BROADCAST OPTIONS FOR THE ABC
Role and responsibility of ABC Management
It is well established that the decision regarding the future role of
Radio Australia is one which will be taken by ABC Management, and that
the Board operates on an autonomous basis consistent with its status as
an independent statutory authority. The current ABC Managing Director,
Mr Brian Johns, has vigorously defended the independence of the broadcaster
stating that the ABC is "independent of government control",
 and unequivocally confirmed that
it is the ABC Management which is responsible for making the funding decisions
pertaining to Radio Australia:
Senator TROETH--Could I just clarify that,
Mr Johns. In that case, any decision to close Radio Australia would
be made by the board.
Mr Johns--Yes. Absolutely. 
The former Chairman of the ABC Board, Professor Mark Armstrong, clarified
the role of the Board in a letter to the then Minister for Communications
It is the duty of the Board to set policy, allocate resources
and to ensure that the Charter functions are completed efficiently.
It is therefore the ABC Board which is responsible for its internal budget
decisions. With autonomy, of course, comes responsibility for corporate
decisions. As a case in point, the Government Senators regard the recently
announced decision by the ABC Board to provide funds to extend the RA
service beyond English and Tok Pisin, to include Bahasa Indonesian, Mandarin,
Khmer and Vietnamese as further evidence of the Board's responsibility
to decide the future of RA. 
Witnesses who appeared on behalf of the ABC demonstrated that the corporation
was fully aware of the various options and decisions it had to face
with respect to RA and ATV. In responding to questioning about what
the possible options the ABC might pursue, Mr Lloyd James, the Head
of ABC National Networks, stated:
Mr Lloyd James,Yes, there is a large range
of options which essentially cascade down from the $13.5 million which
is the funding for Radio Australia this year and which progressively,
as you drop down through them, lose languages and lose geographic spread.
Right down at the bottom end the potential lies there to move out of
short-wave broadcasting altogether and into satellite delivery. 
The Government Senators emphasise that what is clearly at issue
in this inquiry is not the actual retention or closure of the RA or
ATV services, but rather the issue of what form these services should
take in the future. This is an important distinction, and one which
the majority report fails to clarify.
In reviewing its operations, the ABC Board will have to consider its
priorities among its broadcasting operations in order to determine where
savings might be found. These broadcasting operations can be divided
into two broad groups: domestic broadcasting and international broadcasting.
Domestic broadcasting includes a range of programming areas: news,
current affairs and information services; regional services; rural and
remote area services; youth services and children's services.
International broadcasting can be divided into regions: the Pacific;
Papua New Guinea; Asia; and USA/Europe. At present, Radio Australia
broadcasts via short-wave radio in seven languages other than English:
Mandarin (Standard Chinese), Cantonese, Vietnamese, Khmer, Indonesian,
Tok Pisin and French. It also has a Thai language service which is rebroadcast
through local stations. The Thai short-wave service was discontinued
some years ago when short-wave radio use in that country declined significantly.In
considering its budgetary allocations, the ABC Board can be expected
to take a view of how to prioritise these services, in the process of
deciding the most appropriate future role for Radio Australia and the
ATV service. As with every government department and statutory authority,
the ABC is subject to certain funding and budgetary constraints. The
Government Senators are of the view that there should be some reordering
of priorities aimed at enhancing the effectiveness of RA's services.
Acknowledging the ABC's expected budgetary situation and its clearly
stated priority (and preference) of directing its funds to its domestic
services, it would nonetheless be regrettable if the ABC decided to
substantially limit its foreign language international broadcasting
via RA. However, it may be necessary to remove some foreign language
programming, and perhaps reducing the resources allocated to others,
in order to reduce overall programming costs. Certainly, some compromise
is likely to be necessary in order to preserve the core function of
the RA service - its English language news broadcasting service.
A number of witnesses presented persuasive arguments supporting a view
that, were the delivery and mix of RA's services to be varied, account
should be taken of two fundamental and distinct overseas broadcast regions:
the South Pacific and East Asia. The point was made that the provision
of the RA service to each of these regions requires different rationales.
