Australian Broadcasting Corporation
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|Founded||1 July 1932|
ABC Ultimo Centre,
|Revenue||A$1.06 billion (2019–20)|
|Total assets||A$1,401,757,000 (2019)|
Number of employees
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), formerly the Australian Broadcasting Commission, is Australia's national broadcaster. It is principally funded by the direct grants from the Australian Government, and is administered by a board appointed by the government of the day. The ABC is a publicly-owned body that is politically independent and fully accountable, with its charter enshrined in legislation, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation Act 1983. ABC Commercial, a profit-making division of the Corporation, also helps to generate funding for content provision.
The Australian Broadcasting Commission was established on 1 July 1932 by the Australian Broadcasting Commission Act 1932, to replace the National Broadcasting Service, which in 1928 took over 12 local radio licences for stations whose programs were supplied by the Australian Broadcasting Company, a private company established in 1924). The ABC was given statutory powers that reinforced its independence from the government and enhanced its news-gathering role. Modelled on the British Broadcasting Corporation, which is funded by a television licence, the ABC was originally financed by consumer licence fees on broadcast receivers. Licence fees were abolished in 1973 and replaced by direct government grants, as well as revenue from commercial activities related to its core broadcasting mission.
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation Act 1983 changed the name of the organisation from the "Australian Broadcasting Commission" to the "Australian Broadcasting Corporation", effective 1 July 1983.
After public radio stations were established independently in the state capitals from 1924, a licensing scheme administered by the Postmaster-General's Department was established, allowing certain stations (with "Class A" licences") government funding, albeit with restrictions placed on their advertising content. In 1928, the government established the National Broadcasting Service to take over the 12 A-Class licences as they came up for renewal, and contracted the Australian Broadcasting Company, a private company established in 1924, to supply programs to the new national broadcaster.
After it became politically unpopular to continue to allow the Postmaster-General to run the National Broadcasting Service, the government established the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC) on 1 July 1932, under the Australian Broadcasting Commission Act 1932. to take over the Australian Broadcasting Company and run the National Broadcasting Service.
The ABC became informally referred to as "Aunty", originally in imitation of the British Broadcasting Corporation's nickname. The structure and programming was broadly modelled on the ABC, and programs not created in Australia were mostly bought in from the BBC.
In 1940 one of the ABC Board's most prominent members, Dick Boyer, was appointed to the ABC, becoming chairman on 1 April 1945. Today known for the continuing series of Boyer Lectures initiated by him in 1959, he had a good but not too close with the Sir Charles Moses (general manager 1935–1965), and remained Chair until his retirement in 1961. He was determined to maintain the autonomy of the ABC.
In 1942, The Australian Broadcasting Act was passed, giving the ABC the power to decide when, and in what circumstances, political speeches should be broadcast. Directions from the minister about whether or not to broadcast any matter now had to be made in writing, and any exercise of the power had to be mentioned in the commission's annual report.
The ABC commenced television broadcasting in 1956. ABN-2 in Sydney was inaugurated by Prime Minister Robert Menzies on 5 November 1956, with the first broadcast presented by Michael Charlton, and James Dibble reading the first television news bulletin. Television relay facilities were not in place until the early 1960s, so news bulletins had to be sent to each capital city by teleprinter, to be prepared and presented separately in each city. In 1975, colour television was permanently introduced into Australia, and within a decade, the ABC had moved into satellite broadcasting, greatly enhancing its ability to distribute content nationally.
Also in 1975, the ABC introduced a 24-hour-a-day AM rock station in Sydney, 2JJ (Double Jay), which was eventually expanded into the national Triple J FM network. A year later, a national classical music network was established on the FM band, broadcasting from Adelaide. It was initially known as ABC-FM (later ABC Classic FM) – referring both to its "fine music programming and radio frequency.
ABC budget cuts began in 1976 and continued until 1985.
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation Act 1983 changed the name of the organisation to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, effective 1 July 1983. Although funded and owned by the government, the ABC remains editorially independent as ensured by the 1983 Act. At the same time, the newly-formed corporation underwent significant restructuring, including a split into separate television and radio divisions, and ABC Radio was restructured significantly again in 1985. Geoffrey Whitehead was managing director of the ABC at this time. Following his resignation in 1986, David Hill (at the time chair of the ABC Board) took over his position and local production trebled from 1986 to 1991.
Live television broadcasts of selected parliamentary sessions started in 1990, and by the early 1990s, all major ABC broadcasting outlets moved to 24-hour-a-day operation. In 1991, the corporation's Sydney radio and orchestral operations moved to a new building, the ABC Ultimo Centre, in the inner-city suburb of Ultimo. In Melbourne, the ABC Southbank Centre was completed in 1994. International television service Australia Television International was established in 1993, while at the same time Radio Australia increased its international reach. Reduced funding in 1997 for Radio Australia resulted in staff and programming cuts.
The ABC Multimedia Unit was established in July 1995 to manage the new ABC website, which was launched in August.
