The Role and Future of Radio Australia and Australia Television



Short-Wave Transmission

Funding arrangements

6.1 Without an effective means of transmission no broadcaster, international or domestic, can do its job properly. Radio Australia has faced transmission difficulties throughout its history, it main obstacle being lack of control of its transmission budget, which has been in the hands of National Transmission Agency, or its predecessors, for over 50 years. [1] It is thus an anomaly amongst its international broadcasting competitors who all have control of their transmission budgets. [2]

6.2 Without control of its budget, Radio Australia cannot elect to upgrade transmission facilities or direct funding to other technologies from short-wave. Nor can it lease or exchange time on off-shore transmitters in Asia, a practice carried out by its competitors to facilitate provision of stronger signals to target audiences. [3] Further, National Transmission Agency directives prescribe that the Agency's activities are restricted to operating short-wave transmitters based in Australia, again this in contrast to its competitors who have invested heavily in short wave and, less markedly, in medium wave transmitters through out the world. [4]

6.3 Former Director of Radio Australia Mr Peter Barnett explained some of the difficulties he experienced in his dealings with the NTA. In Mr Barnett's view, problems with the NTA have been exacerbated by the different service orientations the two organisations have. NTA, Mr Barnett observed, understands international broadcasting only in terms of technology. Without an appreciation of Radio Australia's programming objectives it has therefore resisted Radio Australia's urgings to enhance the effectiveness of its transmission into Asia:

6.4 Mr Derek White, present General Manager of Radio Australia, told the Committee that he too had had difficulty encouraging the NTA to consider the leasing or of exchanging of time on Radio Australia's short-wave transmitters with overseas broadcasters. At least ten broadcasters, he reported, had approached Radio Australia in the last few years, but neither the 'department nor the NTA' showed any interest in the commercial possibilities. [6]

6.5 That Radio Australia's transmission budget should be controlled by the ABC is a fact long acknowledged: recommendations have been made to this effect by virtually every inquiry and review conducted into Australia's international broadcasting services over decades. [7] The actual amount of funding necessary to provide for Radio Australia's independence was the subject of discussion at the hearings.

6.6 In evidence to the Committee, Mr White was careful to point out that the estimate made by Mr Mansfield in his report was substantially under that required to maintain full services as they currently stand. Mr Mansfield cited a figure of $7 million which, Mr White said, covered maintenance and operations of existing transmitters in Darwin, Shepparton and Brandon only. [8] The ABC annual report for 1995-96 cited a figure of $9.8 million as NTA costs for Radio Australia. [9] Finally, in answer to a question on notice placed by the Committee, the Department of Communications and the Arts nominated the figure of $11.9 million, of which $6.9 million constituted salaries and $5 million was associated administrative costs. [10]

6.7 It had been assumed by many contributors to this inquiry, and by Radio Australia itself, that the ABC would soon be allocated the necessary funds after the sale of the NTA this year and so Radio Australia's problems, at last, would be solved. As Mr Derek White, wrote in his personal submission to the inquiry:

6.8 In evidence to the inquiry, however, Mr Vic Jones, General Manager of the NTA, rejected that any such arrangements had been made. Instead he told the Committee:

6.9 Dr Alan Stretton, First Assistant Secretary of Film, National Broadcasting and Intellectual Property Division, confirmed and extended Mr Jones explanation:

6.10 The Committee therefore received no further evidence from the Department on this matter.

Transmission facilities

6.11 Radio Australia currently transmits from 14 short-wave transmitters—three at Brandon, six operational at Shepparton while Darwin has five operational transmitters with four currently being scheduled. [14] Until July 1996, Radio Australia also operated from its station at Carnarvon which has since been dismantled, its transmitters recycled or and sold. To transfer its eight languages from the studio to its short-wave and satellite (see below) transmission points, it employs a combination of the ABC's Internal Delta satellite system and Telstra landlines. [15]

6.12 Significant upgrading of Australia's short-wave transmitters amounting to $23.2 million has taken place between 1991 and 1997.

6.13 The Darwin (Cox Peninsula) station is the largest broadcasting station in Australia, radio or television. It was originally built to serve South East Asia following Sukarno's Confrontation campaign, was damaged by Cyclone Tracy in 1974 and rebuilt in 1981-82 at a cost of $12 million. [16]

6.14 As part of an extensive upgrade in 1994-95, two new state-of-the-art transmitters manufactured by the French company Thomcast were installed following the Tiananmen Square incident. These transmitters are extremely power efficient, can be modified for digital operation and are capable of broadcasting in a single band mode which may be required for international broadcasts after 2007. Upgrading of the transmitters computer systems also took place at a cost of $12 million. Antenna systems had major maintenance in 1995 at a cost, understood by Radio Australia, to be $0.3 million, with a further $1.5 million for relocation of the 300kW transmitter from Carnarvon.

