International public broadcasting: a missed opportunity for projecting Australia’s soft power

Public broadcasting Diplomacy International relations Radio broadcasting Media regulation Australia Asia-Pacific Pacific Area

Since the first Lowy Institute report on international broadcasting in 2010, several global and regional powers have made major strategic investments to boost their international public broadcasters.

During the same period, both the Australian government and the ABC have lost sight of the potential soft power role of international public broadcasting. Australia is explicitly competing for global and regional influence, yet Australia’s international broadcasting has been weakened through a combination of government inconsistency and neglect, ideology-driven decisions, budget cuts and apparent ABC management indifference. The Australian government has been silent on the role of international public broadcasting in supporting Australia’s brand and reputation overseas, particularly in the Pacific. This has impaired the projection of Australia’s soft power and ignores the ABC’s long and distinguished history of broadcasting into a region which the government now identifies as a principle geo-strategic priority.

A fresh start for Australia’s international broadcasting is possible but requires a clear focus on strategic aims and the geographic and demographic characteristics of the intended audience. Stronger commitment and medium-term funding are essential, and overall responsibility for international broadcasting should be placed with DFAT. In renewing its commitment to international public broadcasting, government should also draw on a broader range of expertise, such as that of SBS, other Australian media, practitioners in the target communities and their diasporas.

Key findings:

  • The past decade has seen a dramatic decline in Australia’s international public broadcasting, in large part attributable to an absence of strategic vision from both government and the ABC, exacerbated by declining funds.
  • Neglect of international broadcasting has impaired the projection of Australia’s soft power, particularly in the Pacific. Government needs to clarify its purpose and commit to significant medium-term resourcing.
  • To better project Australia’s strengths, a rejuvenated broadcaster should have a new institutional basis within the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s remit.


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