Mr Duncan Campbell, gave the Committee the benefit of his extensive
experience as a diplomat for nearly 40 years in various parts of the
world. He strongly expressed the view that the provision of the RA service
should be considered quite separately for different regions:
I think there is a case for looking at the future of Radio Australia
vis-a-vis the Pacific very separately from the future of Radio Australia
in its other target areas. 
Dr. Tiffen's independent review of Radio Australia in 1995, resulting
in the Radio Australia Review 1994/95, established that audience reception
had significantly increased in the Pacific region, and that audiences
in Papua New Guinea in particular had dramatically increased. The opposite
was true, however, for target audiences in Asian countries such as Indonesia.
This finding adds support to the view that RA's services to the Pacific
region are particularly effective compared with its other target regions,
and should be strongly supported.
In addition, the ABC Committee of Review, convened by Stuart Revill and
assisted by Dr. Rodney Tiffen as consultant, referred to the South Pacific
region's particular reliance on RA for "consistently reliable information
on Pacific and international affairs", given that the former is not
offered by other main international broadcasters. 
This is a convincing rationale for ensuring that Radio Australia's services
to the Pacific region are given particular emphasis in any re-evaluation
of its future role and function, and the Government Senators recommend
It is clear from the evidence presented to the Committee that the role
and function of RA is significantly different and distinct in the South
Pacific than in the Asia region. There are more competitors in international
broadcasting in Asia, meaning increased availability of alternative
sources of information should RA not continue to operate fully in this
region; Australia has greater ancillary links with Asia than the Pacific,
in terms of trade and other services and activities, so Australia will
still retain a strong presence in the region; the key decision-makers
in the region tend to listen to satellite, and will be able to listen
to the ATV service; and technological differences between the regions
mean that the role of short wave is declining in Asia much more rapidly
than in the South Pacific (eg Thailand). These differences are of fundamental
importance in considering the most appropriate future role of the RA
Programs currently broadcast by RA can also be sent to local AM/FM
radio stations for rebroadcasting purposes, including by downlinking
from satellite transmissions.
RA has pursued rebroadcasting arrangements where short-wave services
are in decline (eg Thailand) or where countries want to receive downlinks
on programming as a means of strengthening signal reception or expanding
programming content of local stations. In China, RA's music programs,
English language lessons and special programs about Australian life
are increasingly accepted for rebroadcasting on local stations. China
does not accept foreign news broadcasts for rebroadcasting on its local
In the Pacific, 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.
Further examination should probably be made of the potential for RA
to utilise the opportunities presented by rebroadcasting to enhance
its services in a cost effective way.Mr Derek White highlighted to the
Committee the important role that RA plays in relation to Papua New
This week, it would seem even more so, as Papua New Guinea--a
key Radio Australia target area, with its own national radio network
in difficulty--demonstrates its volatility ... If the situation in
Papua New Guinea gets worse, Radio Australia could be as important
as it was during the Fiji coups in 1987 when RA was used by all sides
as the only reliable source of information.
Control of local media is a key factor in any takeover of governments.
Radio Australia provides the only external service to Papua New Guinea
in Tok Pisin, or Pidgin, one of the two national languages. Peter Jonah,
of our Tok Pisin staff, is now reporting from PNG for that service which,
of course, has access to all other ABC sources, including that most
experienced and authoritative Port Moresby correspondent, Sean Dorney.
Comments by DOCA on Radio Australia
The Department of Communications and the Arts provided the Committee
in writing with four options for delivery of programming to audiences,
other than by short-wave radio. The options are listed below.
||- re-broadcasting of all or part of a service on domestic
AM/FM bands or cable networks where governments permit & local
broadcasters choose to do so
- access by individuals with suitable satellite reception facilities
||- broadcast of whole or part of RA services to the
audience of other short-wave broadcasters through lease/hire of
their transmission facilities
||- provision of RA programs to local broadcasters in
the region for re-broadcasting on domestic AM/FM stations or cable
||- news items currently available in text form in English,
French, Tok Pisin and Chinese could be provided via audio. 