6.15 The Cox Peninsula station is the most sophisticated of Radio Australia's short-wave transmission facilities and has a power output which is only exceeded by the low frequency H.E. Holt North West Cape naval communications station. [17] It has seven multiband, slewable, curtain antenna arranged to deliver signals from Central Indonesia too India in one arc and north to Asia in another. Each antenna can operate on a variety of frequencies and the signal beams can be steered to better focus coverage. The station is operated by 14 highly skilled technical specialists.

6.16 The Shepparton Station is the original Radio Australia station and was established in 1943. Its 100kW transmitters were installed in the 1970s , with one additional standby unit being recycled from Carnarvon. The four newest were commissioned in 1983-84. The original antennas are being replaced with modern designs similar to those at Darwin and placed at optimum positions to serve the Pacific and PNG. They are also ideal for serving Eastern Indonesia and Timor following the closure of Carnarvon. Radio Australia estimates the total capital expenditure spent on the station between 1991 and 1996 at $9.6 million. Some 10 specialist staff operate and maintain the transmitters.

6.17 Brandon station is situated near Ayr in Queensland. It is low power(10kW) and is unstaffed. It has limited range and uses equipment recycled from the old Lyndhurst site (ceased operation in 1987) to serve PNG and the Coral Sea.

6.18 The Carnarvon site was closed after an agreement was made between the former government and the ABC to assist in the funding of Australian Television. The sale of Carnarvon allowed $2 million to be transferred to Australia Television and was constituted by the NTA at hearings as a positive outcome; it meant that a desirable reduction in Radio's Australia's operation costs had been achieved. [18]

6.19 Carnarvon had provided the most effective reach into the Asian region, a fact recognised by other international broadcasters who, prior to closure, had approached Radio Australia with a view to leasing broadcasting time. Mr Nigel Holmes, transmission manager for Radio Australia recorded:

6.20 The closure of Carnarvon in July 1996 has meant that Radio Australia has lost a desirable asset from both an Australian and international broadcasting point of view. Radio Australia transmission hours have been reduced overall and, although upgrading of other facilities have allowed maintenance of the service in target areas, the potential to reach them from two directions, in combination with the Shepparton station signals, has been lost. [20] Equally important, Australia has lost valuable infrastructure that would cost tens of millions of dollars and several years work to replace, [21] not to mention marketable assets (contractible transmission time for sale or exchange) in an increasing lucrative and competitive short-wave broadcasting market.

Effectiveness of short wave

6.21 The fact that short-wave is considered a powerful and relevant broadcasting medium is indicated by the heavy investment other international broadcasters have made in short-wave transmission technologies in recent years. Mr Derek White told the Committee that, following the recommendations of the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee review, the BBC World Service received a total figure of £152.4 million (A$316 million), a budgeted increase of 3.1 per cent for 1997-98. [22] Mr Michael Bird elaborated on international trends in transmitter installation:

6.22 On 16 March 1996, Senator Alston told Ten Network's Meet the Press program that 'short wave is of dramatically less significance in this day and age'. [24] The evidence cited above refutes this assertion. Expert witnesses to this inquiry variously described the supposed decline of short wave as a 'myth', a 'red herring' or just plain 'wrong'. [25] Radio Australia's surveys and popular response to this inquiry by listeners throughout the Asia-Pacific region all disprove the view that short-wave transmission is no longer an effective or relevant medium for international broadcasting, and particularly for our target audiences.

6.23 A single witness to the Committee's inquiry, a former foreign affairs diplomat Mr Duncan Campbell, held the view that short-wave broadcasting had passed its use by date in Asia and would soon to be replaced by television. [26] This was also a view expressed by the Department of Foreign Affairs in its submission to the Review of the Status and Funding of the ABC's International Broadcasting Services in 1995. [27] At that time, the ABC had argued that television and radio services were complementary and that an appropriate balance would evolve according to audience preferences. [28]

6.24 However, at hearings to this inquiry, the ABC was much more cautious about its commitment to Radio Australia and less supportive of its role as an international short-wave broadcaster. Mr Brian Johns, ABC Managing Director, told the Committee:

6.25 Prompted by this scenario, Mr Johns emphasised that the ABC had undergone major restructuring, under the 'One ABC' policy, to determine what its service delivery might be given current funding expectations:

6.26 The pace of 'rapid change' was not seen to be as overwhelming as Mr Johns presents it by expert witnesses to this inquiry. Instead, they confirmed that, while short wave was clearly a grandfather to the new internet and satellite technologies, it was still extremely functional and effective and was likely to remain so on into the 21st century. It was emphasised that short-wave technologies would not be soon superseded by other technologies. Just as the introduction of television had not made domestic radio redundant, nor FM radio ended the popularity of AM medium-wave reception, so the relevancy and facility of short-wave broadcasting would ensure it survived to complement newer technologies. [30]

6.27 The features that recommended short-wave services in the past - vast audience reach, uncensored content and economical reception - were the same features that presently advocate substantial investment in transmission infrastructure by other international broadcasting nations.

