The Role and Future of Radio Australia and Australia Television




7.1 Australia Television (ATV) was established in December 1992 as a joint initiative of the Federal Government and the ABC. For the ABC, the establishment of a satellite television service was a means of meeting its Charter obligation to broadcast to countries outside of Australia. [1] The previous Government saw the venture as a vehicle for propagating an Australian regional identity.

7.2 In order to insulate the ABC from any financial risk and to ensure accountability for the venture, the Government decided that ATV should operate as a subsidiary of the ABC (Australian Television International Pty Ltd). Other provisions of the venture included the ABC agreeing to accept commercial sponsorship for the service and to repay the establishment grant when ATV became profitable.

7.3 ATV was launched by the then Prime Minister on 17 February 1993, who declared 'that from now on, the people of our region will know us better. ATV will bring Australia and the South East Asian region significantly closer'.

ATV Delivery to the Region

7.4 Most ATV programs are either transmitted to Darwin via satellite from the ABC's Sydney studio at Gore Hill or recorded "off air " in Darwin for broadcast overseas.

7.5 ATV uses the Palapa C2 satellite which has a footprint extending west to the Indian sub-continent north to Beijing and east to the South West Pacific. It covers 33 Asian and Pacific countries and territories. Budgetary constraints have prevented ATV from extending its footprint to other Asian countries and the Middle East.

7.6 As well as delivering its programs direct to the region via satellite, ATV has established rebroadcast agreements with cable and terrestrial broadcasters thereby increasing ATV's potential audience. As a result, a full or part ATV service is available to audiences (without satellite receiving equipment) in Cambodia, China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Laos, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand, Vanuatu and Vietnam through the services of 120 licensed local operators.

7.7 ATV indicated to the Committee that a further 300 operators (most of them in the Philippines) carry ATV programs.

7.8 The following is a current list of cable operators and domestic broadcasters with whom ATV has established rebroadcast agreements:

Table 7.1: ATV Rebroadcast Agreements

Country Rebroadcaster Agreement
Cambodia TV9 Selected Programs
China Guangdong Cable Selected Programs
Hong Kong Wharf Cable World At Noon, ABC News, Foreign Correspondent
India Asianet

Business India Television

Five Hours Daily

Selected Programs

Indonesia IndoVision Distribution Entire Service
Laos Lao National Television

Lao TV3

Selected Program

English-Have a Go

Nauru Nauru Television 50-60% of AusTV's Daily Schedule
Papua New Guinea Hitron Entire Service
Philippines 92 Cable Operators (official)

315 Cable Operators (unofficial)

Entire Service
Singapore Singapore CableVision (Cable)

Singapore Cable Vision (UHF)

Entire Service

Australia Television News

Sri Lanka MTV Channel (Pvt) Ltd

Telshan Network (Pvt) Ltd

9-12 Hours Daily

Selected Programs

Taiwan Jet Cable

New Cable

Twin Country Cable

Shu Lung Cable

TWT Comm. Cable

Powerful Cable


W.S. Wire Trans.

Yangmingshan Cable



Entire Service

Entire Service

Entire Service

Entire Service

Entire Service

Entire Service

Entire Service

Entire Service

Entire Service

Entire Service

Entire Service

Thailand IBC Symphony Co.

Thai Sky Cable

Suchat Telecom

World At Noon, AusTV News Foreign Correspondent

Selected Programs

Selected Programs

Vanuatu VBTC 2-3 Hours Daily
Vietnam Vietnam Television

Hanoi MMDS


Vung Tau MMDS

Selected Programs

Selected Programs

Selected Programs

Entire Service

Source: ATV Submission

7.9 On 9 April 1997, ATV announced that it had entered into agreement with RPG Netcom in Calcutta to carry the entire ATV service. This will be the second major network in India to take the ATV service. ATV said that RPG Netcom presently 'have 25,000 cable homes connected through 14 nodes and hope to have 24 nodes and 100,000 subscribers by the end of the year'. [2]

7.10 In addition, ATV has developed a hotel distribution network with more than 400 first class hotels providing ATV to guests.

7.11 This overview of the distribution network shows that despite the increasing range of international news channels broadcasting to the region, ATV has managed within a short period of time to establish a unique service encompassing news, information and entertainment.