In 2001, digital television commenced (see Online, below). At the same time, the ABC's multimedia division was renamed "ABC New Media", becoming an output division of the ABC alongside television and radio.
In 2002, the ABC launched ABC Asia Pacific, the replacement for the defunct Australia Television International operated previously by the Seven Network. A digital radio service, ABC DiG, was also launched in November that year.
On 8 February 2008, ABC TV was rebranded as ABC1, and a new channel for children, ABC3, was funded and announced by the Rudd government in June. A new online video-on-demand service launched in July of the same year, titled ABC iview.
In November 2014, a cut of A$254 million to funding over the following five years meant that the ABC would have to shed about 10% of its staff, around 400 people. There were several programming changes, with regional and local programming losing out to national programs, and the Adelaide TV production studio had to close.
In November 2016, the ABC announced that ABC News 24, ABC NewsRadio, as well as its online and digital news brands, would be rebranded under a unified ABC News brand, which was launched on 10 April 2017.
Michelle Guthrie took over from managing director Mark Scott, who retired in April 2016. Between July 2017 and June 2018, the whole of the ABC underwent an organisational restructure, after which the Radio and Television Divisions were no longer separate entities each under a director, instead being split across several functional divisions, with different teams producing different genres of content for television, radio and digital platforms. The Entertainment & Specialist (E&S) team focussed on comedy, kids' programs, drama, Indigenous-related programs, music, other entertainment and factual content; the new ABC Specialist team created content across the arts, science, religion & ethics, education and society & culture; while the Regional & Local team focussed on regional and local content.
Around 23 September 2018, Guthrie was sacked. A leadership crisis ensued after allegations arose that ABC Chair, Justin Milne, had, according to the MEAA, engaged in "overt political interference in the running of the ABC that is in clear breach of the ABC charter and the role of the chairperson" by interfering in editorial and staffing matters. After pressure for an independent inquiry or statement from Milne, or his resignation, following meetings by ABC staff in various locations, on 27 September Milne resigned.
In February 2019, after the roles of ABC chair and managing director had been vacant for over four months, Ita Buttrose was named chair. Buttrose named David Anderson as managing director in May 2019.
On 5 June 2019, Australian Federal Police (AFP) raided the headquarters of the ABC looking for articles written in 2017 about alleged misconduct by Australian special forces in Afghanistan, later dubbed the Afghan Files. The raid was countered by lawyers for the ABC in litigation against the AFP, challenging the examination of over 9,200 documents, including internal emails. In February 2020 the case was dismissed by the federal court. In June 2020, the AFP sent a brief of evidence to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions (CDPP), the federal public prosecutor, recommending charges be laid against journalist Dan Oakes for breaking the Afghan Files story, but in October 2020, the CDPP dropped the case.
In June 2020, the ABC announced it needed to cut 250 jobs, a number of programs, and reduce its travel and production budgets after the Morrison Government cut its budget by A$84 million following multi-year indexation freezes.
In June 2021, the ABC announced its plan to move around 300 staff to offices in Parramatta, in a plan which would see 75% of journalists and producers moving out of the Ultimo building by 2025 in order to reduce costs. Rental from some of the vacant space in the city centre would earn additional income to offset the ongoing effects of the significant funding cuts since 2014 and the recent indexation freeze.
Lissajous curve logo
The ABC logo is one of the most recognisable logos in Australia. In the early years of television, the ABC had been using Lissajous curves as fillers between programmes. In July 1963, the ABC conducted a staff competition to create a new logo for use on television, stationery, publications, microphone badges and ABC vehicles. In 1965, ABC graphics designer Bill Kennard submitted a design representing a Lissajous display, as generated when a sine wave signal is applied to the "X" input of an oscilloscope and another at three times the frequency at the "Y" input. The letters "ABC" were added to the design and it was adopted as the ABC's official logo. Kennard was presented with £25 for his design.
On 19 October 1974, the Lissajous curve design experienced its first facelift with the line thickened to allow for colour to be used. It would also be treated to the 'over and under' effect, showing the crossover of the line in the design. This logo would be served as the longest-running design with a lifespan of 44 years and 28 on its first on-air run. To celebrate its 70th anniversary on 1 July 2002, the ABC adopted a new logo, which was created by (Annette) Harcus Design in 2001. This logo used a silver 3D texture but the crossover design was left intact and was then used across the ABC's media outlets. After the on-air revival of the 1974 logo since 2014, the ABC gradually reinstated the classic symbol. The most recent change happened in February 2018 where announced a new logotype and brand positioning under its tagline, Yours. The 2002 silver logo is no longer in use by the corporation.
Governance and structure
The operations of the ABC are governed by a board of directors, consisting of a managing director, five to seven directors, and until 2006, a staff-elected director. The managing director is appointed by the board for a period of up to five years, but is eligible for renewal. The authority and guidelines for the appointment of directors is provided for in the Australian Broadcasting Corporation Act 1983.