6.28 Again, these are the features that, evidence confirms, deliver target audiences in the Asia Pacific region the type of services that they need and desire. Ms Stone, of the Australian Council for Overseas Aid reports:

6.29 A submission from a volunteer teacher provides a particularly evocative account of villagers' reliance on Radio Australia's short-wave news reporting in Ruteng, Eastern Indonesia. He writes:

6.30 That this reliance on Radio Australia's short-wave service is shared by listeners at all levels of society in countries throughout the region, whether more sophisticated channels of communication are available or not, has been amply substantiated by evidence cited in other areas of this report. Short-wave stands as the only broadcasting medium that can deliver a strong, easily received signal to a mass audience at a great distance. Further the availability of receivers, their low cost and facility for use on the move, proven, for example, during the Gulf War, makes short-wave a superior medium for international broadcasting. [33]

6.31 In the past, Radio Australia's only drawback, compared with its international competitors, has been the problem of projecting a sufficiently powerful signal into the region. The inability to enter lease and share arrangements with its competitors has been a major limitation in this respect. Radio Australia assesses it technical effectiveness by field surveys. Currently, its services reach audiences via short wave in Papua New Guinea, the Pacific, Indonesia, South-East Asia, and in North Asia on an axis from Darwin to Beijing. In other areas, such as western and northern China, Radio Australia's transmissions are less effective. [34]

6.32 Despite these limitations, Radio Australia has made considerable developments in its short-wave delivery. The paper 'Technical Background to Radio Australia's Transmissions' summarises these advances. In particular, it reports that Australia has a history as a world centre of excellence in ionospheric propagation knowledge. The application of research into upper atmospheric physics by the Inonospheric Prediction Service has provided Radio Australia with the computer programs used to determine which frequencies are best at a given time. [35]

6.33 As Mr Nigel Holmes explained to the Committee, the determination of appropriate frequency bandings at appropriate times is essential to the delivery of an optimal signal to target areas:

6.34 The upgraded Cox Peninsula station at Darwin has a state-of-the-art computer system which ensures optimal delivery of signal and is also fitted with the latest in effective and flexible aerials that can steer a signal most accurately to target audiences in Asia. [37] These are just the type of facilities coveted by our competitors - the BBC, Radio Nederlands, Deutsche Welle and the Voice of America - all of whom are anxious to gain a piece of Radio Australia's place in the sun: its geographical advantages; access to frequencies and hard-won, loyal audiences. [38]

6.35 That short-wave is not an anachronism in today's broadcasting world is also underlined by the fact that it has a growing audience in North America, which is one of the most media developed environments in the world. Moreover, following a number of satellite failures in the late 1970s and 1980s, short-wave technologies are the modes of delivery now being more extensively used by US and NATO military services. [39] With new digital signals, short-wave military communications enable secure and robust communication by voice, data or fax.

6.36 In Australia, the largest government military purchase after the Collins submarine project is the Jindalee Over the Horizon Radar Network (JORN), at a cost of $1 billion. JORN is 100 per cent reliant on the transmission, propagation and reception of short-wave signals. The practical success of the Jindalee system at Alice Springs is well known. The effectiveness and relevance of short-wave technology in this context has not been questioned. In the face of the evidence why should it be?

Other Technologies

6.37 Mr Mansfield questioned in his report whether short-wave technology remains the most cost-effective means of delivery. The Committee asked the Department of Communications and the Arts whether there was any other viable delivery option for broadcasting RA's programs and maintaining audience reach.

6.38 The Department of Communications and the Arts did not fully answer the question, even though it was taken on notice. Instead, the Department simply said, 'In addition to short-wave Radio Australia services and programs can be delivered in a range of ways'. This response by the Department did not answer the key element of the Committee's question, which was whether any of the modes, or even all modes together (without short-wave) would guarantee maintenance of RA's current audience reach. Given the Department's sidestepping of this question, the Committee presumes that the answer is 'no'. The Department's four options are listed below.

Delivery Mode Audience

6.39 All of these options are currently used by RA to the degree allowable by present funding arrangements. The lack of flexibility in these arrangements has been described. Nevertheless, evidence to the Committee has convinced it that RA has been both innovative and strategic in its development of alternative modes of delivery. These currently complement its short-wave services which are, at present, its majority audience.

6.40 RA submitted that letters which were received in response to Mr Mansfield's recommendations to close RA were used as the basis to conduct a sample survey of the mode of delivery by which the writer had received RA programming. [41] The submission records that some 82 per cent of overseas writers identified their means of receiving Radio Australia. Of the total, 72 per cent said they listened to RA on short-wave. The remainder listened to re-broadcasts on local AM/FM stations, cable/pay radio services and `real audio' on the Internet, provided by the World Radio Network. Fewer than one per cent listened directly from the Palapa C2 satellite. [42] Description of RA's current modes of delivery, and assessment of their further potential for the broadcaster, follow.


