The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) is Australia's state-owned and funded national public broadcaster. It plays a leading role in the history of broadcasting in Australia. With a total annual budget of A$1.22Â billion, the corporation provides television, radio, online and mobile services throughout metropolitan and regional Australia, as well as overseas through the Australia Network and Radio Australia and is well regarded for quality and reliability as well as for offering educational and cultural programming that the commercial sector would be unlikely to supply on its own.
Founded in 1929 as the Australian Broadcasting Company, it was subsequently made a state-owned corporation on 1 July 1932, as the Australian Broadcasting Commission. 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 through the Australian Broadcasting Corporation Act 1983.
The ABC is sometimes informally referred to as "Aunty" originally in imitation of the British Broadcasting Corporation's nickname.
The first public radio station in Australia opened in Sydney on 23 November 1923 under the call sign 2SB with other stations in Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth and Hobart following. A licensing scheme, administered by the Postmaster-General's Department, was soon established allowing certain stations government funding, albeit with restrictions placed on their advertising content.
Following a 1927 royal commission inquiry into radio licensing issues, the government established the National Broadcasting Service which subsequently took over a number of the larger funded stations. It also nationalised the Australian Broadcasting Company which had been created by entertainment interests to supply programs to various radio stations. On 1 July 1932, the Australian Broadcasting Commission was established, taking over the operations of the National Broadcasting Service and eventually establishing offices in each of Australia's capital cities.
Over the next four years the stations were reformed into a cohesive broadcasting organisation through regular program relays, coordinated by a centralised bureaucracy. The Australian broadcast radio spectrum was constituted of the ABC and the commercial sector.
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. It was used only once, in 1963. In the same year, "Kindergarten of the Air" began on ABC Radio in Perth, and was later broadcast nationally.
Cater argues that reform was urgently needed in 1945:
- By the end of World War II, the ABC was a decadent, hollow institution. Its authority had been compromised by a poorly drafted charter and further undermined by timid management, poor governance and creeping wartime censorship. In April 1945, Boyer refused to accept the post of chairman until Prime Minister Curtin issued a mandate of independence which Boyer drafted itself. The ABC under Boyer and general manager Charles Moses invested as best it could in the cultural capital of the nation, establishing viable symphony orchestras and seizing on the potential of television.... [Boyer's] neutrality was never seriously questioned.
The ABC commenced television broadcasting in 1956, and followed the earlier radio practice of naming the station after the first letter of the base state. ABN-2 (New South Wales) 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. ABV-2 (Melbourne, Victoria) followed two weeks later, on 18 November 1956. Stations in other capital cities followed: ABQ-2 (Brisbane, Queensland) (1959), ABS-2 (Adelaide, South Australia) (1960), ABW-2 (Perth, Western Australia) (1960), and ABT-2 (Hobart, Tasmania) (1960). ABC-3 Canberra opened in 1961, and ABD-6 (Darwin, Northern Territories) started broadcasting in 1971, both named after the base city.
Although radio programs could be distributed nationally by landline, television relay facilities were not in place until the early 1960s. This meant that news bulletins had to be sent to each capital city by teleprinter, to be prepared and presented separately in each city, with filmed materials copied manually and sent to each state. Other television programs at the time included the popular Six O'Clock Rock hosted by Johnny O'Keefe, Mr. Squiggle, as well as operas and plays.
In 1973 New South Wales Rugby League boss Kevin Humphreys negotiated rugby league's first television deal with the ABC. In 1975, colour television was introduced into Australia, and within a decade the ABC had moved into satellite broadcasting, greatly enhancing its ability to distribute content nationally. In the same year, 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 â" referring both to its 'fine music' programming and radio frequency.
ABC budget cuts began in 1976 and continued until 1985. In 1978 the ABC NSW Staff Association organised a strike against budget cuts and political interference. Sydney ABC was off air for four days. A packed free concert in support was held at the Regent Theatre and compered by Bob Hudson. It featured Fred Dagg and Robyn Archer. In 1991, Tom Molomby wrote:
- "The effects of the budget reductions had been so badly handled that the organisation was to remain seriously crippled for years."
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. At the same time, the newly formed Corporation underwent significant restructuring. The ABC was split into separate television and radio divisions, with an overhaul of management, finance, property and engineering. Geoffrey Whitehead was the initial managing director; however, following his resignation in 1986, David Hill (at the time chair of the ABC Board) took over his position.
Program production in indigenous affairs, comedy, social history and current affairs was significantly expanded, while the Corporation's output of drama was boosted. Local production trebled from 1986â"91 with the assistance of co-production, co-financing, and pre-sales arrangements.
