Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC)

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) is the national broadcaster in Australia whose history goes back to 1929, the year of its foundation. Today, ABC provides radio, television, online and mobile services both in Australia and overseas. It operates six nationwide television channels, more than a dozen radio channels and a wide network of regional and local broadcasters.

Media assets

Television: National- ABC1, ABC Comedy, ABC Me, ABC Kids, ABC News, ABC Arts; Regional- ABN (Sydney, New South Wales), ABV (Melbourne, Victoria), ABQ (Brisbane, Queensland), ABS (Adelaide, South Australia), ABW (Perth, Western Australia), ABT (Hobart, Tasmania), ABC (Canberra, Australian Capital Territory), ABD (Darwin, Northern Territory); Radio: National- ABC Radio Sydney, Radio National, ABC NewsRadio, ABS Sport, ABC Sport Extra, International Rugby, ABC Classic, ABC Jazz, Double J, Triple J, Triple J Unearthed, ABC Country, Kids Listen, Women’s Big Bash League; Local- 54 local radio stations; International- Radio Australia

State Media Matrix Typology: Independent State-Funded (ISF)

Ownership and governance

The Australian Broadcasting Act 1983 (ABC Act) established the ABC as a statutory authority with a mission to produce and disseminate broadcast services and programs.

According to the legislation, the highest governance structure at ABC is a board of directors that is appointed using a merit-based selection process. According to the rules governing ABC, an independent Nomination Panel advertises the vacancies in the board and, based on the best applications, submits three proposed names for each vacancy to the government, which then makes a recommendation for a candidate to the Governor-General (the Monarch-appointed head of state in Australia) who is responsible for appointing the non-executive directors at ABC (other than the Managing Director who is appointed by the Board, and the ABC director selected by the station’s staff).

This appointment system is designed as such in order to prevent state authorities from exerting their power in selecting the board members. According to the ABC Act, the candidates for the Director jobs must have experience in broadcasting, communications or management, or expertise in financial or technical matters.

Source of funding and budget

The ABC budget is reviewed every three years, a mechanism aimed at allowing the station to plan for longer than a year (and hence reduce any potential interference from the government). Originally, ABC was funded by a license fee imposed on all owners of broadcast receivers (a system copying the BBC model that was used as inspiration by ABC). But the license fees were abolished in 1973 and replaced by a government subsidy, a system that has survived to date.

The majority of the ABC budget comes from the government. In the financial year 2020-2021, ABC received a state subsidy of some A$ 1.06bn (US$ 755m), according to the ABC annual report. That represented over 95% of the station’s total budget. The rest of the budget was generated through commercial revenues. In the 2021-2022 fiscal year, ABC received A$ 1.07bn (US$ 743m), according to a report from the company.The government said that it will keep its promise for the five-year funding allocation for the national broadcasting, securing A$ 1.1bn for ABC.

Editorial independence

Although it is principally funded by government subsidies, ABC is governed by rules and legal provisions that expressly forbid authorities and politicians from interfering with the broadcaster’s editorial agenda. The ABC has been recognized for its leading role in journalistic independence and its contribution to the quality of broadcasting in Australia.

When political pressures on the governing structures and journalists at the ABC appear, the pushback is extremely vigorous, often leading to parliamentary investigations that in most cases protect journalists and restore the station’s editorial independence.

As a result, ABC is highly regarded by the Australian public particularly for the news and information that the station provides.

The main document that establishes the editorial independence of the ABC is the ABC Act that provides for both the editorial and administrative independence of the Corporation. At the same time, the ABC follows a series of editorial obligations aimed at ensuring the highest standards of public accountability. They also have to develop their own codes of practices that are then submitted to the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA).

These rules are regularly complied with while the guarantees for independence nailed down in law are generally respected.

There are assessment and oversight mechanisms in place at the ABC that validate the independence of the broadcaster. The ministry of communications and the arts regularly commissions independent reviews of the ABC’s performance (which are made public).

Moreover, the broadcaster has a mechanism to receive editorial complaints that is used to get feedback about the station’s editorial coverage with the view of improving its performance.

August 2023