6.41 RA currently broadcasts via the Palapa C2 satellite which is owned by an Indonesian Government company. [43] The satellite's footprint extends to India, across South East Asia and southern China, and across the South Pacific to the International Dateline. RA uses two of the audio sub-carriers attached to the Australia Television signal on the satellite. One carries RA's 24 hour English language service, the other a mix of RA's foreign language programs and weekend sports broadcasts. At present, RA is not charged directly for its use as the lease for the two carriers is included in Australia Television's contract. The continuation of this arrangement is contingent on Australia Television's future.

6.42 RA has also been negotiating with AusAID to fund installation of downlinks by local radio stations in PNG, Tonga, Fiji and Western Samoa so they can receive a high quality signal via the Palapa C2 satellite. This installation of AusAID funded downlinks is currently on hold pending the decision about Radio Australia's future.

6.43 In evidence to the Committee, Mr Derek White reported that the audience reach of RA would be dramatically reduced if it were to rely on a satellite delivery of its services. [44] He pointed out that a number of countries in the region - including China, Malaysia, Singapore and, recently reported, Vietnam - have banned private ownership of satellite receivers. [45] Rebroadcasting from satellite transmission by local AM/FM stations would be subject to possible censorship by local government authorities.

6.44 Further, the cost of installing a satellite receiver is prohibitive for most listeners of RA and many do not have available mains electricity required to run the satellite receivers. Mr Derek White told the Committee:

6.45 These points were all supported by various witnesses to the inquiry. [47] Dr Errol Hodge pointed out that if Radio Australia broadcast to Indonesia via satellite only, there would be 'a great deal of self-censorship'. [48] Mr Graeme Dobell stated that the developments, in terms of satellite technology, were as much about politics as technology. [49]

6.46 Mr Michael Bird, having recently assisted the London-based World Radio Network establish its Asia-Pacific satellite service, gave the following expert opinion:

6.47 Mr Nigel Holmes, Transmission Manager of Radio Australia gave further details on the costs of satellite dish reception. Whereas an average short-wave receiver costs $US 45:

6.48 Evidence conveyed to the Committee by Mr Oscar Wang, Senior Broadcaster, Chinese Language service, emphatically confirmed that satellite was not the people's choice or option in China. Mainland Chinese listeners, responding to the Government view that short-wave was in decline, requested Mr Wang to:


6.49 For Radio Australia the main facility of satellite transmission is for rebroadcasting. As Mr Holmes told the Committee:

6.50 Such rebroadcasting arrangements have already been effectively pursued by Radio Australia where:

6.51 The RA submitted that in the Asian region, few countries permit rebroadcasting of unedited foreign news or other sensitive material. In China, for example, RA's music programs, English language lessons and special programs about Australian life are increasingly accepted. Not so, however, is Radio Australia's news in Cantonese and Mandarin, which is heard only through short wave. The same restrictions on satellite reception therefore apply for rebroadcasting: the material must be acceptable to the government and to the local AM or FM broadcaster before it is delivered to its audiences.

6.52 In the Pacific, by contrast, RA extensively rebroadcasts material. Most Pacific nations readily rebroadcast news and other information programs offered by the major international broadcasters in the region, RA, BBC, Radio New Zealand and the Voice of America. In an underdeveloped information environment, Pacific radio and television operators readily accept material from external sources. This has encouraged a degree of domination by foreign information which some commentators see as culturally invasive. [54] Mr Derek White alluded to this at the hearings in relation to the potential for Australia to establish 24 hour satellite transmission to the Pacific funded by AusAID. [55]

6.53 Because of this factor, rebroadcasting of programs is rather precariously balanced between falling short of the information needs of the region and overstepping that need when programs rebroadcast are not sensitively or perceptively produced nor judiciously chosen for audiences in the region.

6.54 At the same time, the rebroadcasting environment is highly competitive, and because of this, it is increasingly likely that countries will soon be charging broadcasters who want to relay programs through local broadcasting services, rather than the other way round. The measure of acceptance of material is dependent on how positively it is perceived by the receiving countries. The emphasis on 'cultural appropriateness' thus becomes increasingly focussed. [56]

6.55 Evidence to the Committee suggests, that RA's short-wave services to date have been welcomed precisely because they provide audiences with an alternative to local and other international programming in a format which is both 'culturally appropriate' and meets the needs of its audiences.