7.12 The success that ATV has had in negotiating rebroadcast arrangements demonstrates the region's acceptance of ATV's service and the relevance of its programming.

Viewer Audience

7.13 It is difficult to establish precisely ATV's viewing audience given the nature of satellite broadcasting. However, based on a study by NeilsenSRG Research Services (Hong Kong) for the Australian International Education Foundation, published in December 1995, ATV's penetration in the Asia region is equal to CNN and the BBC, and second only to the Hong Kong based Star Television. The study estimates that ATV currently reaches 20.4 million households via satellite, cable or terrestrial rebroadcast. According to ATV, 'This gives the Australian service the same reach as its much wealthier and more established competitors, the United States-based CNN and BBC World from Britain'. [3]

7.14 Details of the number of households in Asia and the Pacific with access to ATV via cable and terrestrial rebroadcast agreements are set out below.

7.15 Mr Mann told the Committee that it was impossible to determine how many home viewers watch ATV. He went on to say:

Table 7.2: Households with access to ATV

Country Cable Terrestrial
Cambodia   200,000
China 400,000  
Hong Kong 306,000  
India 10,725,000  
Indonesia 22,900  
Laos   70,000
Nauru   2,000
Papua New Guinea 9,600  
Philippines 700,000  
Singapore 105,861  
Sri Lanka 1,795,000  
Taiwan 265,000  
Thailand 262,200  
Vanuatu   N/A
Vietnam 700 5,500,000
TOTALS 14,592, 261 5,772,000

Source: ATV submission, p. 11.

7.16 Dr Hart Cohen of the University of Western Sydney, Nepean, has co-ordinated audience research projects in Indonesia in 1995 and 1996.

7.17 In 1995, a survey showed that ATV's weekly audience in the Philippines was estimated at about 250,000 people. [6]

7.18 ATV submitted that:

7.19 In DFAT's submission to the Mansfield inquiry, it commented:

7.20 Although the first statement is qualified by the second, it is very unclear what is the basis of DFAT's implied criticism of ATV's audience reach. After operating for only four years, there is of course considerable potential for increasing audience reach. DFAT does not indicate what it believes should have been the audience reach of ATV in September 1996, the date of the submission. It also does not say what was the problem with the then 'formula'.

7.21 DFAT went on to say that:

7.22 As this was the last paragraph of the part of the submission dealing with ATV, it is not clear whether the suggestions in this paragraph refer to ways of improving audience reach or to improving ATV programming (criticised earlier in the submission), or both. The lack of detail not only makes the meaning obscure but also raises the question as to the extent to which DFAT had thought through its ideas in this area.

7.23 DFAT's lack of co-operation with the Committee in this inquiry by not making a submission and by not allowing reasonable questions to be answered by officers at a public hearing, meant that the Committee was unable to explore further some of these issues with the Department. The Committee therefore had to take their statements to Mr Mansfield on face value.

7.24 The Committee believes that ATV has done an exceptional job in securing an audience reach similar to CNN and BBC World in Asia in just four years and at the cost of a little more than $6 million a year. Although many international broadcasters operate in the Asian market, no other operator in the Asian market has matched ATV's success in its short history.

7.25 There is considerable anecdotal evidence that among ATV's audience there are many Asian and Pacific leaders and other influential people, who not only are made aware of Australian perspectives on regional and global issues and events, but who are also shown graphic images of Australia, our lifestyle, culture and economic and technological achievements.


7.26 ATV broadcasts 16 hours of Australian produced material each day. The mix of programming encompasses Australian news, information, sport and entertainment. At the same time, programming includes regionally focussed news, current affairs, educational and sport items. The challenge for ATV has been to bring a multi-faceted image of Australian society to the Asia-Pacific region while providing news and information services for the region.

7.27 Programming material is sourced from the ABC, SBS, Network 10, Channel 9, Channel 7, Film Australia, the National Sound and Film Archive and from independent producers. ATV's expenditure on programming is close to $1 million a year. [8]

7.28 Approximately one-third of ATV's programming is news and current affairs. Programs include, from the ABC, ABC News, Lateline, Four Corners, Stateline, Foreign Correspondent, The World at Noon and the 7.30 Report, from SBS, Insight and Dateline and from Network 10, Meet The Press. ATV also produces a bulletin of Australia Television News on weekdays specifically for the service's Asia-Pacific audiences.