Ms Cathy Santamaria, Deputy Secretary of the Department, told the Committee
in her opening statement that:
Funding to the ABC for RA is separately identified through a
single-line appropriation to assist transparency. Responsibility for
determining the level of funding priority for RA resides with the ABC,
consistent with its responsibility for determining priorities within
its global budget. This year RA receives $13.494 million in ABC budget
Comments by DFAT regarding RA and ATV
When asked how the views of Australian opinion leaders would be disseminated
in the region without RA or ATV, Mr Bill Fisher, First Assistant Secretary,
Public Affairs and Consular Division, responded:
Generally this is done through our posts. Matters of significance
in Australia would go to all our posts. We have a very extensive system
of keeping our posts advised of what is happening in Australia in
terms of both the domestic situation and particular messages on particular
issues - for example, on the anthrax outbreak a few weeks ago. We
would target particular areas with particular information and posts
would be specifically tasked to get out and carry a message on something
particular as well as having their general obligation to sell the
message more specifically.
... We provide posts, to the extent our resources allow, with
the wherewithal, the material, to do this. We respond as well. It
is a two - way process. Posts will come back and say, `In such and
such a country there is an obvious need for more information,' or
`There is a growing problem with regard to some issue or other and
we will try to match that requirement.'
Mr Fisher was asked how information is disseminated by posts - by brochures
or booklets. He replied:
All of the above. It very much depends what the issue is. For
example, on the question of the anthrax outbreak, that was handled
very much by specific information being sent to posts by cable and
then more voluminous material by bag which then the posts use with
the target audience. We do have a publication program. That tends
to be more general. It is information about Australia generally because,
as you know, there is quite an audience of people looking for general
material about Australia and we try to meet that to the extent that
we can. I suppose our more recent efforts have been to target particular
audiences on particular subjects.
Mr Fisher was also asked how posts handle matters like the recent race
debate, which received considerable exposure in the media in the Asia
Pacific. He responded:
When it comes to dealing with a general issue like that our
posts are specifically directed to be very active in getting out and
pushing our positive message and our positive message is a very strong
one. I do not think I disagree with you for a second that some of
the media overseas enjoy having a free kick against us,and it is not
just us, of course; I think it is good copy for any country.
The posts have been targeted to get out a positive message
and every time there is one of these negative articles in the press,
in general the post will respond directly to it, both in terms of
trying to correct a false impression and to get out the broader message.
Often our response is not printed or used and that is something you
do not have all that much control over. I think we have been quite
successful in getting a good usage rate up on issues like this, but
we have been very active in trying to use whatever means are available
to us to get that message across.
It is evident that, in the event ABC Management decides to scale down
the size of the RA service, that Australia will still have a significant
profile builders in Asia and the surrounding region in the form of ATV,
consulates, trade missions and diplomatic representations. The former
Minister for Communications and Art, Mr Michael Lee, advised the Government
that ATV made an important contribution to "raising Australia's profile
in the region". 
Mr Duncan Campbell also put the view that, in his experience as a diplomat
over many years, it has been the private sector that was central to
furthering Australia's interests in the region, rather than publicly
funded bodies such as RA:
Mr Campbell--The actual track record, I think,
shows that it has been the private sector, by and large, that globally
has made the miles for Australia in obtaining recognition for us. I
think it points also to the decreasing and disappearing effectiveness
of international radio. 
With respect to the ATV service, the Department of Foreign Affairs wrote
in a 1995 submission that it saw television as the major new medium for
reaching opinion makers in what it considered the priority regions of
Australian interest in this context: East Asia followed by the South Pacific.
Public Funding for Radio Australia
While some witnesses claimed that many overseas listeners depend on
RA and ATV for news and current affairs, their English language training
and entertainment, it was never satisfactorily established in evidence
why Australian taxpayers should fund these types of activities or target
groups. This is an especially important issue given that there are 100
or so countries engaged in international information broadcasting. The
Government Senators consider this lack of substantive analysis puzzling
given the extensive anecdotal evidence on this issue.