6.56 To achieve this, RA selects and adapts domestic programming for short-wave broadcast through its foreign language service division. [57] The programs are re-worked for specific audiences throughout the region. While some sports and media programs are distributed without adaptation for rebroadcasting, these are mainly for expatriate audiences. No other domestic programming is provided direct for rebroadcasting to target audiences. Mr Peter Barnett, former director of RA, thus rejects the option of RA continuing as a rebroadcast service only:

Audio transcription and the Internet

6.57 The ABC submission records that Radio Australia currently sends audio transcription tapes of information and music programs to a number of stations around the Asia Pacific region for rebroadcast. [59] The English service sends five tapes each week to 17 stations in the Pacific and three to All India Radio. The North Asia (Chinese Service) each week sends information and music programs to 18 stations in China. The Thai service provides 20 tapes to Thai stations each month. The duration of information on the tapes ranges from 15 to 90 minutes.

6.58 In May 1996, RA began placing program schedules and background information on the ABC's Internet site. In August, Internet news in English was launched, closely followed by French, Tok Pisin and, most recently, Chinese. Plans are in place to start Internet news services in Indonesian, Vietnamese, Khmer and Thai.

6.59 The new audiences established though Radio Australia's Internet services, with 'hits' totalling 160,000 in January 1997, are complementary to Radio Australia's estimated 20 million audience for short-wave transmission. Internet services could not at all be perceived as an alternative to serve Radio Australia's current mass audience, but they do demonstrate the organisation's capacity and desire to investigate and develop new modes of delivery, and to do so in a focussed and economical manner.

6.60 As Radio Australia's submission explains, its Internet service is an example of value adding from existing services. The Internet news is produced by Radio Australia's editorial staff who can move stories directly from the NewsCaf computer system to the net with a minimum of processing. RA thus provides an edge to the ABC's Internet system and innovates in the international scene: the Internet English news also doubles as the ABC's international news service while Radio Australia's Chinese language Internet news is one of the first of its type in the world.

Digital short-wave potential

6.61 Radio Australia, as a short-wave service, is aware of the potential of digital short-wave to enhance its signal. Mr Derek White reports:

6.62 Many witnesses to this inquiry recognised that digital short-wave is the way forward for the medium. In his submission to the Mansfield review in September 1996, Mr Michael Bird wrote that the 'European Broadcasting Union is now testing two types of digital encoded short wave' and that the expected outcome was that short-wave would experience a 'rebirth within five to seven years'. [61] At hearings in April, he confirmed this time frame but also reported a development in that the Germans and the French had just agreed to combine their systems and that extensive testing would now take place. [62]

6.63 In a supplementary paper to the Committee, Mr Bird outlined the advances in digital AM, with three systems currently under development by Thomcast (France), Voice of America/Jet Propulsion Laboratory (USA) and Deutsche Telekom (Germany). These firms are working on options will facilitate the establishment of a world wide digital standard, including possible modes which combine analogue and digital transmission, as developed by Thomcast. If all proceeds smoothly, the standard for long-wave, medium-wave and short-wave delivery will be established in three years, allowing application of the technologies by international broadcasters. [63]

6.64 Mr Bird described the technology of digital and current potential of Radio Australia to be converted to the system:

6.65 In regard to the production of economical digital receivers, Dr Errol Hodge told the Committee that he was aware that China had indicated its willingness to build hundreds of millions of receivers which would receive digital short-wave. [65] Further, Mr Bird confirmed that 'Sony, Panasonic, and Sangean in Taiwan, are very keen [on digital development] because it will revitalise their markets'. [66]

6.66 It is apparent from the evidence that RA is in a position to build on its existing infrastructure to gain a position of real strength in the digital short-wave environment of the future. The alternative is, as Mr Peter Barnett suggested, a matter of 'closing the door when the door is going to open for everybody else'. [67]

Satellite digital broadcasting

6.67 The Committee also received evidence from Mr Richard Butler, Chairman of WorldSpace/AsiaSpace who reported on the future potential of satellite-aided digital broadcasting. This mode, nevertheless, had some of the strengths and disadvantages of other satellite broadcasting: a strong, quality signal balanced by a potential for jamming or censorship of that signal and, at present, the prohibitive costs of reception devices.

6.68 In a letter to the Committee following his appearance, Mr Butler clarified some aspects of the potential to block the satellite DAB radio signal saying that, while it was possible to jam the signal, the service would mainly be provided through 'uplinking of the individual countries own uses with extended regional coverages'. [68] This would appear to mean that the DAB satellite signal would rely on rebroadcasting and so would be subject to similar controls. The availability of a direct signal would therefore be contingent on the costs reception to independent users.

6.69 Mr Butler reported in his submission that WorldSpace was currently funding research into this area which will allow for the production of economical receivers, and stated to the Committee that these would be 'hand held or portable car environment'. [69] Within five years he estimated the cost of these receivers would be $50, competitive with contemporary short-wave receivers. [70] Other evidence received, however, questioned these developments.