7.29 With regard to other programming, ATV described it as follows:

7.30 Despite the rapid increase in the number of international satellite channels broadcasting to the region, ATV is the only English language comprehensive service produced by a regional broadcaster. While other international broadcasters, such as BBC World, CNN, CNBC and ABN provide general news or business news, ATV produces a range of programs (news, documentaries, children's entertainment and arts and educational series) with an emphasis on news and current affairs affecting the region.

7.31 The uniqueness of ATV's programming mix together with its regional focus was emphasised to the Committee in written submissions. As one expatriate living in Phnom Penh wrote:

7.32 Many submitters compared ATV very favourably with other international services available to them. For example:

7.33 The essence of the above views was reflected in many submissions. Many Australian expatriates, and others, commented that there is no alternative to ATV for people wanting news about Australia and the region. Although other broadcasters include Asian items in their news broadcasts, none provides the range or depth of Asian news stories covered by ATV. No other broadcaster provides Australian news except for disasters or other major items.

7.34 ATV's strong emphasis on news and current affairs is a recognition of the primary uses of satellite broadcasting for news and information, the rebroadcasting of programs through cable and domestic broadcasters providing an extension of this service. Most people who wrote about programming in their submissions rated ATV news highly, focussing on its independence, integrity, relevance to the region and presentation. Although a few people thought that ATV's accurate portrayal of Australia and regional countries (the less seemly aspects of life as well as the good aspects) did a disservice to Australia and denigrated our neighbours, most found the honesty and integrity displayed by ATV as its strength, not its weakness. They could rely on the news and current affairs broadcast by ATV.

7.35 Mr Ross Petzing, Program Department Manager, English-language News of the International Broadcasting Corporation, submitted that:

7.36 Programming generally was the one area of ATV operations which attracted some criticism in submissions from viewers. The Committee received seven submissions which had negative comments about programming and another 43 which suggested improvements to programming. Although these statistics covered both ATV and RA, most related to ATV. Another 256 submissions had positive comments to make about programming.

7.37 Many of the criticisms appear to reflect the individual tastes of those viewers although the meagre funds available for programming would make it difficult for ATV to maintain programming standards. The many repeats of some programs also drew criticism in a number of submissions. This, too, is mainly a resource problem. Even where criticisms of programming are made, the submitters generally expressed a positive view of ATV programming in overall terms. ATV will need to refine its programming strategies to take account of the criticisms which arose in the many submissions that addressed this issue.

ATV's Contribution to Foreign Policy and Trade

7.38 This cannot be valued in dollars and cents. It is about the subtle messages conveyed to the peoples of the region, particularly the educated people, about life in Australia, the beauty and sometimes starkness of our countryside, our hopes and disappointments, our achievements in many fields and our disappointments, our democratic principles and our perceptions of issues and events which affect Australia, the region and the world. It is about creating an awareness of Australia, an understanding of our way of life and the multicultural nature of our society and showing that our future is inextricably linked with Asia and the Pacific, even though we maintain strong ties with countries in other regions from which many Australians have come.

7.39 ATV's contribution in furthering Australia's foreign policy interests is by providing images of Australia which influence people in the region to do things which contribute to our interests. It may simply be to imbue viewers with a feeling of warmth towards Australia so that when they have choices to make which include Australia among the variables, that they choose Australia. It may be the destination for schooling or tertiary education for their children, the location of their next holiday, the purchase of an Australian product or service, support for Australian views on regional or global issues, or simply the more ethereal embracing of Australian liberal democratic principles.

7.40 You cannot measure this influence in an empirical way. But there is considerable anecdotal evidence to support it. Submissions from people living in the region refer to visits to Australia by their local friends or acquaintances to see places which they had seen on holiday programs shown by ATV. Other submitters said that local people chose Australia for their children's education because they had been convinced by ATV programs that Australia was a clean, stable and safe place for overseas students.

7.41 A number of submitters told the Committee that ATV programs showing Australia as a successful multicultural society had helped to dispel doubts about Australian racial tolerance following inaccurate accounts of the race debate broadcast on local media stations. In other words, ATV provides an Australian voice in the region to counter mischievous news items which hurt Australian interests. Without such a voice, there is no other means to tell Australia's side of the story.