Appointments to the ABC Board made by successive governments have often resulted in criticism of the appointees' political affiliation, background, and relative merit. Past appointments have associated directly with political parties – five of fourteen appointed chairmen have been accused of political affiliation or friendship, include Richard Downing and Ken Myer (both of whom publicly endorsed the Australian Labor Party at the 1972 election), as well as Sir Henry Bland. David Hill was close to Neville Wran, while Donald McDonald was considered to be a close friend of John Howard.
During their 2007 federal election campaign, Labor announced plans to introduce a new system, similar to that of the BBC, for appointing members to the board. Under the new system, candidates for the ABC Board would be considered by an independent panel established "at arm's length" from the Communications Minister. If the minister chose someone not on the panel's shortlist, they would be required to justify this to parliament. The ABC chairman would be nominated by the prime minister and endorsed by the leader of the opposition.
|Name||Functional role||Term start||Notes / reference|
|Ita Buttrose||Chair||7 March 2019||Term ends 6 March 2024|
|David Anderson||Managing Director||6 May 2019||Term ends 6 March 2024|
|Jane Connors||Staff Elected Director||1 May 2018||Term ends 30 April 2023|
|Joe Gersh||11 May 2018||Term ends 10 May 2023|
|Peter Lewis||2 October 2014||1st term ended 1 October 2019; 2nd term ends 1 October 2024|
|Georgie Somerset||23 February 2017||Term ends 22 Feb 2022|
The ABC is primarily funded by the Australian government, in addition to some revenue received from commercial offerings and its retail outlets. The ABC's funding system is set and reviewed every three years.
Until 1948, the ABC was funded directly by radio licence fees; amendments were also made to the Australian Broadcasting Act that meant the ABC would receive its funding directly from the federal government. Licence fees remained until 1973, when they were abolished by the Whitlam Labor government, on the basis that the near-universality of television and radio services meant that public funding was a fairer method of providing revenue for government-owned radio and television broadcasters.
In 2014, the ABC absorbed A$254 million in federal budget deficits.
Since the 2018 budget handed down by then-Treasurer Scott Morrison, the ABC has been subject to a pause of indexation of operation funding, saving the federal government a total of A$83.7 million over 3 years. In fiscal year 2016–17, the ABC received A$861 million in federal funding, which increased to $865 million per year from 2017 to 2018 to 2018–19, representing a cut in funding of $43 million over three years when accounting for inflation. In 2019–20, the federal budget forecast funding of $3.2 billion over three years ($1.06 billion per year) for the ABC. The Enhanced Newsgathering Fund, a specialised fund for regional and outer-suburban news gathering set up in 2013 by the Rudd government, currently sits at $44 million over three years, a reduction of $28 million per year since the 2016 Australian federal election. This came after speculation that the fund would be removed, to which ABC Acting managing director David Anderson wrote to Communications Minister Mitch Fifield expressing concerns.
The term "where your 8 cents a day goes", coined in the late 1980s during funding negotiations, is often used in reference to the services provided by the ABC. It was estimated that the cost of the ABC per head of population per day was 7.1 cents a day, based on the Corporation's 2007–08 "base funding" of A$543 million.
The ABC operates 54 local radio stations, in addition to four national networks and international service Radio Australia. In addition, DiG Radio (rebranded as Double J in 2014) launched on digital platforms in 2002, and later spinning off ABC Country and ABC Jazz.
ABC Local Radio is the Corporation's flagship radio station in each broadcast area. There are 54 individual stations,[when?] each with a similar format consisting of locally presented light entertainment, news, talk back, music, sport and interviews, in addition to some national programming such as AM, PM, The World Today, sporting events and Nightlife.
- Radio National – A generalist station, broadcasting more than 60 special interest programmes per week covering a range of topics including music, comedy, book readings, radio dramas, poetry, science, health, the arts, religion, social history and current affairs.
- ABC NewsRadio – A news based service, broadcasting federal parliamentary sittings and news on a 24/7 format with updates on the quarter-hour. Broadcast's news content produced by the ABC itself, as well asprogrammes relayed from the BBC World Service, NPR, Deutsche Welle, Radio Netherlands and CNN Radio.
- ABC Classic – A classical music based station. It also plays some jazz and world music. ABC Classic was the ABC's first FM radio service. It was originally known simply as "ABC FM", and for a short time "ABC Fine Music".
- Triple J – A youth-oriented radio network, with a strong focus on alternative and independent music (especially Australian artists); it is targeted at people aged 18–35.
The ABC also operates several stations only available online and on digital platforms:[needs update]
- ABC Classic 2 – a sister station to ABC Classic, focussing on performance's by Australian artists. Only available on streaming platforms.
- Triple J Unearthed – one of two sister stations to Triple J, focussing on unsigned and independent Australian Talent.
- Double J – The other sister station to Triple J, focussed on an older audience.
- ABC Jazz – A station exclusively dedicated to Jazz from Australia and the world.