6.70 In a letter to the Committee, Radio Australia reported that no working prototype had as yet been produced by the manufacturers commissioned by WorldSpace. Neither had the technology been successfully demonstrated in several field tests nor had it overcome problems such as reception in buildings. [71] Other evidence suggested that WorldSpace's projected cost of $50 for receivers to be manufactured in future was also questionable given that this is the current wholesale price of the components needed to manufacture satellite receivers. [72]

6.71 Although this satellite technology is not yet available for use by broadcasters, it clearly has potential for broadcasting services in the future.


6.72 The Department of Communications and the Arts had no information to offer the Committee on the relative merits of current broadcasting technologies as this was 'one of the issues the government was considering'. [73] As this was a technical question, the Department should have answered it. As pointed out in Chapter 1, the fact that the Government is considering a matter is not a valid reason for not answering questions about matters which do not impinge on policy advice. The Department has a duty to the Parliament to provide factual and technical information to a parliamentary committee. However, it is clear that no other transmission mode at the moment has the capacity to replace short-wave radio for the bulk of RA's programming.

6.73 Nevertheless, Dr Vic Jones of the NTA did offer cautionary advice about making sudden changes in infrastructure in broadcasting environments. Commenting on the need to run analogue and digital technologies in a change-over period he said :

6.74 Building up an 'audience of receivers' is the crucial issue for consideration of Radio Australia's future as broadcaster. Any decision made about transmission technologies should take into account the empirical evidence: Radio Australia's largest audience is now secured through short-wave technology. At the same time, as Mr Michael Bird argues, Radio Australia, positioned as it is in terms of both geography and infrastructure, has the potential to become a regional 'one stop shop' for international communications: making greater use of the growing number of delivery modes - not only short-wave and satellite transmission but Internet, CD-Rom, and multi-media technology. [75]

6.75 In his review, Mr Mansfield suggested that Australia should withdraw from the media marketplace in the Asia Pacific region because that market has become increasing competitive. Mr Graeme Dobell counters eloquently that Australia should take its place in the race:

6.76 The Committee strongly supports Mr Dobell's views.

Cost Effectiveness of Radio Australia

Radio Australia funding

6.77 Each year, the Government notifies the ABC Board of its total level of base funding. The Board then decides the amount to be allocated to RA and notifies the Government accordingly. This figure then appears as a single line appropriation for RA in the Government's Budget. In 1996-97, RA was allocated $13,494,000. This figure includes $1,002,447 for Southbank Support Services, the cost of transmitting programs to the short-wave transmitter sites operated by the NTA and the cost of transmission of programs other than by short-wave radio. These other transmission costs include $190,000 per annum for delivering audio transcripts for rebroadcast by overseas radio stations, $80,000 per annum for two one-hour feeds per day to the World Radio Network centre in London for satellite distribution to rebroadcasters in Europe and North America and $78,000 per annum for Internet operations. The RA's share of the total ABC budget has been between 2.5 and 2.7 per cent.

6.78 The cost of operating the NTA short-wave transmitters is the responsibility of the NTA. According to the Department of Communications and the Arts, the transmission operating costs for the HF transmission facilities used to deliver RA services is $6,968,000 in 1996-97. [77]

6.79 The RA budget for 1996-97 is broken down into $9,906,587 for salaries and $3,662,413 for expenses with additional revenue of $75,000. The budget can be considered in another way: $2,026,760 for general management, $2,851,291 for resources and distribution and $8,615,949 for program departments. The average staffing level for RA in 1996-97 is 144.

International comparisons

6.80 RA submitted that in 1995, that:

6.81 RCI and RA are comparable in size as shown in the following table.

Table 6.1: Comparison of RA and RCI

Budget* Staff Languages#
Radio Canada $A15.4 million 125 7
Radio Australia $A20.5 million 144 9

* Including transmission; Mansfield figure for Radio Australia.

# RCI's total language output substantially below RA.

6.82 The outcomes of the international comparison are as follows:

6.83 It is very clear from the KPMG charts comparing a number of international broadcasters against a range of efficiency measures that RA was among the most cost-effective across the range. The Committee believes that RA is both efficient and cost-effective and achieves considerable benefits for Australia for a small cost.

6.84 The Committee does not believe that the future funding of RA or, for that matter, ATV, should be considered on the basis of domestic versus international broadcasting. The role and functions of each are quite different and should be treated separately by the Government. The Government should treat RA funding as a single line appropriation separate from the ABC's budget, irrespective of the future structure of RA and its place within the bureaucracy. Mr Mansfield's recommendations and the apparent preparedness of the ABC to sacrifice its international broadcasting services should it not receive funding for them over and above that which is required for its domestic services, makes the argument for completely separate funding more cogent.