7.42 In its submission to the Mansfield inquiry, DFAT said that:

7.43 Mr Michael Mann, Chief Executive of ATV, told the Committee that:

7.44 In terms of trade, there is no way of calculating the influence of ATV in generating trade and investment between Australia and countries of the region. Mr Michael Mann recounted to the Committee one instance where an ATV program influenced an $18 million investment in Australia. He said that if he had not been told personally about the story he would not have known about it. [14]

7.45 Under the ABC Charter, one of the obligations of the ABC, and through it, ATV, is to provide information about Australian affairs and Australian attitudes on world affairs to Australians abroad. There are an estimated 100,000 Australians living in the Asia Pacific region. Many, if not most, of these expatriates view ATV or listen to RA, or both. Not only does ATV provide a link for these Australians back to their homeland, it also, as pointed out in many of the submissions, makes life just that bit more bearable for them and their families. Many Australians live in remote areas in the region because they are employed by mining or other companies, or are aid workers or volunteers abroad.

7.46 Australians living abroad are also ambassadors for Australia. By keeping up-to-date with events and issues in Australia, they pass on that information to many of the local people with whom they work or do business and with whom they mix socially. Without that knowledge, they would not be in a position to argue against inaccurate or unfair criticisms of Australia which might have been carried in the local media or to provide the latest information about political issues or commercial trends or activities. Australians who are abreast of recent developments in Australia will influence their friends, colleagues and acquaintances to think 'Australia' for holidays, education, business and other ways.

7.47 ATV is really about projection of Australia to the region so that we are a relevant consideration when people make decisions that could benefit Australia. Australia spends more than two billion dollars a year on foreign affairs, overseas aid and trade promotion. A large amount of that is focussed on Asia. For less than $2.5 million in 1995-96 (ie after deducting sponsorship revenue), ATV must be the most cost effective service promoting Australia, our foreign affairs and trade interests. What other Australian organisation, other than Radio Australia, can reach 20 million people in Asia and influence them toward Australia's interests. And ATV is only four years old!

Funding for ATV

7.48 ATV was established by the ABC with a conditional one-off grant from the Government of $5.4 million. As it was originally conceived as a self-funding body, the conditions attached to the grant included the ABC repaying the grant when ATV became profitable. However, ATV did not live up to its early expectations in relation to profitability. Its financial viability has been the subject of several reviews.

7.49 According to the August 1994 review by the Department of Communications and the Arts, Australia Television Review of Financial and Management Arrangements, the failure was due to the fact that ATV did not proceed with a subscription service but went free to air, the over-estimate of sponsorship revenue by the ABC, and a 275 per cent increase in transmission costs over the initial estimate. [15]

7.50 In 1995, following a review of the financial and management arrangements, the previous government agreed to provide additional funding of $1.9 million (paid on 1 July 1996) and a further $6.2 million per year for three years commencing in 1996-97. [16] This committed funding has now been withdrawn by the current Government.

7.51 According to ATV's submission, total funding for the operation of the ATV service compares favourably with other international broadcasters in the region:

7.52 ATV has shown that it has been able to provide a cost effective service. Its expenditure on news production and the purchase of news and current affairs programs represents less than half the cost of transmission charges - the Palapa Transponder lease accounts for more than one-third of ATV's total budget.

7.53 The Committee also notes that ATV was the first government-funded broadcaster in the Asia Pacific region to provide an international television service to the region via satellite.

Profitability of ATV

7.54 ATV was established on the basis that it would become self-funding but retaining its structural link with the ABC. Net revenues from advertising and sponsorship were projected to meet the marginal costs of the service within three years.

7.55 To date, as the table shows, ATV has not achieved profitability.

Table 7.3: ATV Profitability


(5 months)

1993-94 1994-95 1995-96
Sales 0.13 0.95 1.49 2.64
Transponder sub-lease - - 1.88 1.76
Government support 2.91 2.49 - -
Total Income 3.04 3.44 3.37 4.40
Expenses 3.04 6.35 8.00 6.78
Profit (loss) - (2.91) (4.63) (2.38)
Value of ABC Resources provided 1.91 4.06 2.53 2.82

Source: ATV submission, p. 19.

ATV also provided the following abbreviated balance sheet for the information of the Committee.