A new Concert Music Department was formed in 1985 to co-ordinate the corporation's six symphony orchestras, which in turn received a greater level of autonomy to better respond to local needs. Open-air free concerts and tours, educational activities, and joint ventures with other music groups were undertaken at the time to expand the orchestras' audience reach.
ABC Radio was restructured significantly again in 1985 â" Radio One became the Metropolitan network, while Radio 2 became known as Radio National (callsigns, however, were not standardised until 1990). New programs such as The World Today, Australia All Over, and The Coodabeen Champions were introduced, while ABC-FM established an Australian Music Unit in 1989. Radio Australia began to focus on the Asia-Pacific region, with coverage targeted at the south west and central Pacific, south-east Asia, and north Asia. Radio Australia also carried more news coverage, with special broadcasts during the 1987 Fijian coup, Tiananmen Square massacre, and the First Gulf War.
In 1991, the Corporation's Sydney radio and orchestral operations moved to a new building built by Leighton Holdings on a single site in the inner-city suburb of Ultimo. In Melbourne, the ABC Southbank Centre was completed in 1994, and now houses the radio division in Victoria as well as the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.
The ABC Multimedia Unit was established in July 1995, to manage the new ABC website (launched in August). Funding was allocated later that year specifically for online content, as opposed to reliance on funding for television and radio content. The first online election coverage was put together in 1996, and included news, electorate maps, candidate information and live results.
By the early 1990s, all major ABC broadcasting outlets moved to 24-hour-a-day operation, while regional radio coverage in Australia was extended with 80 new transmitters. Live television broadcasts of selected parliamentary sessions started in 1990. ABC NewsRadio, a continuous news network broadcast on the Parliamentary and News Network when parliament is not sitting, was launched on 5 October 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.
Australia Television was sold to the Seven Network in 1998, however the service continued to show ABC news and current affairs programming up until its closure in 2001. The ABC's television operation joined its radio and online divisions at the corporation's Ultimo headquarters in 2000.
In 2001, digital television commenced after four years of preparation. In readiness, the ABC had fully digitised its production, post-production and transmission facilities â" heralded at the time as "the greatest advance in television technology since the introduction of colour". The first programmes to be produced in widescreen were drama series Something in the Air, Grass Roots and In the Mind of the Architect.
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. Legislation allowed the ABC to provide 'multichannels' â" additional, digital-only, television services managed by the New Media Division. Soon after the introduction of digital television in 2001, Fly TV and the ABC Kids channel launched, showing a mix of programming aimed at teenagers and children.
In 2002, the ABC launched ABC Asia Pacific â" the replacement for the defunct Australia Television International operated previously by the Seven Network. Much like its predecessor, and companion radio network Radio Australia, the service provided a mix of programming targeted at audiences throughout the Asia-Pacific region. Funding cuts in 2003 led to the closure of Fly TV and the ABC Kids channel.
The ABC launched a digital radio service, ABC DiG, in November 2002, available though the internet and digital television, but not available through any other terrestrial broadcast until DAB+ became available in 2009.
ABC2, a second attempt at a digital-only 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$3Â 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 â" ABC2 was henceforth able to carry programming classified as comedy, drama, national news, sport and entertainment.
A high incidence of breast cancer in female staff working at the ABC's offices in Brisbane led to the closure of the site, based in Toowong, on 21 December 2006. Sixteen women were diagnosed with the disease in a period spanning 1994 to 2007. A progress report released in March 2007 by an independent panel formed to investigate the occurrences found that the rate of occurrence for breast cancer rate at the offices was eleven times higher than elsewhere â" after the closure of the site, the ABC's Brisbane-based television and radio operations were moved to alternate locations around the city, including Ten Brisbane's studios at Mt Coot-tha. The ABC's managing director, Mark Scott, announced in August 2007 that new studios would be built on the site, following the final release of the Review and Scientific Investigation Panel's report. In January 2012 the ABC in Brisbane moved into purpose-built accommodation in South Bank.
On 8 February 2008, ABC TV was rebranded as ABC1, complementing the existing ABC2 digital-only channel which was launched on 7 March 2005. Branding was also added for a new kids' channel that had been announced throughout the Howard Government based on their winning the 2007 election but left to the 2009 Rudd Government Budget where ABC3 was funded and announced in June. A new online video-on-demand service launched in July of the same year, titled ABC iView, and the ABC launched digital radio broadcasts in the same month.
ABC News 24 launched on 22 July 2010, and brought with it both new programming content as well as a collaboration of existing news and current affair productions and resources. The ABC launched the 24-hour news channel to both complement its existing 24-hour ABC News Radio service and compete with commercial offerings on cable TV. It became the ABC's fifth domestic TV channel and the fourth launched within the past 10 years.
