Call for new Australian international broadcaster | radioinfo

Call for new Australian international broadcaster

Thursday 18 October, 2018
Photo: ASPI Twitter

Three Asia-Pacific media specialists have proposed a new publicly funded Australian International Broadcasting Corporation at a Panel Forum hosted by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) in Canberra on 16 October.

The Forum launched the new ASPI special report ‘Hard news and free media as the sharp edge of Australian soft power’ by the three former ABC journalists Graeme Dobell, Geoff Heriot and Jemima Garrett (pictured) which also forms a submission to the current Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade Soft Power Review.
They argue that international broadcasting including an independent news service is regarded as a key aspect of soft power diplomacy and that Australia has been neglecting this area.
They see the ABC as having conflicting purposes in the Charter in an era of funding shortages with the need to provide comprehensive services to domestic audiences as well as international obligations.
As a result, the report proposes that this new Australian International Broadcasting Corporation (AIBC) would be established as a separate fully funded independent public broadcaster that would have a independent board including the deputy chair and Managing Director of the ABC and Head of the SBS.
Freelance journalist and specialist Pacific communications consultant Jemima Garrett said that the AIBC would need $64 million in additional government funding per year.
Garrett said that there are now 10 Pacific island countries which have no radio service,  “radio is the main form of media for debate for public policy”.
She said that without the radio service the countries of the Pacific cannot come together to debate policy issues because there is no one media forum.
 Garrett said “We need to hear the voices of the region and also the culture”.
In launching the report, Michael Shoebridge, Defence & Strategy Director at the ASPI, said that the independent think-tank had commissioned the report due to concerns about rising competition for political influence in South East Asia and the Pacific.
He said that while there has been much discussion in the defence, foreign affairs and development relationships, there had been far less notice of soft power.
“This report is taking a broader look at traditional security and traditional foreign policy and focusing on something that a lot of people in government, national security and diplomacy have taken for granted - our voice, our narratives and our presence and our conversations with the people of our region” he said.
Experienced Australian and international political reporter Graeme Dobell, who is currently a Journalist Fellow of ASPI, said that a new international broadcaster would resolve the twin challenges of the current ABC Charter of the ABC needing to deliver both domestic media services and international broadcasting. 
Dobell described the reduction in funding for Radio Australia and the Australian television service as a “disgraceful trashing of an important foreign policy asset”.
He said that the rich and intimate power of radio providing the web of voices across the South Pacific in the 20th Century has now been limited.
Media advisor and consultant Geoff Heriot said that the proposal media platforms to be used range from radio to digital online.
He said that the debate should be at the strategic level and decisions about technologies can be decided later based on sound research on audience needs and preferences.
The launch of this report occurs at the same time as two reviews into international broadcasting. Submissions closed recently for both the Department of Communications and the Arts Review of Australian Broadcasting in the Asia-Pacific and the Soft Power Review by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. 
Jemima Garrett said that the emotional impact of media goes far beyond any other soft power asset that Australia has.
“Our voice in the region has been neglected to extinction”, she said.
“International broadcasting is very complex thing and involves about talking to people in the region in their own language”.
Garrett said that Australia’s international broadcasting through the ABC used to be the leading broadcaster in the Pacific. “It was an absolutely vital service was regarded as the only Asia-Pacific broadcaster.”
She said, “It had a reputation similar to that in Australia for trust and respect. In this decade in Cambodia for example the ABC had a larger audience reach than the BBC World Service.”
Garrett said that this new public broadcaster needs to reflect the Australian culture of valuing and having an independent media.


Margaret Cassidy is a former senior executive at the ABC and is currently undertaking a research higher degree in journalism at the University of Tasmania.


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