Table 7.4: ATV abbreviated balance sheet

30 June 1993 30 June 1994 30 June 1995 30 June 1996
Total Assets 0.15 0.88 1.25 1.74
Total Liabilities 0.15 3.79 8.79 10.77
Equity - (2.91) (7.54) (9.03)

Source: ATV submission, p. 19.

7.56 ATV added that for the year ending 30 June 1997, total expenditure is forecast to be $6.6 million.

7.57 A major source of income for ATV has been the leasing of its satellite transponder during "down time", initially to CNBC and currently to TVSN, the Australian-based Television Shopping Network. Advertising and sponsorship have also contributed to revenue.

7.58 The Committee notes, however, that ATV would already be in profit if the National Transmission Authority (NTA) covered ATV's transmission costs, as the NTA does for RA and the ABC's domestic radio and television services.

7.59 The 1994 review also noted that on current projections, ATV would continue to rely on ABC financial support until at least 1999-2000. In particular, the review noted that the future capacity of ATV to meets its operating costs depended on sponsorship revenue. [18] As the review acknowledged, sponsorship revenue was slow to develop.

7.60 Satellite broadcasting in Asia is a new industry and, inevitably, it takes time for such new ventures to become profitable. Mr Mann told the Committee:

7.61 Recognising the benefits of satellite television, major Australian companies such as Telstra, AMP, BHP, Ansett, Qantas, the New South Wales and Queensland tourism authorities, the Australian Meat and Livestock Corporation and universities and educational institutions throughout Australia have used ATV as a successful advertising medium.

7.62 In a press statement released by The Lincoln Electric Company (Australia) Pty Ltd on 25 January 1995, the company stated:

7.63 In its submission to the Committee, ATV drew attention to a number of factors impacting on its profitability. It stated:

Commercial Value of ATV

7.64 The tendering process undertaken by the ABC to secure ATV's future raises a number of issues including the basis for the valuation of ATV and whether it is in the public's interest in the longer term to divest itself of this asset. Although the ABC has not revealed how much it has valued ATV, Ms Rosemary Church, representing the ATV Joint Committee, told the Committee that it had been valued at $28 million.

7.65 Ms Church said that future digitalisation of ATV's broadcast signal would significantly alter the valuation of ATV. The switch to a digital signal would allow ATV to broadcast through four channels instead of only one. In other words, it could retain one for its own use and lease out the other three. Ms Church went on to say that a trial, with the digital signal alongside the analog signal, had shown that this would be a feasible option for the future. It would, of course, require digital receivers. Digital television is on the horizon for both domestic and international television broadcasting and it is simply a matter of time before its introduction. This has the potential to be one of the ABC's most valuable tangible assets and could help in the future funding not only of Australia's international broadcasting services but also domestic services.

7.66 The Committee is concerned that precipitate action on the part of the Government and the ABC to sell off ATV, without examining longer-term options in order to cover a minuscule short-term cost, could lead to a decision which is contrary to the national interest, not only in terms of maintaining an Australian voice in the Asia but also in financial terms.

Privatisation of ATV

7.67 In July 1995, the Board of the ABC decided that it could not allocate further funds to sustain ATV. The Board went to the Government, which decided to provide $18.6 million to ATV over three years to put ATV on a more secure footing. However, following the change of Government, the Minister for Communications and the Arts, Senator Alston, in a media release dated 16 July 1996, in which he announced the appointment of Mr Mansfield to review the ABC, said:

7.68 In August 1996, Senator Alston advised the ABC inter alia that:

7.69 On 23 December 1996, the ABC sought expressions of interest from other parties in order to develop the service. Further expressions of interest were sought through the Far East Economic Review on 2 January 1997. ATV submitted that:

7.70 In discussing this process, the Managing Director of the ABC, Mr Brian Johns, told the Committee:

7.71 The broad criteria are as follows:

7.72 The Committee noted that these criteria did not refer in any way to the broadcasting of ABC programs. This was a matter raised by the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) when the CPSU and ATV Joint Committee representatives appeared before the Committee on 3 April 1997. Ms Rosemary Church told the Committee at the hearing that:

7.73 Ms Lisa Fowkes, ABC Section Secretary, CPSU, subsequently wrote to the Committee to say that:

7.74 In the ATV submission it is stated that:

7.75 Apart from the third criterion, which is about the ability of a prospective company having an ability to secure Australian content programs, there is no specific mention in the criteria that the service should be 'predominantly Australian content television' and there is no mention at all that 'the remaining English language television service would be controlled by Australians'. Ms Church also told the Committee that 'it is almost nonsense to presume that you could actually sell something with conditions attached'.

