It has been a busy period for Australia’s largest public broadcaster. From legal battles and funding issues to the outcomes of the press freedom inquiry, here is a roundup of the latest reports about the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).
2021-22 Federal budget

Last week, the Australian Government delivered its 2021-22 Federal Budget with a focus on COVID-19 recovery plans. But while public broadcaster SBS, newswire Australian Associated Press (AAP), media regulator and community broadcasters are to benefit from a sum of a $58.6 million ‘Media Sector Support’ package as part of the Budget, The Guardian reports that Australia’s largest public broadcaster, ABC, was ‘completely excluded’ from this support.

In fact, while the ABC’s three-year indexation freeze is expected to end next year, which has forced the public broadcaster to implement cost-cutting measures amounting to around $84 million, estimates indicate that revenue subsidies from the government – at least under operational activities – could decrease by around $10 million in 2022-23 compared to the 2021-22 budget. Funding for regional and local news gathering is also expected to discontinue.

SBS, on the other hand, is budgeted to receive $30 million from the additional media support. SBS welcomed the outcome, particularly ‘the additional funding to support an extension of our language [services]’. It added: ‘SBS is a trusted, independent public broadcaster reaching more Australians than ever before, delivering engaging content under our Charter that contributes to a more cohesive society. This additional funding recognises this important contribution.’

Paul Murphy, The Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance (MEAA) Chief Executive, also welcomed the announced budget allocation but warned that ‘Overall, funding of public broadcasters will fall in real terms with nothing to replace the massive cuts since 2013.’

Press freedom inquiry and reforms

Recommendations coming out of a Senate committee inquiry into press freedom look set to improve conditions for public interest journalism in Australia. The committee is of the belief that current legislation infringes on the ability of journalists to do their jobs freely. They suggest reforming the Commonwealth Criminal Code so that government agencies would have to prove that journalists have caused “real and serious” harm by publishing classified information before launching a criminal investigation; amending other laws such as the Crimes Act that has been used by powerful individuals to prosecute journalists; and introducing stronger safeguards for the way that warrants are issued, among other recommendations.

The Senate Inquiry was launched following the unprecedented Australian Federal Police raid of a News Corp journalists’ home and on the ABC’s Sydney office in 2019. The ABC raid took place in response to a series of reports released in 2017 that revealed misconduct by the Australian special forces in Afghanistan.

PMA condemned the raids as setting a dangerous precedent for Australian journalists and their ability to report on matters of public interest as well as posing a serious threat to the mandate of ABC as a trusted, independent public broadcaster.

New ABC board members

Three new Board members have been appointed for five-year terms after a prolonged period of only four out of seven places being filled. Each of the new members have considerable experience in the media and communications industry – a requirement of board members as enshrined under the ABC Act 1983. According to the Act, the Board is responsible for ensuring the ABC’s independence.

ABC Chairperson, Ita Buttrose, said, “We are looking forward to their contribution and the benefits of their combined experience to ensure the ABC remains the valued and trusted public broadcaster Australians expect it to be.”

Read more: Former News Corp chief, Channel 7 executive among new ABC board members

Defamation cases

ABC remains involved in an ongoing defamation case with the former Attorney-General, Christian Porter, who is suing the public broadcaster and its journalist Louise Milligan over an article published in February about an ‘historical rape allegation’ against a Cabinet Minister. Porter identified himself as the Cabinet Minister in question but denies the allegations. The ABC says that it has ‘denied any defamation and says the article did not identify Mr Porter.’ Rather, as Managing Director David Anderson said in a statement, the ABC reported on the story ‘which we believe is in the public interest’; and he is ‘confident that the journalism was of the highest quality and that this will be borne out in the court proceedings.’

Several reports reveal that the court hearing is likely to take place later this year.

Read more: Christian Porter v ABC: can the minister sue for defamation over article that didn’t name him?

Meanwhile, the ABC recently won a separate case involving racing boss Peter V’landys, who attempted to sue the public broadcaster for his portrayal in a special investigative report that exposed the cruel treatment of retired racehorses. V’landys is planning to appeal against the Federal Court’s decision made on 14 May, which ordered V’landys to pay for the ABC’s legal costs.

In other news: Representation, innovation, and disaster preparedness
  • As part of its ongoing efforts to improve diversity, the ABC managed to meet the 50:50 challenge in March. The 50:50 challenge is an initiative first launched by the BBC to achieve equal representation of men and women in news coverage as well as in its editorial teams. The ABC recorded 51% female voices in March.
  • Other new initiatives seek to promote voices from the wider Pacific region. In April, ABC announced the launch of a new collaborative programme to improve disaster preparedness across the Pacific. Broadcasting via ABC Radio Australia in collaboration with Pacific media partners in Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Fiji, Tonga and Samoa as well as Radio New Zealand (RNZ), ‘Pacific Prepared’ aims to provide audiences with essential information about natural disasters, pandemics and other extreme weather events. Last week, ABC also launched ‘Sistas, Let’s Talk’, a new radio show and podcast focussing on women’s issues across the region – an audience that is often considered to be underrepresented.
  • ABC also recently announced new personalised features on its video-on-demand service, ABC iview, to improve user experience and convenience while exploring ‘the nation’s biggest collection of Australian content.’ Features include personal content recommendations, watchlists and enabling audiences to watch programmes across multiple devices.

Featured Image: Melbourne, Victoria / Australia – July 22nd 2019: Colourful ABC Australian Broadcast Commission logo at building location. Credit: Matt Leane/