6.85 During the inquiry, there was considerable objection to the funding of RA by DFAT or for the placement of RA within the foreign affairs and trade portfolio. It was argued that such an arrangement would be perceived within the Asia Pacific region as the Government assuming greater editorial control over RA's services. In other words, the perceived independence of RA, particularly in news and current affairs, would be treated with a little more cynicism. If taken with other Government decisions and the government's handling of issues affecting the region - the abolition of the DIFF scheme; reduced aid budgets; closer defence ties with the USA; the proposed cuts to RA and the proposed privatisation of ATV; the perceived poor handling of the race debate by the Government - it is perhaps understandable that any transfer of RA funding to DFAT might be misconstrued within the region.

6.86 Although the Committee believes that it would be preferable for RA funding not to be included in the DFAT budget, it would accept such an arrangement should it mean the survival of RA. The Committee notes that the BBC World Service is funded by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. However, that arrangement is one of long standing and the BBC World Service has had time to prove that it is independent of political interference in its editorial policies. Similarly, should RA find itself in a similar position dependent on DFAT funding, it would eventually demonstrate to its audience that there has been no editorial interference by government. It should not be forgotten that all public broadcasters are funded from the public purse and in the end the particular purse used for funding the broadcaster does not really matter, provided that editorial independence and program integrity are maintained.

6.87 The Committee appreciates that there are particular synergies in the operations of RA and the ABC domestic services. They share foreign correspondents, RA draws heavily on ABC news, information and current affairs although there is some reciprocity, and the RA broadcasts many programs prepared for the ABC domestic services. RA would not be nearly as effective without access to ABC resources. For that reason, the Committee believes that it is important for RA to remain attached to the ABC. However, it is also apparent to the Committee that because RA is a small and discrete unit within the broad range of services provided by the ABC, it has not attracted the level of attention and support it needs to fulfil its important international role. Consequently, it would benefit from having a separate board to oversee its operations and give it direction, particularly at a time when globalisation of broadcasting services is evolving very quickly, with emphasis in the Asia Pacific region. Such a board should comprise representatives of the ABC, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Department of Communications and the Arts, and a number of people with expertise in broadcasting or the region (one of whom to be the chairman) and the General Manager of RA. Although there would be some additional costs for a part-time board, it should not make any significant difference to overall funding.

6.88 The Committee does not consider the transfer of RA away from the ABC to the foreign affairs and trade portfolio as an effective or desirable move. It would increase perceptions within the region that the Government was becoming more involved in editorial policy although the Committee is sure this would not happen in practice. Nevertheless, perceptions are sometimes difficult to disperse.

6.89 If RA were in the foreign affairs and trade portfolio, it would be more difficult for the Minister for Foreign Affairs or DFAT to repudiate statements made in a RA news or current affairs program should another government object to those statements. At present, the Minister and DFAT can disassociate themselves from news broadcasts which are not consistent with Australian foreign policy on the grounds that RA programming is independent of Government control. Other governments, which perhaps have more control over the media in their countries than the Australian Government does over RA, might regard with greater scepticism any attempt at disassociation if RA were ultimately responsible to the Minister.

6.90 Finally, DFAT's relationship with its public affairs journalists over many years, and the abolition of the International Public Affairs Branch in 1996, would not augur well for RA should it be transferred to the foreign affairs and trade portfolio. The role of the Branch was international public and media promotion of Australia, which RA does in a different way. The Committee believes that there would be no real commitment in DFAT to support RA within the portfolio.

6.91 The only other option canvassed seriously during the inquiry was the establishment of a separate organisation combining RA and ATV. Although it does have some attractions, it would inevitably require additional funds to carry out corporate functions for which the ABC currently takes responsibility. It would also be difficult, although not impossible, to make arrangements with the ABC to ensure the synergies among the three bodies, which add to the current effectiveness of the two international broadcasting services, were not lost. The Committee therefore believes that RA and ATV should continue to remain attached to the ABC with such changes mentioned above and in the chapter on ATV being implemented. However, if such arrangements are not successful, further consideration should be given to the possibility of combining RA and ATV in a separate organisation or for RA to be established as a separate organisation.

6.92 The Committee therefore recommends that the Government provide sufficient funds, at least at current levels, to allow Radio Australia to continue to provide its current range of English and foreign language services through a variety of media, especially the medium of short-wave radio.

6.93 The Committee recommends that Radio Australia continue to operate international public broadcasting services to the Asia Pacific region and that such services continue to be associated with the ABC but with separately identified funding.

6.94 The Committee also recommends that additional funding be provided to Radio Australia to fund a Burmese language service and to expand the Khmer language service.


[1] Committee Hansard, p. 45.

[2] See Michael Bird, submission no. 349, p. 1.

[3] ABC submission no. 377, Vol. 2. p. 55.

[4] See Michael Bird, submission no. 350, p. 1.

[5] Committee Hansard, p. 9.

[6] Committee Hansard, p. 35.

[7] See Chapter 3.

[8] Committee Hansard, p. 45.

[9] Committee Hansard, p. 45.