- ABC Country – A exclusively country music station, mainly focussing on Australian country music.
- ABC Grandstand – Since November 2020 merged to ABC Sport.
- ABC Extra – A temporary special events station.
- ABC Kids – Children's based programming, and a sister station to the ABC Kids television channel.
There is also Radio Australia, the international radio station of the ABC (see below).
The ABC operates five national television channels:
- ABC TV, the Corporation's original television service, receives the bulk of funding for television and shows first-run comedy, drama, documentaries, and news and current affairs. In each state and territory a local news bulletin is shown at 7 pm nightly.
- ABC TV Plus (formerly ABC2 and then ABC Comedy), launched in 2005, shows comedic content in addition to some repeats from ABC TV of which the amount has decreased gradually since ABC TV Plus's inception. It is not a 24-hour channel, but is broadcast daily from 7 pm to around 3 am the following night. The channel shares airspace with the ABC Kids programming block from 5 am to 7:30 pm.
- ABC Me (originally ABC3) became a fully fledged channel on 4 December 2009, but has been part of the electronic guide line-up since 2008, broadcasting an ABC1 simulcast until 4 December 2009, then an ABC Radio simulcast and teaser graphic until its official launch. It is broadcast from 6 am to around 10 pm on weekdays and 6 am to 2 am the next day on weekends, and consists of a broad range programmes aimed at a young audience aged 6–15, with a core demographic of 8–12.
- ABC Kids (originally ABC For Kids on 2 and ABC 4 Kids) is a new preschool children's block featuring children's programming aimed at the 0 to 5 age groups. ABC Kids broadcasts during ABC TV Plus downtime, from 5 am to 7:30 pm daily.
- ABC News (originally ABC News 24), a 24-hour news channel, featuring the programming from ABC News and Current Affairs, selected programs from the BBC World News channel, coverage of the Federal Parliament's Question Time, documentaries and factual, arts programming and state or national election coverage.
Although the ABC's headquarters in Sydney serve as a base for program distribution nationally, ABC Television network is composed of eight state- and territory-based stations, each based in their respective state capital and augmented by repeaters:
The eight ABC stations carry opt outs for local programming. In addition to the nightly 7 pm news, the stations also broadcast weekly state editions of 7.30 on Friday evenings (until 5 December 2014), state election coverage and in most areas, live sport on Saturday afternoons.
Online and digital
ABC Online is the name given to the online services of the ABC, which have evolved to cover a large network of websites including those for ABC News, its various television channels, ABC radio; podcasts; SMS, mobile apps and other mobile phone services; vodcasts and video-on-demand through ABC iView.
The official launch of ABC Online, then part of the ABC's Multimedia Unit, was on 14 August 1995, charged with developing policy for the ABC's work in web publishing. At first it relied upon funding allocation to the Corporation's TV and radio operations, but later began to receive its own. The ABC provided live, online election coverage for the first time in 1996, and limited news content began to be provided in 1997. This unit continued until 2000, when the New Media division was formed, bringing together the ABC's online output as a division similar to television or radio. In 2001 the New Media division became New Media and Digital Services, reflecting the broader remit to develop content for digital platforms such as digital television, becoming an "output division" similar to Television or Radio. In addition to ABC Online, the division also had responsibility over the ABC's two digital television services, Fly TV and the ABC Kids channel, until their closure in 2003.
ABC2, a digital-only free-to-air television channel, launched on 7 March 2005. Unlike its predecessors the new service was not dependent on government funding, instead running on a budget of A$3 million per year. Minister for Communications Helen Coonan inaugurated the channel at Parliament House three days later. Genre restrictions limiting the types of programming the channel could carry were lifted in October 2006 – ABC2 was henceforth able to carry programming classified as comedy, drama, national news, sport, and entertainment.
In conjunction with the ABC's radio division, New Media and Digital Services implemented the ABC's first podcasts in December 2004. By mid-2006 the ABC had become an international leader in podcasting with over fifty podcast programmes delivering hundreds of thousands of downloads per week, including trial video podcasts of The Chaser's War on Everything and jtv.
In February 2007, the New Media & Digital Services division was dissolved and divided up among other areas of the ABC. It was replaced by a new Innovation division, to manage ABC Online and investigate new technologies for the ABC.
In 2008, Crikey reported that certain ABC Online mobile sites in development were planned to carry commercial advertising. Screenshots, developed in-house, of an ABC Grandstand sport page include advertising for two private companies. Media Watch later revealed that the websites were to be operated by ABC Commercial and distinguished from the main, advertising-free, mobile website by a distinct logo.
In 2015 the Innovation Division was replaced with the Digital Network Division. Angela Clark was head from 2012 until at least the end of financial year 2015/6, but by 2017 she was gone, and the Digital Network fell into the Technology division under the Chief Technology Officer.
In December 2019, a refreshed ABC homepage was launched. ABC News is one of Australia's largest and most-visited web sites; from its position as 11th most popular in the country in 2008, in recent years up to 2021 it has maintained top position in the rankings.
