selling off its production studios and outsourcing more work to the private sector.

Community and Public Sector Union president Michael Tull said outsourcing television production would ''sound a death knell for the ABC's distinctive Australian voice'' - a claim rejected by Screen Producers Australia. While the ABC makes programs such as Play School and At the Movies internally, all its comedy and drama programs are now outsourced.

''By outsourcing, the ABC doubles its investment in Australian programming, meaning more Australian content for Australian viewers with a distinctly Australian voice,'' Screen Producers Australia executive director Matthew Deaner said.

''The ABC has a rigorous and intense commissioning process - and it is this commissioning process that gives the ABC its identity, not internal production.''

The Communications Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, said the efficiency review ''considered using facilities, someone else's studio, someone else's equipment rather than having to own all of those properties yourself. But in terms of the talent, if you like, being in-house or out-house, that is very much a matter for the ABC and that was not covered by the Lewis review.''

Mr Turnbull told the Coalition's joint party meeting the ABC should be able to find sufficient savings in its back-office operations without cutting programming.

In an email to staff, ABC managing director Mark Scott said he had established a project management office to investigate the review's findings and how the broadcaster can make savings.

''The Lewis review is not prescriptive and final decisions on how the ABC operates and spends its budget lies with the ABC board,'' he said.

The ABC Friends lobby group called for the review to be made public. ''Leaks from Minister Turnbull's cost-cutting review of the ABC are alarming,'' ABC Friends spokeswoman Glenys Stradijot said.

''The community will not accept the ABC becoming merely a platform for programs produced by the same private production companies that make content for commercial television.''

The review also recommends a retreat from digital radio, shared headquarters for the ABC and SBS and an increased amount of advertising on SBS television.

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