[10] Question on notice to the Department of Communications and the Arts, 3 April 1997, p. 1.

[11] Submission no. 400, p. 7.

[12] Committee Hansard, p. 188.

[13] Committee Hansard, p. 188-89.

[14] Committee Hansard, p. 397.

[15] ABC submission no. 377, p. 51.

[16] The information in this section is drawn from 'Technical Background to Radio Australia's Transmissions', supplementary information material provided by Radio Australia, pp. 4-5 and from evidence provided by Mr Nigel Holmes, RA's transmission manager, at the hearings on 16 April 1997, Committee Hansard, pp 381-97.

[17] The role of short wave in Australia's defence system is discussed below.

[18] See Committee Hansard, p. 187.

[19] Committee Hansard, p. 385.

[20] ABC submission no. 377, Vol. 2. p. 52.

[21] For comparison, replacement investment for Cox Peninsula would be $50 million dollars and three years with Shepparton as $30 million and two. See 'Technical Background to Radio Australia's Transmissions', p. 5.

[22] Committee Hansard, p. 106.

[23] Committee Hansard, p. 18.

[24] 'Radio Australia in touch with the World', News Release, 17 March 1997, ABC Online.

[25] Committee Hansard, p. 379; Submission no. 350, p. 1.

[26] Committee Hansard, p. 342.

[27] Review, October 1995, p. iv.

[28] Review, October 1995, p. 17.

[29] Committee Hansard, pp 93-94.

[30] Committee Hansard, p. 379.

[31] Committee Hansard, p. 259.

[32] Submission no. 414, p. 1.

[33] See 'Techs, Skies and Audio tape: Is Short wave Being Replaced?' in Passport to World Band Radio, [p.69], where pocket-sized short-wave receivers were preferred by US troops in the Gulf compared to issued 'man portable receivers' for reception of satellite transmissions carrying US Armed Forces Radio. The troops listened to 'Baghdad Betty', BBC World Services on short wave, instead.

[34] ABC Submission no. 377, Vol. 2, p. 53.

[35] 'Technical Background to Radio Australia's Transmissions', p. 3.

[36] Committee Hansard, p. 384.

[37] 'Technical Background to Radio Australia's Transmissions', p. 3.

[38] All of these organisations have written to Radio Australia asking about the availability of spare short wave capacity. See 'Radio Australia in touch with the World', News Release, 17 March 1997, ABC Online.

[39] These and the following details are from 'Technical Background to Radio Australia's Transmissions', p. 3.

[40] Answer to question on notice taken by the Department of Communications and the Arts, 3 April 1997, [p. 3].

[41] A total of 694 letters were received within a month of the release of the Mansfield report, that is be the end of February 1997. See ABC submission no. 377, p. 5.

[42] ABC submission no. 377, p. 5.

[43] The following information is from the ABC submission no. 377, Vol. 2, p. 53.

[44] Committee Hansard, p. 115.

[45] Committee Hansard, p. 110.

[46] Committee Hansard, p. 115.

[47] For example, Committee Hansard, pp 252, 386 and following citations.

[48] Committee Hansard, p. 212.

[49] Committee Hansard, p. 252.

[50] Committee Hansard, p. 19.

[51] Committee Hansard, p. 386.

[52] Committee Hansard, p. 390.

[53] Committee Hansard, p. 386.

[54] See Robie, David, ed. Nius Bilong Pasifik: Mass Media in the Pacific, Port Moresby: University of Papua New Guinea Press (in assoc. with the South Pacific Centre for Communication and Information Development) 1994.p. 22-3.

[55] Committee Hansard, p. 115.

[56] See ABC submission no. 377, pp 70-82.

[57] The following details are from the ABC submission no. 377, pp 72-3.

[58] Committee Hansard, p. 14.

[59] The information in this section is drawn from the ABC submission no. 377, Vol. 2, p. 54.

[60] Committee Hansard, p. 39.

[61] Attachment, submission no. 349, p. 5.

[62] Committee Hansard, p. 20.

[63] Paper received 16 April 1997.

[64] Committee Hansard, p. 20.

[65] Committee Hansard, p. 223.

[66] Committee Hansard, p. 21.

[67] Committee Hansard, p. 10.

[68] Letter received 21 April 1997.

[69] Submission no. 678 and Committee Hansard, p. 409.

[70] Committee Hansard, p. 410.

[71] Letter of 18 April 1997, p. 3.

[72] 'Technical Background to Radio Australia's Transmissions', p. 6.

[73] Committee Hansard, p. 190.

[74] Committee Hansard, p. 196.

[75] Michael Bird, Submission to the Mansfield review, Attachment to Submission no. 349, p. 2

[76] Committee Hansard, p. 243.

[77] Department of Communications and the Arts, letter dated 15 April 1997 to the Committee.

[78] ABC/RA submission, pp 52-53.