7.76 The benefit of ATV as a public broadcaster is that its main function is to provide the Asia-Pacific region, or to wherever its footprints extends in the future, with a portrayal of Australian life and culture, our technological and economic achievements and our perspectives on national, regional and global issues, as a means of advancing our national interests. Within the resources available to it, ATV, as a public broadcaster, does not have to take account of commercial profits and the pressures of investors to make profits at the expense of advancing national interests. Under current arrangements, it does, of course, have to strive to fund its operations from commercial sponsorship but within very stringent guidelines to protect the integrity of its programming. Commercial success is subordinated to the requirements of national interests and journalistic integrity.

7.77 The most recently published edition of the ABC Editorial Policies provide that:

7.78 ATV noted that in its four years of operation, it had not received any official complaint from a regional government. [28]

7.79 A striking example of commercialism overriding all other considerations was drawn to the Committee's attention by Mr Mann:

7.80 In its submission to the Mansfield inquiry, DFAT praised ATV's news service but sounded a cautionary note about possible dangers associated with privatisation of ATV:

7.81 Mr Mansfield did not consider DFAT's views because he regarded the foreign affairs aspects of the ABC's international broadcasting services as being outside the scope of his inquiry. Despite this, Mr Mansfield still endorsed the Government's privatisation proposal and then arbitrarily concluded that if the arrangements were not in place by 30 June 1997, that ATV be closed down. It is incomprehensible that Mr Mansfield could peremptorily dismiss such a cost-effective, successful and important service without first considering the key aspects of its role and possible alternatives to closure.

7.82 The Committee concurs with DFAT's view, as submitted to Mr Mansfield, and similar views expressed by Ms Church above. Once privatised, the Government's control over programming is significantly reduced. Although the Government may enter into a contract with a buyer of the service to impose certain contractual obligations on the part of the buyer with respect to programming, it is questionable the extent to which the Government could prevent the new owner from broadcasting particular programs or advertisements. If the first commercial owner of ATV were to subsequently re-sell it, then it is even more doubtful whether the Government would be able to impose programming obligations on the new owner.

7.83 If ATV were sold, it is even not clear whether there would be Australian content conditions imposed on the buyer, or whether the buyer would be subject to other conditions relating to programming.

7.84 ATV cost the taxpayer a little more than two million dollars in 1995-96. If allowed by the Government and the ABC to concentrate on broadcasting and given a period of stability so that potential sponsors have confidence in its future, the Committee believes ATV would at least break even financially within a few years so that Australia would have a respected voice in the region to promote Australian views and interests at no cost to the taxpayer. In budgetary terms, the present cost of operating ATV is minuscule. The benefits even now to Australia are significant, and once ATV becomes fully established in the region, the potential benefits are enormous. Yet the Government seems determined to throw all of this away. Such a decision for the sake of saving such a small amount of money is quite illogical, economically irrational and completely contrary to our national interests.

7.85 The Committee believes strongly that ATV should not be sold and that it should remain a public broadcaster.

7.86 The Committee therefore recommends that (a) Australia Television not be privatised and that (b) the Government maintain funding in accordance with the three year funding package entered into by the previous Government and supported in its election policy by the current Government.

Future Structure of Australia Television

7.87 The question was raised during the inquiry whether ATV should remain with the ABC, be restructured as an independent organisation (alone or with RA) or be attached to some other organisation.

7.88 At present, ATV is a subsidiary of the ABC, shares some facilities and resources with the ABC and draws upon ABC programming, as well as obtaining programs from other sources, including the SBS and commercial networks. On the other hand, the success of ATV and RA has made the ABC a respected broadcaster throughout the region and the sharing of facilities and resources in Darwin has revitalised that office.

