This paper presents an overview of Australia's principal public broadcaster, the ABC, with reference to its origins, current composition and functions and its vision for a viable future within a changing media environment. The paper also makes reference to some of the controversies which have been integral to long-running discussion about the ABC - allegations of bias, political appointments to the broadcaster and the perennial question of funding adequacy.

Executive summary

  • This paper presents a brief overall picture of Australia’s principal public service broadcaster, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).It describes the origins and development of the ABC and looks at its current structure, general operational policies and functions.
  • The paper also discusses a number of important issues which are often raised in discussions of public broadcasting in general, and in particular, in relation to the ABC. One of the most significant of these is the issue of how the ABC is funded. The paper provides a brief background to the current funding situation, noting the debate surrounding the adequacy of funding and what may be future funding outcomes. Discussion of this issue is supplemented by detailed funding tables presented in Appendix C. These tables show funding trends and provide information actual dollars and dollar adjusted to 2012–13 prices.
  • The ABC has regularly been the subject of criticism from a number of quarters; there have been frequent allegations of bias in reporting, inappropriate programming, political appointments to the ABC Board and mismanagement of funds. Recently the ABC has been accused also of neglecting its Charter obligations by withdrawing local services and outsourcing production.
  • The debates surrounding these and other similar issues are also considered in the paper. Arguments supporting and criticising the broadcaster are noted throughout. While no attempt is made to draw definitive conclusions about the future of the ABC, it is noted that the broadcaster continues to be admired and supported by a significant number of Australians who see it as a constant source of quality information and entertainment.
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