ABC International is responsible for its international operations, which include the internationally broadcast Radio Australia, the Asia-Pacific TV channel ABC Australia, and its ABC International Development (ABCID) branch.
In June 2012 Lynley Marshall, former head of ABC Commercial, was appointed CEO of ABC International, filling a role left empty by the retirement of Murray Green. At the time, it was intended that Radio Australia, Australia Network and ABC News 24 would work together more closely ABC International was at this time a division of the ABC, but it has not been represented as a separate division in the organisational structure of the ABC since 2016, after Marshall's departure in February 2017.
There were fears of job losses in the division after the huge budget cuts in 2014, as well as an earlier termination of a A$220 million contract with the Department of Foreign Affairs, one year into the 10-year contract.
On 24 May 2021, Claire Gorman was appointed to an expanded role to manage both the International Strategy and the International Development teams.
ABC Australia is an international satellite television service operated by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, funded by advertising and grants from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Aimed at the Asia-Pacific region, the service broadcasts a mixture of English language programming, including general entertainment, sport, and current affairs.
Radio Australia is an international satellite and internet radio service with transmissions aimed at South-East Asia and the Pacific Islands, although its signals are also audible in many other parts of the world. It features programmes in various languages spoken in these regions, including Mandarin, Indonesian, Vietnamese, Khmer and Tok Pisin. Before 31 January 2017 Radio Australia broadcast short-wave radio signals. Radio Australia bulletins are also carried on WRN Broadcast, available via satellite in Europe and North America.
ABC International Development, or ABCID, is a media development unit that promotes public interest journalism and connects with local media in the region. ABCID employs local people in Papua New Guinea and many Pacific countries. The team "provides expertise, training, technical and program support to partner organisations", by working with a variety of organisations, including international development donors, for example through the through the Pacific Media Assistance Scheme (PACMAS).
The commercial arm of the ABC was established in 1974 under the name Enterprises as a self-funding unit, marketing products relating to the ABC's activities. It was renamed in 2007 to ABC Commercial, The aim of ABC Commercial was "to create, market and retail high quality consumer products which reflect and extend the scope of the ABC’s activities". At this time it comprised the ABC Shop, ABC Consumer Publishing and Content Sales, ABC Resource Hire, and ABC Content Services (Archives).
ABC Commercial was registered as a business name under Australian Broadcasting Corporation in April 2007 and continues to exist as of June 2021[update]. It includes ABC Music, a leading independent record label; ABC Events, which stages concerts and other events; and publishing and licensing activities by ABC Books, ABC Audio, ABC Magazines and ABC Licensing.
ABC Shop Online was wound up at the end of 2018, along with the in-store ABC Centres. In early 2019, ABC Commercial split from the Finance division and became an independent business unit of the ABC.
In the financial year 2018–2019, ABC Commercial turned a profit of A$4.4 million, which was invested in content production.
The ABC Studios and Media Production hires out some of the ABC studios and sound stages, operating as part of ABC Commercial. The studios for hire are in Sydney (Studios 21, 22, 16), Melbourne (31), Adelaide (51B) and Perth (61).
Up until the installation of disc recording equipment in 1935, all content broadcast on the ABC was produced live, including music. For this purpose, the ABC established broadcasting orchestras in each state, and in some centres also employed choruses and dance bands. This became known as the ABC Concert Music Division, which was controlled by the Federal Director of Music – the first of whom was W. G. James.
In 1997, the ABC divested all ABC orchestras from the Concerts department of the ABC into separate subsidiary companies, allied to a service company known as Symphony Australia, and on 1 January 2007 the orchestras were divested into independent companies. The six state orchestras are:
- Adelaide Symphony Orchestra
- Melbourne Symphony Orchestra
- Queensland Symphony Orchestra
- Sydney Symphony Orchestra
- Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra
- West Australian Symphony Orchestra
ABC Friends, formerly Friends of the ABC (FABC), consists of independent organisations in each state and territory, under an umbrella organisation established in December 2016, ABC Friends National Inc. In 1976, three independent groups were formed: Aunty’s Nieces and Nephews in Melbourne, Friends of the ABC (NSW) Inc. (now ABC Friends NSW & ACT)and Friends of the ABC (SA) (since 2007/2008, ABC Friends SA/NT). The groups were formed by citizens who were concerned about government threats to make deep cuts to the ABC’s budget. Historian Ken Inglis wrote that “The Friends were in the line of those people who had affirmed over the years that the ABC was essential to the nation”. Over the years, independent state organisations were established, run by committees, and in January 2014 the name of each was changed to ABC Friends.
The objectives of ABC Friends National are stated as follows:
To represent community interest in defending and promoting the vital role of Australia’s independent national public broadcaster, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) to ensure:
- that the ABC is properly funded to maintain and advance its role as the national public broadcaster in all media, promoting and reflecting Australian culture and diversity
- that it remains editorially independent of government and commercial interests.