7.89 There are many synergies which can be exploited through a continuing relationship between ATV and the ABC. In some respects, the arrangement has worked very well, but not in all ways. There have been some tensions between ABC staff, who work for a broadcaster that is prohibited from using sponsorship and advertising and ATV staff, who are required ultimately, to run the service on sponsorship. In other words, ATV is a public commercial broadcaster, which has to adopt some commercial attitudes and practices but still has to adhere to public broadcaster ethics and not allow commercial imperatives to override national objectives. The Committee is also aware of some difficulties arising from the fact that ATV is a very small organisation which is obliged to adhere to staffing arrangements and reporting requirements meant for a big broadcaster and not a small operation. ATV should be allowed to manage its staffing and finance matters by itself, subject to normal oversight by its Board.

7.90 Given the fact that the ABC since 1995 has not funded ATV from its general budget, that Mr Mansfield recommended that the ABC should focus exclusively on domestic broadcasting and that the ABC Board has indicated that it would sacrifice its international services first in meeting expected funding cuts, the Committee believes that oversight of ATV should be the responsibility of a separate Board, comprising representatives of the ABC Board, DFAT, the SBS Board, the Department of Communications and the Arts, a few expert or interested individuals (one of whom should be the Chairman) and the Chief Executive of ATV. This Board would focus solely on developing ATV as an independent Australian international broadcaster, which would be respected in the region for the quality of its programming and the integrity of its news and current affairs broadcasts, and to become self-reliant financially. By having a separate Board, it would not be diverted from its charter by having to address domestic broadcasting issues which obviously takes up most of the time of the ABC Board.

7.91 The Committee considered the option of restructuring ATV as a separate organisation either by itself or in association with RA to form an Australian international broadcasting service. There is some merit in this option but it would be more difficult, but not impossible, to enter into arrangements with the ABC to share resources and facilities. It would almost certainly be more expensive to run as some current overheads might not be available free of charge from the ABC. Nevertheless, if proposed changes suggested above are obstructed by the ABC or do not work, it is an option that should be given further consideration. In this period of financial stringency, the Committee wishes to try workable options which are cost neutral or at worst minimise cost increases.

7.92 A further option that was raised during the inquiry was the merging of ATV with SBS. Both provide television services, both accept sponsorship and both have audiences with a range of ethnic backgrounds. However, SBS provides programming for ethnic communities in Australia, whose needs are very different to those of the same ethnic communities overseas, which ATV aims to satisfy. If the two did merge, ATV would lose the synergies which it currently has with the ABC even though working arrangements between ATV and the ABC could be agreed. Although the Committee does not favour a merger at this time, it would not rule out such an arrangement should it mean the survival of ATV as a public broadcaster.


[1] A charter function of the ABC under its legislation is "to transmit to countries outside Australia broadcasting programs of news, current affairs, entertainment and cultural enrichment that will: (i) encourage awareness of Australia and the international understanding of Australian attitudes on world affairs; and (ii) enable Australian citizens living or travelling outside Australia to obtain information about Australian affairs and Australian attitudes on world affairs." (s.6 of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation Act 1983)

[2] ATV Media Release dated 9 April 1997 entitled 'New cable deal for Australia Television in India'.

[3] ATV submission, p. 10.

[4] Committee Hansard, pp 136-37.

[5] Dr Hart Cohen submission, p. 4.

[6] ATV submission, p. 11.

[7] ATV submission, p. 11.

[8] ATV submission, p.6.

[9] ATV submission, p. 7.

[10] Stephen Callender, submission no. 125.

[11] Mr Barry Cook, submission no. 106.

[12] International Broadcasting Corporation, submission no. 323.

[13] Committee Hansard, p. 134.

[14] Committee Hansard, p. 134.

[15] For a summary of the review see Australia Television Review of Financial and Management Arrangements, Department of Communications and the Arts, August 1994, ATV Review - Key Findings and Conclusions, pp. i-v.

[16] See Media Release, Minister for Communications and the Arts, 25 October 1995.

[17] ATV submission, p. 19.

[18] ibid., pp 37-38.

[19] Committee Hansard, p. 134.

[20] ATV submission, p. 21.

[21] ATV submission, p. 20.

[22] ATV submission, p. 20.

[23] Committee Hansard, p. 131.

[24] Committee Hansard, p. 228.

[25] Letter to the Committee dated 9 April 1997 from ms Lisa Fowkes, CPSU.

[26] ATV submission, p. 20.

[27] ATV submission, p. 13.

[28] ATV submission, p. 13.

[29] Committee Hansard, p. 130.

[30] DFAT submission to the Mansfield review, p. 3.