On 20 July 2014, the ABC1 television channel was renamed back to its original name of ABC.
Below is the ABC's divisional 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 â" 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.
From 2003 the Howard Government made several controversial appointments to the ABC Board, including prominent ABC critic Janet Albrechtsen, Ron Brunton, and Keith Windschuttle.
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.
The new merit-based appointment system was announced on 16 October, in advance of the new triennial funding period starting in 2009.
Current Board members are:
As opposed to many of its international counterparts such as the BBC, the ABC is funded mainly by the Australian government, in addition to some revenue received from its retail outlets. In the 2006â"07 federal budget, the ABC received A$823Â million of government funding, increased to $840Â million in 2008â"09. In the 2009â"10 federal budget, the ABC received funding of $929.9 million.
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.
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 is estimated that the cost of the ABC per head of population per day was 7.1 cents a day, based on the Corporation's 2007â"08 'base funding' of $543Â million. Budget figures above show the ABC costs over 14 cents per day today.
The Australian Communications Minister, Senator Stephen Conroy indicated strong support from the Government for the ABC's funding submission for the 2009/10 budget, saying the organisation had been underfunded for many years.
Politics and criticism
The ABC is often accused of bias in its coverage of news and current affairs by conservative Members of parliament, and commentators such as Andrew Bolt, Tim Blair and Gerard Henderson who have accused the ABC of a left-wing bias. A decade previously there were similar criticisms of a conservative bias, particularly in its coverage of economic issues.
The conservative Liberal Party governments in the 1960s and 1970s attempted to influence the ABC's political coverage by threatening to reduce funding for its news and current affairs division, while the Hawke Labor government unsuccessfully proposed to merge it with the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS).
Soon after coming to office in 1996, the Liberal Party government of John Howard reduced the ABC's operating grants by 10%. Its appointment of Jonathan Shier to the position of managing director was also controversial, for his program of budget cuts, restructuring and the loss of several high-profile personalities and shows. Shier left the position early, on 31 October 2001. A 2004 Roy Morgan media credibility survey found that media professionals regarded ABC Radio as the most accurate news source in the country.
A number of former journalists and presenters have moved from positions at the ABC to politics. State and federal Labor MPs Bob Carr, Alan Carpenter, Clare Martin, Mary Delahunty, and Maxine McKew, as well as the Liberal Party's Pru Goward, Rob Messenger, Peter Collins, Eoin Cameron, Scott Emerson and Sarah Henderson all held, or hold, positions at the ABC. Senior ABC reporter Kerry O'Brien was press secretary to Labor prime minister Gough Whitlam and Barrie Cassidy was press secretary to Labor prime minister Bob Hawke.
Research undertaken by the broadcaster in 2007 indicated that out of a total of 19 former employees moving into party political positions, 10 have joined the Labor Party and nine the Liberal Party.
In mid 2013 the University of the Sunshine Coast released a study of the professional views of journalists. Slightly over half of respondents expected to vote for either Labor or The Greens whereas just under a third planned to vote Coalition. In contrast over 40% of ABC journalists would vote for The Greens and almost a third Labor.
In January 2014, the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, criticised the ABC for being unpatriotic due to its reporting on the documents provided by the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, whom Abbott described as a "traitor". Despite promising earlier not to cut funds to the ABC, in late 2014 the Abbott Government required the ABC to find 4.6 per cent savings over five years to aid in repairing the national budget.
Reviews of the ABC are regularly commissioned and sometimes not released.
The ABC operates 54 local radio stations, in addition to four national networks and international service Radio Australia. In addition, DiG Radio launched on digital platforms in 2002, currently offering three separate stations.
ABC Local Radio is the Corporation's flagship radio station in each broadcast area. There are 54 individual stations, 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.
ABC Radio National broadcasts 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 is a rolling news service, previously known as the Parliamentary and News Network. The service was established to broadcast federal parliamentary sittings, to relieve the local ABC radio network from this intermittent task, and to provide a news service at other times. The network broadcasts news on a 24/7 format with updates on the quarter-hour. Much of its news content is produced by the ABC itself, however many programmes are relayed from the BBC World Service, NPR, Deutsche Welle, Radio Netherlands and CNN Radio.
ABC Classic FM was the ABC's first FM radio service. It was originally known simply as "ABC FM", and for a short time "ABC Fine Music". Its format borrowed heavily from community stations that eventually founded the Fine Music Network, as well as BBC Radio 3.
Triple J is the national youth radio network, and broadcasts contemporary alternative and independent music; it is targeted at people aged 18â"35. While the network plays music from around the world, it has a strong focus on local artists. Triple J was formerly known as "Double Jay" when it launched in Sydney on 19 January 1975.