Criticism and controversy
Independence and impartiality
Under the Australian Broadcasting Corporation Act 1983, the ABC Board is bound to "maintain the independence and integrity of the Corporation" and to ensure that "the gathering and presentation by the Corporation of news and information is accurate and impartial according to the recognized standards of objective journalism".
In relation to impartiality and diversity of perspectives, the current ABC editorial policy requires of the broadcaster that:
...the ABC gather and present news and information with impartiality and presents a diversity of perspectives so that, over time, no significant strand of thought or belief within the community is knowingly excluded or disproportionately represented. The broadcaster is expected to take no editorial stance other than a commitment to fundamental democratic principles.— ABC Editorial Policy
As a publicly-funded broadcaster, the ABC is expected not to take editorial stances on political issues, and is required under its charter enshrined in legislation to present a range of views with impartiality. Over the decades, accusations of "bias" at the ABC have arisen at different times, and various inquiries have been undertaken.
External critics have complained in particular of left-wing political bias at the broadcaster, citing a prominence of Labor Party-connected journalists hosting masthead political programs or a tendency to favour "progressive" over "conservative" political views on issues such as immigration, asylum seekers, the republicanism, multiculturalism, Indigenous reconciliation, feminism, environmentalism, and same-sex marriage.
In December 2013, former judge and ABC chair James Spigelman announced that four independent audits would be conducted each year in response to the allegations of bias in the reporting of news and current affairs. ABC Friends have observed that "Most of the complaints about bias in the ABC have come from the government of the day – Labor or Liberal. Significantly both parties have been far less hostile to the ABC when in opposition".
Conservative commentators such as Andrew Bolt, Tim Blair, and Gerard Henderson have regularly accused the ABC of a left-wing bias. ABC journalist Annabel Crabb said in 2015 that the organisation gives "voices to Australians who otherwise wouldn't be heard, on topics that are too uncommercial or too remote or too hard to be covered by anyone else, broadcasting into areas from which others have long withdrawn resources". Journalist Tom Switzer commented that there was entrenched but unintentional bias.
ABC journalist turned NSW Liberal MLA Pru Goward said of the organisation: "I have no doubt there was left-wing bias, I certainly thought it when I was there", while ABC journalist turned Federal Labor politician Maxine McKew said there was no left-wing bias. Former ABC Chair and conservative commentator Maurice Newman told Sky News that "the ABC bias is absolutely palpable". Former Prime Minister of Australia Malcolm Turnbull commented in 2018 that some journalists and programs had shown a left-wing bias.
In a March 2016 interview with ABC managing director Mark Scott, Media Watch host Paul Barry examined the question of perceptions of left-wing bias at the ABC. Scott noted that while perhaps the ABC was more concerned about gay marriage than about electricity prices, he did not accept the criticism of bias because "a lot of that criticism comes from right-wing commentators and they wonder where are the strong right-wing commentators on the ABC. We don't do that kind of journalism. We don't ask questions about our journalists' voting pattern and where their ideology are. We look at the journalism that they put to air and we have strong editorial standards...". Following the interview, Andrew Bolt wrote "How can the man heading our biggest media organisation be so blind to the ABC's unlawful and dangerous Leftist bias?" while former Media Watch host Jonathan Holmes wrote that ABC Radio needs to "try harder" at avoiding left-wing bias among its capital city radio hosts.
An interview by ABC presenter Joe O'Brien with Lyle Shelton in 2017 was the subject of a complaint by the Australian Christian Lobby. Bringing up Ian Thorpe's swimming achievements, O'Brien asked Shelton "what right do you have to participate in that joy, and take national pride in those achievements, if you now deny him the right to feel like an equal and experience the joy of marriage?" In rejecting any perceived bias, the ABC said "It was a 'devil's advocate' question and not inconsistent with standards".
Reviews and investigations
Both internal and external research has been conducted on the question of bias at the ABC. These include the following:
- A 2004 Roy Morgan media credibility survey found that journalists regarded ABC Radio as the most accurate news source in the country and the ABC as the second "most politically biased media organisation in Australia".
- A 2013 University of the Sunshine Coast study of the voting intentions of journalists found that 73.6% of ABC journalists supported Labor or The Greens – with 41% supporting the Greens (whereas only around 10% of people in the general population voted Green).
- At the 2016 federal election, a study commissioned by the ABC and conducted by Isentia compiled share-of-voice data and found that the ABC devoted 42.6% of election coverage to the Coalition government (this compares to the 42.04% vote received by the Coalition in the House of Representatives (HOR)), 35.9% to the Labor opposition (34.73% HOR), 8% to The Greens(10.23% HOR), 3.1% to independents (1.85% HOR), 2.2% to the Nick Xenophon Team (1.85% HOR) and 8.1% to the rest. However, the ABC itself notes the "significant limitations around the value of share of voice data" as "duration says nothing about tone or context".
