Ita Buttrose calls for more funding for greater ABC role in Asia-Pacific

ABC chair says journalism’s importance to Australia’s interests in region ‘cannot be underestimated’

ABC chair Ita Buttrose has called for additional funding for international broadcasting so the public broadcaster can be a “clarion” voice of trusted news and play a bigger role in soft diplomacy in the region.

“The importance of journalism to our country’s Asia-Pacific interests cannot be underestimated and I believe a renewed ABC focus on international broadcasting would greatly benefit Australia,” Buttrose said in her Lowy Institute media lecture.

“The ability to report critically on our own political system is a powerful demonstration of democratic values, particularly to countries with limited press freedom.

“As a statutory independent broadcaster, the ABC has a reputation throughout the region for its credible, frank and impartial coverage of our own backyard.”

Buttrose announced the ABC would launch an international version of its iView streaming platform, called ABC Australia iView, at the end of the month.

However, the cost of international TV rights means the offering will be limited to selected episodes of ABC titles, including Australian Story, Four Corners, Gardening Australia and Waltzing the Dragon.

Buttrose compared the ABC’s limited funding for international broadcasting since the termination of the Australia Network with the BBC World Service, which receives £330m (A$623) a year.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade cut the ABC’s international service, which had broadcast content to 46 countries in the Asia-Pacific region and had a potential audience of 144 million people, in the May 2014 budget.

Australia has fallen from sixth to 10th place in the University of Southern California’s Center for Public Diplomacy Soft Power 30 index since 2015.

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The ABC’s international arm now has ABC Australia, which broadcasts into 40 territories across the Indo-Pacific region, Radio Australia and an international app.

The former magazine and newspaper editor said the ABC is a key soft-power asset available to the nation and should be used as such.

“The ABC is Australia’s trusted voice in Asia and the Pacific,” Buttrose said. “It has a proud record of achievement, having told Australian stories, reported fairly and fearlessly, taught generations to speak English and delivered critical information in times of crisis for 80 years.

“With additional support the ABC could expand its ability to reach out and share Australian perspectives to the world and enable Australians to better understand their Pacific neighbours.”

Buttrose said she had spoken to former and current ministers for communications about additional funding for the ABC, which was cut by $83.7m in the May 2018 budget.

“I did suggest to Mitch Fifield that less reviews into the ABC would mean they had more money,” she said in a Q&A with the executive director of the Lowy Institute, Michael Fullilove.

The ABC was subjected to a second efficiency review by Fifield which concluded that the ABC needed long-term funding certainty.

The Lowy Institute media award was won by Nick McKenzie and Sashka Koloff for “Interference”, a joint investigation by the Sydney Morning Herald, the Age and ABC’s Four Corners about Chinese political influence in Australia.


Amanda Meade

The GuardianTramp

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