The Role and Future of Radio Australia and Australia Television



There was a worrying lack of empirical evidence presented to the Committee regarding such matters as RA's audience size and reach, and its contribution to trade and foreign policy objectives. This increased the difficulty of basing definitive judgements on much of the evidence. The majority report's heavy reliance on anecdotal evidence is unfortunate, as such material is not suitable from which to draw firm, let alone responsible, conclusions. Government Senators consider this unsatisfactory and unfortunate, and believe that given the terms of reference, the onus of proof was on the proponents of RA and ATV to more effectively establish their value.

The evidence which the Committee received relating to the contribution of Radio Australia to Australia's foreign policy and trade interests was largely anecdotal and often conflicting. Claims by some witnesses who appeared before the Committee suggesting that any change in the structure or scope of the delivery of Radio Australia's services would do lasting damage to Australia's reputation and interests, were unsubstantiated assertions. None of these witnesses supported these claims with solid evidence, and most did not even refer to means by which Australia's interests are promoted overseas other than international broadcasting, which is undoubtedly only a small part of the picture. These assertions also ignored evidence of other witnesses which suggested RA is necessarily effective in all respects. [1]

In considering this issue, it is notable that RA received more than 4,000 responses (by letter, e-mail, fax and telephone) between 24 January 1997 and 17 April 1997 to Mr Mansfield's recommendations. The content of these letters were categorised according to the reasons mentioned for supporting RA. Government Senators noted that:

There is also a concern that there is a fundamental contradiction to on the one hand argue that the ABC is an "independent" broadcaster and to laud its editorial integrity and independence, and to on the other hand argue that it is a vital element of Australia's foreign policy strategy.

The Government Senators strongly believe that the majority report fails to take sufficient account of the various alternative means by which Australia promotes itself in the region, particularly in the Asia region. Any analysis which examines the value of the role of Radio Australia without taking these other factors into consideration is of questionable value.

Loyalty to RA has certainly been demonstrated to some degree by the mail and many written submissions in support of RA received by the Committee. However, no substantive link has been established which shows that this loyalty to RA by listeners translates into a broader loyalty to Australia, increased trade, or furthers certain foreign policy objectives. The only evidence of a link between these factors has been in the form of a range of assertions. Additionally, there was some suggestion that many of the letters written received by RA or sent to the Committee were the result of an appeal by RA staff on air to their listeners. In any event, RA's written submission to the Committee itself conceded that the listeners who were most likely to respond to such appeals were those favouring the service.

In addition, there is some doubt about the motivation behind some of the statements which were made by figures in other countries, and led in evidence before the Committee. These figures were largely the beneficiaries of a free, comprehensive news service provided by the Australian taxpayer, and it should come as no surprise that they argue in favour of RA's complete continuation. As the Committee Chairman, Senator Forshaw, conceded at one point in the hearings: "They may be genuine; they may not". [3] This is a significant concession, and Government Senators could not automatically accept these statements as once again such evidence is a less than satisfactory basis upon which to make conclusions. Much of the goodwill apparent towards RA, it seems, is the result of it being a free service to its listeners.Estimates of RA's audience sizes provided to the Committee varied widely. Dr Rodney Tiffen in his independent review acknowledged the unreliability of surveys conducted over the last couple of decades, with their wildly divergent assessments. [4] This was a difficulty which was raised not only by RA but also by others, including Errol Hodge, who wrote in his submission that:

Accurately estimating the size of RA's audience is difficult, if not impossible. Although surveys of short-wave services have been conducted in parts of the Asia Pacific region in conjunction with other international broadcasters, such as the BBC World Service and Voice of America (VOA), surveys cannot be conducted in some regional countries or in regions of others. Even if it were possible to conduct comprehensive surveys of the region in order to achieve a total estimate of audience for a short-wave service, doing so would be prohibitively expensive. However, while it would be useful to have an accurate estimate of total audience, it is by no means a necessity. Other measures can be used to supplement survey results in evaluating performance.The evidence concerning the relative merits and future viability of short wave as a method of transmission was not such as to allow Government Senators to form a conclusive view of its overall appropriateness or otherwise. However, it is worth noting that RA's Thai shortwave service was discontinued some years ago when short wave radio use in that country declined significantly. It seems reasonable to conclude that short wave is a more suitable method of transmission in the Pacific than Asia region, given the nature and pace of technological developments in the areas.



[1] Committee Hansard, p. 345.

[2] RA submission, p. 4.

[3] Committee Hansard, p. 345.

[4] Radio Australia Review 1994/95, p. 8.

[5] Dr Errol Hodge, Senior Lecturer in Journalism - QUT, submission No.361, p. 3.