- In December 2020, the Board commissioned its 19th editorial review by an independent reviewer, which found that the ABC's news coverage of lead-up to the 2019 Australian election was "overwhelmingly positive and unbiased", although it also found that specific episodes of The Drum and Insiders reflected too narrow a range of viewpoints. The government forced the publication of the report after Coalition senator James McGrath raised a motion in the Senate, which led to ABC Chair Ita Buttrose and managing director David Anderson writing to the president of the Senate, Scott Ryan, to express their concerns about the use of the such powers, which went against the public interest.
Relationships with government
1990s to 2013
Labor Prime Minister Bob Hawke considered the ABC's coverage of the 1991 Gulf War to be biased. In 1996, conservative Opposition Leader John Howard refused to have Kerry O'Brien of the ABC moderate the television debates with Labor Prime Minister Paul Keating because Howard saw O'Brien as biased against the Coalition.
During the subsequent Howard Government years, ABC TV's masthead political programs were anchored by journalists with Labor affiliations: the 7.30 Report was hosted by former Whitlam staffer Kerry O'Brien; the Insiders program by former Hawke staffer Barrie Cassidy and the Lateline program by Maxine McKew, who went on to defeat Howard as the Labor candidate for the seat of Bennelong in 2007, at the same time as ABC Sydney News weatherman Mike Bailey ran for Labor against Liberal minister Joe Hockey.
In the subsequent Kevin Rudd-Julia Gillard period, Cassidy retained his position at Insiders, while O'Brien shifted to host Four Corners in 2011. Chris Uhlmann, husband of Labor MP Gai Brodtmann, was appointed as co-host of the 7.30 current affairs program, and Sydney ABC News anchor Juanita Phillips began a relationship with Labor's Minister for Climate Change, Greg Combet.
Liberal Prime Minister Tony Abbott perceived the ABC to be left wing and hostile to his government, while his successor Malcolm Turnbull enjoyed better relations with the national broadcaster. When the ABC co-published Edward Snowden's stolen documents purportedly revealing Australian spy agency activities overseas, Abbott told 2GB radio: "people feel at the moment that the ABC instinctively takes everyone's side but Australia's". He reportedly called the Q&A program a "lefty lynch mob". Abbott denounced the program for inviting Zaky Mallah, a man convicted of threatening Commonwealth officials, to participate in questioning one of his ministers. Abbott initiated a brief ministerial boycott of the Q&A program afterwards.
The broadcaster was critical of Abbott when he broke an election-eve promise not to make cuts to the ABC as part of his "budget repair" program. In early 2015, an internal ABC review of its coverage of Joe Hockey's first Budget criticised the post-budget interviews by 7:30 and Lateline, finding that the interviewers had given the impression of bias.
When Abbott lost the leadership to the less conservative Turnbull in the September 2015 Liberal leadership spill, the hosts of the ABC's political programs spoke in favour of Abbott's demise. Kerry O'Brien and Barrie Cassidy, hosts respectively of the ABC's flagship weekly current affairs programs Four Corners and Insiders, welcomed the replacement of Abbott by Turnbull, as did ABC radio commentators Fran Kelly Paul Bongiorno and Amanda Vanstone. Fairfax and News Limited reported that Leigh Sales, the host of 7.30 gave Turnbull an unusually warm first interview following his toppling of Abbott.
When Turnbull lost the leadership after a conservative challenge in August 2018, the hosts of the ABC's political programs denounced the change. The 7 pm News political correspondent Andrew Probyn, who had been censured by ACMA earlier in the year for biased reporting against Abbott, said the removal of Turnbull was about "vengeance pure and simple". Earlier in the year. Insiders' Barrie Cassidy called it "insanity and madness". 7:30 Chief Political Correspondent Laura Tingle was selected by Turnbull first among a handful of journalists to ask questions at his final press conference. She said "one of frustrations that voters have had with your prime ministership is the sense that you have conceded too regularly to the conservatives" Vanstone called the challenge "disgraceful".
In 2021, the former Attorney-General in the Morrison government, Christian Porter, sued the ABC for defamation over an article written by Louise Milligan about an historic rape allegation. Porter discontinued the action in May 2021.
In 2017, ABC TV and radio hosts advocated strongly in support of same-sex marriage, upon which the wider Australian community and political parties were divided. When the Turnbull government announced plans for a postal plebiscite on the issue, advocacy for change continued, prompting a call for restraint from the ABC's editorial policy manager Mark Maley.
The ABC was criticised for giving undue support to opposition to Australia Day being held on 26 January, after  Triple J, ABC's youth radio network, announced in November 2017 that it would no longer play its "Hottest 100" Australian music list on Australia Day, choosing instead to broadcast the playlist on the fourth weekend in January. It had taken the decision after extensive consultation with a variety of people, including "musicians, community leaders, representative groups, triple j staff, ABC groups, and a wide range of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander media, language groups, and many of the Indigenous artists featured on triple j", as well as an opinion poll of its listeners, Federal Communications Minister Mitch Fifield said "Australia Day is our national day. The ABC should honour it and not mess with the Hottest 100". Justin Milne, ABC Chair at the time, held a meeting trying to convince the board to overrule Triple J's decision.