ABC Radio broadcasts regular news bulletins across most of its radio stations. Many of these bulletins are heralded by the Majestic Fanfare, written by British composer Charles Williams in 1935.
Within Australia, the ABC operates four channels. ABC, 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 7.00Â p.m. nightly.
In 2001 ABC TV launched its digital service.
ABC2, launched in 2005, is a digital-only channel that shows repeated programmes from ABC, as well as some original content including news programmes, children's shows, animation, and music shows.
In September 2007, the Australian government announced a proposal to launch a new digital-only children's channel, to be named ABC3. An ABC3 channel appeared on television receivers in 2008, as a place holder for the future ABC3 channel. ABC3 was considered by the Australia 2020 Summit and given as one of the recommendations to the Government. In April 2009, the Government's official response to the Summit approved the idea, and in the 2009â"10 Commonwealth Budget $67Â million was allocated towards ABC3 as part of the Government's $167Â million funding increase to the ABC. The channel launched in December 2009.
In January 2010, the ABC announced its intention to launch Australia's first free-to-air news dedicated channel. ABC News 24 replaced the former ABC High Definition simulcast of ABC1 and commenced broadcasting at 7:30Â pm (AEST) 5:30 (AWST) on Thursday, 22 July 2010.
An experimental Multimedia Unit was established in 1995, charged with developing policy for the ABC's work in web publishing. 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. The division had over a million pages of material published by late 2003.
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. 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. In March 2005 the division oversaw the launch of ABC2, a free-to-air digital television channel, in effect a replacement for ABC Kids and Fly.
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 amongst 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 2015 the Innovation division was replaced with the Digital Network division.
Australia Network, formerly ABC Asia Pacific, 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.
ABC Radio Australia is an international shortwave, satellite and internet radio service with transmissions aimed at 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.
Radio Australia bulletins are also carried on WRN Broadcast, available via satellite in Europe and North America.
ABC Commercial is the division of the ABC responsible for pursuing new sources of revenue for the Corporation. It is composed of ABC Retail, ABC Consumer Publishing and Content Sales, as well as ABC Resource Hire. ABC retail outlets were established in 1974. All profits from the sale of consumer product and production services return to the Corporation to reinvest in programme-making.
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 â" the first of whom was W. G. James.
There are currently six state symphony orchestras:
- Adelaide Symphony Orchestra
- Melbourne Symphony Orchestra
- Queensland Symphony Orchestra
- Sydney Symphony Orchestra
- Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra
- West Australian Symphony Orchestra
The orchestras were corporatised in the 1990s, and were divested into independent companies on 1 January 2007.
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, who had been experimenting with telerecording of the cathode ray oscilloscope displays, submitted a design which was part of the waveform from an oscilloscope. The letters "ABC" were added to the design and it was adopted as the ABC's official logo. Kennard was presented with Â£25 for his design.
Since its original introduction in 1965, it has been updated several times, including with the introduction of colour television in 1975. The line was thickened to feature colour in the logo. The 1975 logo is the longest-running logo, with a lifespan of 27 years. In 2001, with the introduction of digital television in Australia, ABC Television adopted a modified version of the logo, featuring a silver 3D look and losing the "over and under" design. However, despite the launch of this logo, the 1975 logo is still used by the corporation. In July 2002, to celebrate the ABC's 70th anniversary, the corporation adopted a new logo across all media. This new logo still used the silver 3D colour but reverted to its "over and under" design. In 2014, as part of ABC1's renaming back into "ABC TV", the 1975 logo was brought back to on-air presentation. Despite this, the 2002 silver logo remains in usage by the corporation.
- History of broadcasting in Australia
- Pool, a website hosted by the ABC
- Timeline of Australian radio
- Gold Walkley
- Cater, Nick The Lucky Culture and the Rise of an Australian Ruling Class (2013) pp 199â"228
- Curgenven, Geoffrey. Dick Boyer, an Australian humanist (Bolton, 1967)
- Inglis, K. S. This is the ABC â" the Australian Broadcasting Commission 1932 â" 1983 (2006)
- Inglis, K. S. Whose ABC? The Australian Broadcasting Corporation 1983â"2006 (2006)
- Moran, Albert, and Chris Keating. The A to Z of Australian Radio and Television (Scarecrow Press, 2009)
- Semmler, Clement. The ABC: Aunt Sally and Sacred Cow (1981)
- Official website
- Australian Broadcasting Corporation Act 1983
- Friends of the ABC
- Film Australia Digital Learning â" digital resources tagged with 'ABC'
- Australian National Museum The museum holds a substantial collection of materials related to the ABC including the first ABC Outside Broadcast van.
- ABC celebrates 80 years of broadcasting â" Australian Broadcasting Corporation (1 July 2012).