The Role and Future of Radio Australia and Australia Television



Establishment of the Review

4.1 On 16 July 1996, the Minister for Communications and the Arts, Senator the Hon Richard Alston, issued a media release entitled 'ABC to Enter New Era' which announced Mr Bob Mansfield as the Government's independent reviewer of the ABC. Senator Alston said that Mr Mansfield's review would 're-define and re-position the national broadcaster for the 21st century'. The terms of reference for the review were:

4.2 Referring to the Government's budgetary position, the Minister stated that despite election commitments not to reduce ABC funding, the ABC would be subject to the two per cent reduction in running costs imposition contained in Meeting Our Commitments released on 15 February 1996. The Minister also said that the ABC would also be subject to a $55 million funding cut in 1997-98. [1]

4.3 The Minister said that:

4.4 The Minister also addressed the future of ATV in the media release:

Conduct of the Review

4.5 As a result of Mr Mansfield's call for written submissions, 10,615 individuals, groups and organisations lodged submissions with his Review. Most of these submissions have not been made public. He consulted, on a private basis, ABC staff in six locations, the Friends of the ABC in all States and Territories, 16 other Australian organisations, three media commentators, Georgia Public Broadcasting in Atlanta, USA, and the BBC in London, UK.

4.6 Mr Mansfield records that 9.1 per cent of respondents commented on international services; 6.7 per cent favourably (many without using the services) and 2.4 per cent criticised the services per se, that is their funding or operation. [4] He remarks that Radio Australia was favoured over ATV in the sample and that some respondents saw international services as a potential area for cuts backs. [5] Unfortunately, he does not provide any further details of the comments made about international services in the submissions and the nature of the criticisms.

Mansfield Report

4.7 Mr Mansfield presented his report to Senator Alston on 23 December 1996 and it was released to the public on 24 January 1997.

4.8 Mr Mansfield recommended that 'the principal function of the ABC should be defined as broadcasting for general reception within Australia'. [6] He stated that:

4.9 Mr Mansfield made a number of other recommendations relating to sale of property, outsourcing of programming and the medium-term divestment of the ABC orchestras. With respect to international broadcasting, he recommended:

4.10 At a meeting of The Sydney Institute on 25 February 1997, Mr Mansfield explained the basis of his decision regarding Radio Australia. He said:

4.11 In his report, Mr Mansfield said that the 'current ABC Charter accords overseas broadcasting equal priority with domestic broadcasting. I do not believe there are compelling reasons for this to continue.' [9] This statement is disingenuous because the Charter does not specify that equal priority be given to both domestic and international services. In fact, the ABC has always given overwhelming priority to its domestic services. In funding terms alone, international services only account for only a few per cent of the ABC's budget.

4.12 In his report Mr Mansfield said that he did not believe that the ABC could maintain its domestic broadcasting services and its international services, as well as fund technological changes, within the level of funding for the ABC identified by the Government. He acknowledged the foreign affairs considerations, as he did above, but claimed that he was not in a position to evaluate those considerations. He drew attention to the fact that the BBC World Service was required to broadcast to audiences and in languages approved by the Government in accordance with objectives, priorities and targets agreed between the BBC and the Government. On the other hand, the ABC possesses statutory independence in the way it carries out its functions. As there was no agreement between the ABC and the Government on objectives or targets for its international services, Mr Mansfield considered that evaluating performance would be difficult. And, as explained above, he did not see it as part of his review.

4.13 Although there are not the formal consultative mechanisms in place between RA and DFAT as there are in the United Kingdom and Canada, there are regular consultations between the two bodies on programming objectives and priorities.

4.14 The Committee believes that, if Mr Mansfield had considered that the ABC's international broadcasting services were outside his terms of reference, he should have recommended that the Government establish a separate review to examine their future. His half-hearted attempt to justify his position on international broadcasting did nothing to enhance the credibility of his findings and recommendations in this area. The Committee now examines what he did say about RA and ATV.

4.15 Mr Mansfield said that:

4.16 The ABC pointed out in its submission that it was not valid to compare the Dix Report estimate of 100 million audience reach with the 20 million 1996 audience reach because the estimates were calculated in very different ways which do not allow any meaningful comparison to be drawn. This is considered in more detail in Chapter 5 but, briefly, the 1981 figure was based on the number of letters received multiplied by a factor to provide an estimated audience. The 1996 figure was calculated on the basis of scientific surveys and only includes areas covered by those surveys. The figure does not include, for example, an estimate for rural China and for much of India, as well as other countries. It also does not cover the audience for rebroadcasts of its programs through AM and FM services, satellite transmissions and the Internet.

4.17 Mr Mansfield was critical of the fact that four of RA's language services are broadcast for less than one and a half hours a day. He went on to say:

4.18 If Mr Mansfield was not clear about the reason for such programming decisions, he should have found out before being critical of them. The Committee is sure that RA would have responded with alacrity to any request for such information. In addition, it is obvious that Mr Mansfield had not considered the ramifications of terminating broadcasts in four of the non-English languages used by RA. Mr Mansfield provided no evidence that a 'reordering of priorities could have enabled RA to provide more effective services to its more significant audiences'. He also provided no evidence to support the proposition that such a reordering of priorities could have enabled RA to exploit other delivery systems. In fact, RA already exploits other delivery systems, such as satellite, the Internet and terrestrial rebroadcasting.