The following is an exchange between Senator Troeth and Mr Derek White,
General Manager of Radio Australia, about using public funds to broadcast
Senator TROETH,The fact remains that with
the groups that you mention in your submission,and I certainly appreciate
that you have provided us with a good overview in your submission
of all the groups and individuals who subscribe to and listen to Radio
Australia,what they have in common is that they receive a comprehensive
news service at absolutely no cost to them which is paid for by Australian
Mr White,You are referring here to the
Pacific islands in particular?
Mr White,Yes, because the Pacific islands,
as you are aware, Senator, are not well-endowed with financial or
other resources. Australia has always seen it as a form of aid. In
fact, it is fair to say that for much of our region, not just the
Pacific, a free, unrestricted flow of information is a form of aid.
Senator TROETH,You also say, on page 2
of your submission, that the predominant audience of Radio Australia
tends to be wealthy, well-educated people.
Mr White,The research has shown that the
proportion of people who are, if you like, the upwardly mobile, educated
male population of the surveys taken tend to be a strong part of the
international radio listening audience. But that is not, by any means,
excluding a much wider range of audience. It is simply that, where
such studies have been undertaken, the research shows that we do reach
a high proportion of people who have education [sic] because they
are the people who are most interested in getting that information.
Senator TROETH,I am still asking you: do
you think it is appropriate that Australian taxpayers subsidise the
audience group which has such a composition?
Mr White,Yes I do, very strongly, because
not only are we providing a free flow of information, we are reinforcing
an image of Australia as a free nation, a free democracy, one that
takes into account all views and broadcasts them. I think we are doing
a very great job in building an image of Australia; indeed, some qualitative
research on that subject has shown that. I think that is reflected
in the submission.
While it is clear that there is widespread community support for the
continuation of RA, questions still remain about the degree to which
it should be funded exclusively by public funds.
Future role of the ATV service
With respect to the future role of the ATV service, the Government
Senators note that it was the Cabinet of the previous Labor Government
which initially rejected the ABC's request in September 1992 to trial
broadcasting an international television service in the region. It was
also the Labor Government which ultimately made it a condition of the
proposal going ahead that the ABC use advertising and commercial sponsorship
to help fund the project. In October 1995, Minister Mr Michael Lee was
of the view that ATV had a "secure future" based on its commercial
An ABC background paper released in 1993 stated: 'Sponsorship of the
Australia Television service has allowed the ABC to initiate the service
without diverting funds from domestic television and radio production'.
 External Funding, Advertising and
Sponsorship, ABC background paper, April 1993. We note that this commercialisation
of aspects of the ATV service did not provide an insurmountable clash
with the ABC's Charter or stance as an independent broadcaster, a point
which was reaffirmed by ATV newsreader Ms Rosemary Church, 
and see no reason why such a policy view has changed.
In fact, senior executives of ATV had already approached the ABC with
the intention of offering a management buyout of the service. In evidence
to the Committee, Mr Michael Mann confirmed this:
Mr Mann--Two other senior staff members
of Australia Television and I wrote to the chair of the ABC in early
January this year saying that we were interested in putting in an
expression of interest. We did that on the basis that there was a
tremendous degree of uncertainty surrounding Australia Television
at that time, particularly in the lead-up to the Mansfield report
being handed down. We did that because we wanted to make sure that
Australia Television ended up with a good home. We thought that we
could give it a good home and we thought that there was a business
plan that we could put in place, working with the ABC, to make Australia
Television viable. I should not answer for the other side; I should
stop there. The ABC later received a letter saying that the management
buy-out could not go ahead.
Mr Balding--I can continue. There is a
sort of evaluation criteria which I am quite comfortable to table
to you. It is the evaluation from the company perspective point of
Senator FERRIS--Yes, I would appreciate
Mr Balding--I am happy to table that. In
looking at the evaluation process, the ABC decided to engage the Australian
National Audit Office as a probity auditor to oversight the evaluation
process in this regard--not to oversight the decision but the actual
process leading to the decision. On receipt of the expressions of
interest from AusTV management, ABC management sought advice from
the probity auditor as to how this would be seen because the ABC was
very keen to make sure that due process was not only seen to be done
but was also carried out because this was a very public evaluation
and it has also gone international. Advice that the ABC received was
that entertaining a bid from AusTV management at this stage may not
be seen to be in the best light as far as the evaluation of the tenders
would be seen and it could have an adverse financial impact on the
outcome of the process.