In June 2018, an opinion piece by writer, historian and heritage consultant Aron Paul suggesting the date should be moved to 1 January, as this was the date that the Commonwealth of Australia was created, was published on the ABC website.
The Catholic Church and George Pell
The ABC's coverage of the issue of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church won praise, including the awarding of the Melbourne Press Club 2016 Quill for Coverage of an Issue or Event for the report George Pell and Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church, and the 2016 Golden Quill award to Louise Milligan and Andy Burns for their extensive coverage of Cardinal George Pell's evidence given at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
Initial reports into the accusations against Pell were broken by the Herald Sun in February 2016, with the ABC first covering the story in July that year on 7.30, featuting two alleged victims. Pell declined an invitation to participate, issuing a statement instead. The ABC News and Current Affairs programs provided coverage of the investigation and trial of Pell, in particular Four Corners in March 2019 and the series Revelation in 2020. Pell was made aware of the programs before they were broadcast and given the opportunity to respond to them, but did not take up the offer. In a later review of the programming, the ABC noted that "many of the Cardinal’s most prominent supporters [had] regularly appeared on major ABC programs, and the ABC’s coverage [had] consistently included a wide diversity of voices, accurate news and authoritative analysis of the many complex legal issues raised by the case".
The ABC's coverage of the Catholic Church has been criticised by prominent Catholics and conservative commentators. The Archbishop of Brisbane, Mark Coleridge, condemned the ABC in 2017 for an "antagonistic, one-sided narrative" of the Catholic Church following a report on domestic violence within Christian churches. ABC TV’s Media Watch found that the story had “misrepresented” research used by the journalists, which a spokesperson for the ABC said was the result of an oversight. Gerard Henderson of the Sydney Institute wrote in Quadrant in November 2018 that "The ABC's focus on historic child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church stands in contrast to its failure to cover the public broadcaster’s own history in this area".
After the conviction of Pell by a jury in 2019, journalist Paul Kelly wrote in The Australian that media assaults on Pell led by the ABC had contributed to an intense and unjustified public hatred of the Catholic leader, and prejudicial environment in which to conduct a trial. He also referred to the earlier conviction and later acquittal of Adelaide archbishop Phillip Wilson in 2018. After the unanimous acquittal of Pell by the High Court of Australia in 2020, Pell and various commentators accused the ABC of sustained bias against him and of "abuse of power".
The Australian published many criticisms of the ABC's coverage of the Pell trial. Australian Catholic University vice-chancellor Greg Craven on 8 April 2020 accused the ABC of creating "an atmosphere conducive to a conviction". In the 11 April 2020 issue, both Paul Kelly and Gerard Henderson criticised the ABC for its coverage of the Pell trial. On 16 April 2020, Greg Sheridan criticised the presentation of Milligan as an impartial reporter, as she had previously written a book damning Pell.
Planet Slayer was an ABC website run by scientist Bernie Hobbs to teach children about the environment in around 2008/9. It included a "Greenhouse Calculator" which aimed to help children to work out their carbon footprint by providing an estimate of the age a person needs to die if they are not to use more than their fair share of the Earth's resources. Victorian Liberal senator Mitch Fifield criticised a cartoon series on the site for portraying those who eat meat, loggers, and workers in the nuclear industry as "evil". ABC managing director Mark Scott said the site was not designed to offend anyone, but instead have children think about environmental issues.
ABC journalists in politics
A number of former journalists and presenters have moved from positions at the ABC to politics.
State Labor premiers and chief ministers Bob Carr, Alan Carpenter, and Clare Martin are all former ABC journalists. Other ABC journalists who stood as Labor candidates include Mary Delahunty, Maxine McKew, Mike Bailey, Ian Baker, Leon Bignell, John Bowler, Bob Debus, Malarndirri McCarthy, Frank McGuire, Neville Oliver and Diana Warnock. Kerry O'Brien was press secretary to Labor prime minister Gough Whitlam and Labor deputy leader Lionel Bowen and Barrie Cassidy was press secretary to Labor prime minister Bob Hawke. Radio National's Phillip Adams is a former member of the Communist Party of Australia and the Labor Party, and Melbourne ABC radio's Jon Faine is a former member of the Labor Party.
On the Coalition side of politics, Pru Goward has served as a Minister in the NSW state Liberal Government, Rob Messenger, Peter Collins, Eoin Cameron, Scott Emerson and Sarah Henderson all held, or hold, positions at the ABC. Radio National's Counterpoint program is hosted by former Liberal minister Amanda Vanstone, who describes herself as "liberal" rather than "conservative".
Research undertaken by the broadcaster in 2007 indicated that out of a total of 19 former employees moving into party political positions, 10 had joined the Labor Party and 9 the Liberal Party.
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