The ABC will be more local, diverse, personalised and capable: MD David Anderson | radioinfo

The ABC will be more local, diverse, personalised and capable: MD David Anderson

Saturday 11 July, 2020

ABC Managing Director David Anderson has worked his way up at the national broadcaster since 1989, when he first joined the organisaton as a switchboard operator.

He spoke at the National Press Club this week to push the point about the national broadcaster's value to Australia and also discussed the need for the ABC to be paid by the tech titans for content that appears on facebook and google. Highlights form his speech are below:

I joined the ABC in 1989 and it has been my home ever since, whether it be in the Collinswood offices in Adelaide, Gordon Street in Melbourne, or Sydney’s Ultimo headquarters.

When it comes to connecting people, I feel somewhat qualified as one of my first jobs at the ABC was on the switchboard – a role I held for a while until I could get a job closer to production.  By talking to ABC viewers and listeners, not only did I get to hear about everything on the ABC, I quickly got a real sense of how important the ABC was to everyone.

The people I spoke with taught me that Australians feel a deep sense of ownership of the ABC. They love it when we do something good, or when we surprise them, and they are disappointed when they think we have let them down, or not represented their views. People take the time to let us know because they care, profoundly, about what it is we do... A lot has changed in those 30 years, both for the country and for the ABC. But our essential mission and purpose has never changed: we are the national broadcaster, the broadcaster for all.


First, I want to touch upon our response to the budget indexation freeze in this financial year... I do want to be clear that the loss of indexation on our operational base has meant that we have had to make some tough choices. Choices that deliver savings. Choices that ensure we can serve the public today, while we invest for the future.

The decisions we have taken have an immediate impact on some services that Australians love, and means the loss of some greatly valued employees. We anticipate that we may be required to farewell up to 250 colleagues — talented and dedicated individuals who have made a tremendous contribution...

It is often mentioned that the ABC’s budget is over a billion dollars per year. This a significant investment from the taxpayer for which we provide great value in return.

In 2018/19, expenditure on the ABC represented around 0.2% of all Commonwealth government spending. In the mid-1990’s the level was around 0.4% — twice as much proportionally as today...


I think 2020 has been a defining year for most of us. Significantly, it has been a year that has proved the value of the ABC to Australia. Over the summer, communities across Australia, faced an inferno as devastating bushfires ripped through homes, towns and seaside hamlets.

For ABC news teams and local radio in capital cities and the regions, it meant rising to the challenge, heading out into the destruction to gather and share crucial information that would help people to survive.  Our staff once again stood tall when the nation needed them.

Independent research commissioned by the ABC found that three out of five people in bushfire areas said they acted on ABC emergency broadcasts to ensure their personal safety and the safety of others.


I was here at the National Press Club just over a year ago, with Michael Miller of News Corp and Hugh Marks of the Nine Network, to reinforce the case for press freedom, following the AFP raids on the ABC and the home of News Corp journalist, Annika Smethurst.

It is deeply concerning that today ABC journalist Dan Oakes still faces the risk of jail for factual reporting in the public interest. We stand by Dan and repeat our call for the Parliament to protect journalists and whistle-blowers acting in the public interest from prosecution, through much needed law reform.


From 2001 to 2016, Australia’s population increased by just over 25% to reach 24 million. Today it stands at 25.5 million, with immigration the main driver. That’s a huge shift in a relatively short period.

Our national culture is inevitably becoming more diverse. This will be a source of great strength and cultural energy over time.  But the risk is always there for the fragmentation of our civic life: that is, unless we take care to nurture our cohesive Australian society. We must embrace diversity in all its forms.

This risk of fragmentation is magnified by another trend: the consolidation and splitting of the media landscape.  The big global streaming platforms are looking to grow stronger, while smaller players aim to snatch slices of the market. The danger is that our Australian stories get lost in the mix, or don’t get told at all, and that our sense of shared national identity is thereby diminished.

Meanwhile across the world there are more extreme voices, and more cries of ‘fake’ news. There has been a worrying decline in public confidence in democratic institutions, including media organisations, even as authoritarian regimes are on the rise. This matters because democracies depend upon the bonds of shared information, transparency and cultural confidence to function effectively.  In a complex and uncertain world, the ABC is consistently rated as Australia’s most trusted media organisation.

This is something we are determined to maintain. We are a force for social cohesion today. And looking ahead, the ABC’s positive and unifying role in Australian life may well become more important than ever.



Our new Five-Year Plan sets out our agenda. This is the first time we’ve adopted a five-year strategy rather than planning within our triennial funding cycle. We have developed this plan and shared it because we want strategic clarity and a shared organisation- wide understanding of our objectives. Because it’s important that all our stakeholders across the country — and that includes every Australian — are clear about our aims and plans for the future. We believe a five-year funding cycle would take the ABC out of the politics of the three-year federal electoral cycle and further safeguard its independence.

Let me go through our priorities briefly.

More Local

We’ll be More Local.  We are currently in 56 locations, – with 48 of them in regional areas.  We will further decentralise ABC operations, in outer metropolitan areas and regional centres.

We will strive to be part of more communities, building more connections in more places: by 2025, we want to have at least 75 per cent of our content-makers working in locations beyond our Ultimo headquarters.

More Diverse

We’ll be More Diverse.  The ABC belongs to all Australians, no matter who they are, or where they are – cities, suburbs, regions or the bush. We will commission stories that reflect the dynamic variety of Australian experiences and perspectives, including socio-economic and geographic differences.

Our commitment to social and cultural diversity will also be better reflected in the profile of our staff.  And if we are to do our job, if we are to serve all Australians, we need to be recognised as an employer of choice...

More Personalised

We will be More Personalised. Australians want to connect with the ABC across many platforms; not just radio and television, but increasingly, through digital platforms including live blogs, mobile alerts, streaming and social media. With their consent, we will be able to learn more about audience preferences and offer more-targeted services, including news alerts and analysis, and content recommendations.

More Capable

We will be more capable. As we move to a more dispersed and diverse workforce, offering personalised services to our diverse audiences, the ABC will require the right technology and security underpinnings.  We will progressively upgrade and migrate our systems to a set-up that is cloud-based, mobile, adaptable and available on demand.  This agility will be crucially important when we serve Australia in times of crisis.


The ABC is currently undergoing one of the biggest transformations in its 88-year history. Its first wireless radio broadcast back in July 1932 was estimated to have reached six per cent of Australia’s population. Today the ABC reaches 90 percent of the population each year. The traditions and trust developed in those 88 years are the bedrock for the future.

The ABC’s Charter is our guiding principle; the ABC’s Five-Year plan positions us to meet audiences expectations now and into the future. As its 14th Managing Director, I am determined that the ABC continues its journey, while maintaining its independence.

That includes continuing to work hard to maintain our standing as the nation’s most trusted source of news; continuing to be committed – fearlessly – to public interest journalism;  and continuing to be an essential contributor to the Australian way of life, upholding the values we hold dear as a free and confident society.

The ABC is Australia’s most important cultural and media institution, and I am honoured to be its custodian.


Answering questions after his speech, David Anderson said: "I think it’s entirely appropriate that the ABC receives revenue for the value that it provides to the Australian people... Rather than revenue go to commercial operators because of what we’re doing, I think that it should come to the ABC to ­reinvest it into public interest journalism... I certainly accept that it’s difficult times for commercial operators, they’re doing it tough, they’re relying on a revenue stream, which is falling and falling dramatically.”

View the full speech here.

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