Senator FERRIS--Does this mean that the
people who know best how to run ATV are going to be excluded from
the process in the future?
Mr Balding--That could be the situation
but also those people who run AusTV would be seen to be in an unfair
competitive advantage compared to those other companies who would
be seeking to place a value on AusTV and therefore put a bid in.
Senator FERRIS--Does Mr Johns have any
comment on that?
Mr Johns--I have nothing further to add on
The ABC Management decision with respect to the future of ATV should
be seen as quite separate to the Mansfield Report. By the date of tabling
of this report (May 1997), the sale process for ATV is well advanced.
As was detailed in evidence to the Committee by Mr Michael Mann, Chief
Executive of ATV:
I think the number of expressions of interest and the number
of organisations interested in being associated with Australia Television
does show that there is, in the private sector at least, a feeling that
you can make a profit on Australia Television. 
It should be added that it is encouraging in this context that Mr Mann
saw no need for there to be an "independent" and "public"
international broadcaster. His vision of the ATV service, in fact, is
clearly on a much more commercial footing:
Mr Mann--That has always been my dream to
have Australia Television as the best
of Australian television. We have started off housed in the ABC and
able to use the fantastic facilities which the ABC has available. If
I were setting up Australia Television now, going back five years, I
would set it up in the ABC, have great ABC participation and also try
to involve all the other big players
in Australia. Maybe that is utopian, but I would like to see that
Mr Mann also expressed his frustration at being unable to take up certain
commercial opportunities because of some of the uncertainty surrounding
the sale process, including this Committee of Inquiry:
Mr Mann--It is a very difficult time at present
to sell any advertising or sponsorship because of what Mr Mansfield
said--`close it down or sell it by June'. It is very difficult to get
clients on board when they are asking you what your future is. It was
not that long ago, probably less than a month, we had a client in the
office who wanted to have a million-dollar package of advertising with
us over a two-year period. He said, `Can you guarantee that you will
be on air for the next two years?' and I said `No'. He said, `Well,
when you can, come back to us.' 
It should also be noted that the ABC Management had declared its intention
to sell ATV prior to the release of the Mansfield Report, 
and therefore its impending sale should not be attributed to the Mansfield
recommendations. This is all the more so given the unequivocal statements
of witnesses appearing before the Committee from the ABC stating that
the ABC did not consider that the international services were in danger
at the time its submission to the Mansfield report was written.
Hence, the ABC Management's decision with respect to the future ATV
should be seen quite separate by from the Mansfield review.
 Interview, AM program, ABC Radio, 23/4/97.
 Committee Hansard, p. 107.
 Letter to the Minister for Communications
and Art, Micheal Hutchinson, Our ABC Report, March 1995, pp.
 Media release, "Radio Australia",
Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 30 April 1997.
 Committee Hansard, p. 105
 Hansard, p. 342 (Tues 15 April, 1997,
 Radio Australia Review, ABC, August
1989, p. 14.
 Committee Hansard, p. 32.
 Answer to question on notice taken by
the Department of Communications and the Arts, 3 April 1997, [p.3].
 Committee Hansard, p. 184.
 Review of the Status and Funding
of the ABC's International Broadcasting Services, October 1995,
 Committee Hansard, p. 338.
 Review of the Status and Funding
of the ABC's International Broadcasting Services, October 1995,
 External Funding, Advertising and
Sponsorship, ABC background paper, April 1993.
 Committee Hansard, p. 233.
 Committee Hansard, p. 138
 Committee Hansard, p. 133.
 Committee Hansard, p. 136.
 Committee Hansard, p. 133.
 One ABC: The Vision-and the Decision:
an update from the ABC to the Review of the Functions and Role of the
ABC, December 1996, pp 31-32.