4.19 Mr White commented on Mr Mansfield's assertion in his written submission dated 17 March 1997, as follows:

4.20 To assess whether the Government was getting value for its $20 million investment in Radio Australia, Mr Mansfield suggested three performance measures that would determine whether:

4.21 He concluded that he had 'insufficient evidence for the Government to draw firm conclusions in any of these areas'. [12] Mr Mansfield concluded that he was 'strongly of the view that, if the Government wishes to maintain an overseas broadcasting service that, as in the United Kingdom, the funding of these services should be considered in the context of the public diplomacy effort'. [13]

4.22 Mr Mansfield referred in his report to the DFAT submission to his review:

4.23 The 'shortcomings' mentioned in the DFAT submission to the Mansfield review are based on wrong information. DFAT stated that the 'listenership of short-wave radio has obviously been facing a steady decline in recent years and fewer people listen to RA'. This is wrong and is considered in more detail in the Chapter 5. Later in its submission, DFAT stated that with 'the decline of short-wave, RA needs to consider radically changing its delivery mechanisms'. It is wrong to say that there is a decline of short-wave in the region, especially in countries targeted by RA. There is, in fact, no viable alternative to short-wave radio available to replace these short-wave services. Other international broadcasters are actually increasing their investment in short-wave services. This too is considered in more detail in Chapter 5. Mr Mansfield should have checked the facts before drawing conclusions and making recommendations on the basis of wrong information.

4.24 When DFAT suggested that RA change its 'delivery mechanisms', it went on to suggest that more extensive rebroadcasting arrangements be entered into with local AM and FM stations with a switch to packaged programs for particular markets. It continued:

4.25 Mr Derek White, General Manager of RA, told the Committee:

4.26 Mr Mansfield differentiated RA from the BBC World Service on the basis that the RA, as part of the ABC, a statutory authority, is 'not required to accept its [DFAT's] views or any other policy directions from the Government' while the BBC World Service is required to take account of the Government's foreign policy objectives. He concluded that 'in the absence of such agreement concerning objectives and priorities, it is difficult to evaluate the effectiveness of funding or to revise priorities for overseas broadcasting services, particularly for RA'. [16]

4.27 The only difference between RA and the BBC World Service in this respect is that the BBC has a formal link with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office while RA's link with DFAT is informal. The point is that Mr Mansfield has admitted that foreign policy matters were outside the scope of his inquiry and he did not pursue them in any detail. There is no evidence that he even tried to evaluate RA's performance in relation to foreign affairs matters.

4.28 With regard to ATV, Mr Mansfield said:

4.29 In responding to the Mansfield Report, Mr Michael Mann, Chief Executive of ATV, told the Committee:

4.30 As Mr Mansfield did not consider international broadcasting in any detail, it is odd that he can pronounce authoritatively that ATV cannot compete with other satellite television channels in the region. The evidence points to the opposite conclusion. In fact, ATV has been a success story, notwithstanding its funding difficulties and other constraints, such as the pressures imposed on it from a series of reviews and inquiries.

4.31 All preceding reviews of the ABC's international broadcasting services had concluded that these factors were also descriptive of the important role played by RA and ATV in the Asia Pacific region but their evidence was not taken into account. Instead, Mr Mansfield found the 'significant role the ABC's international services play in advancing Australia's trade and diplomatic objective', identified by the Department of Foreign Affairs in its submission to his inquiry, 'hard to evaluate'. He was thus, it seems, in sympathy with the Department of Finance's view, expressed to the 1995 Review of the Status and Funding of the ABC's International Broadcasting Services, that the effectiveness of the services was not proven.

4.32 The Government has not made a definitive statement on the recommendations made by Mr Mansfield. However, the Minister for Communications and the Arts, Senator Alston, has personally publicly aligned himself with those recommendations, including those concerning the international broadcasting services. In the Senate Additional Estimates hearings on 27 February 1997, Senator Alston declared that Mr Mansfield had made a 'pretty powerful case' based on the evidence received; that the Minister himself 'had not seen any in-depth analysis that demonstrates either the effectiveness of the service or a significant demand for it'; and that, in any case, pre-budget deliberations had decided the matter.

4.33 In the same week, Mr Mansfield, at the Sydney Institute, stated that the foreign affairs implications of the closure of international broadcasting were outside his terms of reference and that he welcomed the Committee's present inquiry into the role and future of Radio Australia and Australia Television.

4.34 Senator Alston's public comments in support of Mr Mansfield's recommendations and observations in relation to the ABC's international broadcasting services lack credibility given that Mr Mansfield has publicly acknowledged that he did not address these issues from a foreign affairs point of view in his report. The Committee believes that both the Minister and Mr Mansfield have done a disservice to RA and ATV by commenting on the organisations functions and performance without any proper consideration of the issues.


[1] 'ABC to Enter New Era', in Mansfield Report, pp 46-47.

[2] 'ABC to Enter New Era', in opcit, p. 47.

[3] 'ABC to Enter New Era', in op cit, p. 47.

[4] B. Mansfield, The Challenge of a Better ABC, Volume 2, p. 18.

[5] Mansfield, op cit, Vol. 2, p. 18.

[6] Mansfield, op cit, Vol. 1, p. 9.

[7] Mansfield, op cit, p. 19.

[8] Mansfield, op cit, p. 10.

[9] Mansfield, op cit, p. 41.

[10] Mansfield, op cit, p. 42.

[11] Mansfield, op cit, p. 42.

[12] Mansfield, op cit, p. 42.

[13] Mansfield, op cit, p. 42.

[14] Mansfield, op cit, p. 42.

[15] Committee Hansard, pp 147-48.

[16] Mansfield, op cit, p. 41.

[17] Mansfield, op cit, p. 41.

[18] Committee Hansard, p. 129.