The federal government has given Foxtel a $30m handout to boost its sports broadcasting but has declined to explain why the News Corp-owned pay TV company was singled out for largesse – or exactly how or where the money will be used.
In the May budget, Foxtel was gifted $30m over four years 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”.
But there has been no further explanation from either Foxtel or the government about how the subscription broadcaster will use the funds over the next two years.
A freedom of information request, submitted by the ABC, about the unusual budget deal came up with no answers.
The Department of Communications and the Arts told the ABC there were no documents associated with the grant.
The communications minister, Mitch Fifield, also declined to explain the deal on Wednesday, except to say it was part of the media reform package.
“This was a decision of government, announced in the budget as part of the media reform package,” a spokeswoman told Guardian Australia.
“The department’s FOI process is independent of the minister.”
Under the broadcasting and content reform package the government provided $36m over four years from 2017-18, including $30m for Foxtel.
The legal director for the department refused access to the ABC’s requested documents under subsection 24A(1) of the FOI Act because he was “satisfied that documents falling within the scope of your request do not exist”, according to Jon Faine’s ABC Melbourne Radio program.
The commercial free-to-air TV industry did not receive an equivalent gift but the government did abolish its licence fees in the May budget. The move, which saw broadcasting licence fees and datacasting charges abolished, will save them $130m and was welcomed by Nine, Ten and Seven.
Fifield said licence fees were being abolished because they were from an era when television had a mass audience.
“In today’s media environment, licence fees are a relic of a bygone age of regulation,” he said.
The media reform package also included changes to Australia’s anti-siphoning regime to reduce the size of the list. The scheme stops pay TV broadcasters such as Foxtel from buying the rights to sports events on the anti-siphoning list before free-to-air broadcasters have the opportunity to buy the rights.
Foxtel has been approached for comment.