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|Owner||Commonwealth of Australia|
|Key people||James Spigelman, Chairperson;
Mark Scott, Managing Director
|Launch date||13 November 1923 (radio)
1 July 1932 (incorporation)
5 November 1956 (television)
1 January 2001 (digital TV)
2009 (digital radio)
|Former names||Australian Broadcasting Company (1923–1932)
Australian Broadcasting Commission (1932–1983)
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), informally referred to as "Aunty" originally in imitation of the BBC's nickname, is Australia's national public broadcaster. With a total annual budget of A$1.18 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.
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 first public radio station in Australia opened in Sydney on 13 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.
The commission commenced television broadcasting in Sydney and Melbourne in 1956. ABN-2 Sydney was inaugurated by the Prime Minister, Robert Menzies, on 5 November with ABV-2 Melbourne following two weeks later, on 18 November. These two stations were later joined by additional services in Brisbane (ABQ-2), Adelaide (ABS-2), Perth (ABW-2), Hobart (ABT-2) and, eventually, Darwin (ABD-6). James Dibble read the first television news bulletin for the ABC.
Although radio programs could be distributed nationally by landline, television relay facilities were not put 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 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 – referring both to its 'fine music' programming and radio frequency.
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.
The ABC budget began to decline in 1976 and was not reversed until 1985. However, Tom Molomby writes:
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 – 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 1986–91 with the assistance of co-production, co-financing, and pre-sales arrangements.
The changes also led to the split of television and radio operations into two separate divisions, with an overhaul of management, finance, property and engineering undertaken. 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.
A new Concert Music department was formed in 1985 to coordinate the corporation's six symphony orchestras, which in turn received a greater level of autonomy in order 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 in 1985 – 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 Radio Australia increased its international reach. Reducing 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 – heralded at the time as 'the greatest advance in television technology since the introduction of colour.' The first programs 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' – 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 – 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 and the ABC Kid's Channel.
The ABC also 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$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.
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 – since 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 also adding branding for a new kids channel announced in the past throughout the Howard Government based on succeeding the 2007 election but left to 2009 Rudd Government Budget where ABC3 was funded later 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 5th domestic TV channel and the 4th launched within the past 10 years.
Below is the divisional structure of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
|ABC Secretariat||Director of Editorial Policies||Chief of Staff||Director of Corporate Development||General Counsel
|Chief Operating Officer
|Radio and Regional Content
|News and Current Affairs
|International, Corporate Strategy & Governance
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, ABC candidates would be considered by a 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 board's members are:
As opposed to many of its international counterparts such as the BBC, the ABC is funded entirely by the Australian government, in addition to some revenue received from its retail outlets. In the 2006–07 federal budget, the ABC received A$823 million of government funding, increased to $840 million in 2008–09. In the 2009–10 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 is now 7.1 cents a day, based on the Corporation's 2007–08 'base funding' of $543 million.
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.
The ABC is often accused of bias in its coverage of news and current affairs. Members of parliament, as well as commentators such as Andrew Bolt, Tim Blair and Gerard Henderson have accused the Corporation of a left-wing bias, while similar criticisms of a conservative bias, particularly in its coverage of economic issues, have also come from Labor politicians such as Kevin Foley, Neville Wran, Bob Hawke, and Paul Keating.
Conservative Liberal Party governments in the 1960s and 1970s attempted to influence the Corporation's political coverage by threatening to reduce funding for its news and current affairs division, while the Hawke government unsuccessfully proposed to merge it with the Special Broadcasting Service.
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 programme 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 corporation 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, and Eoin Cameron, and Scott Emerson all held, or hold, positions at the ABC. 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 9 the Liberal Party.
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 programs 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 programs 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 18–35. 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.
Within Australia, the ABC operates four channels. ABC1, 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 7.00 p.m. nightly.
In 2001 ABC TV launched its digital service.
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 2009–10 Commonwealth Budget $67 million was allocated towards ABC3 as part of the Government's $167 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 7:30 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 programs 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 Innovations area, to manage ABC Online and investigate new technologies for the ABC.
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 programs 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 program-making.
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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. There are currently six state symphony orchestras:
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 programs. 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 £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. The 2002 logo is still in use today.
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