The ABC Charter is the legal framework behind everything our ABC does, but many people have no idea how simple, and how short, it is.
The Charter is enshrined in section six of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation Act (1983) and outlines the broadcaster’s purpose, thus informing its content decisions.
It may surprise some to know that it does not impose any content quotas for important functions like news, emergency services, or children’s programming, all of which are often regarded as core ABC functions, even though commercial networks do have some quotas imposed upon them.
Instead, the charter compels the ABC to broadcast programs that contribute to a sense of national identity, inform and entertain, reflect cultural diversity, and make programs of an educational nature.
It is also required to encourage and promote Australian performing arts.
But one contentious section is arguably neglected due to a lack of funding — that the ABC is required to broadcast Australian news and other programming to other countries, both to encourage international awareness and understanding of Australia, and to provide Australians abroad with information about happenings in their home country.
The demise of the Australia Network, which once broadcast rolling news and entertainment television to three global regions — East Asia, South Asia, and the Pacific — has left a void in the ABC’s international efforts.
About $250m in funding for the service was canceled by the Coalition government when Tony Abbott came to power, after a previous battle within Julia Gillard’s Labor government where the contract was almost handed to Sky News in an act of political expediency.
The ABC now transmits a pared-down version, called Australia Plus, to some regions, though its Australian output, which is not tailored to suit a foreign audience and includes its domestic news offerings, can be seen in some countries, largely on pay-per-view services.
Also, Radio Australia continues to broadcast some programmes, but it is a shadow of its former self thanks to savage financial cuts imposed by the coalition, and very many specialist staff have been lost.
In 2017, the Coalition government teamed up with Pauline Hanson to pass a bill that compelled the ABC to be “fair and balanced,” but most observers argue it has had little, if any, impact on a broadcaster that was already displaying fairness and balance in its broadcasting, something that was already enshrined in its editorial policies.
Some say the ABC Charter needs to be revisited and re-written to reflect a modern broadcasting environment.
But it is ABC Friends policy to do all we can to prevent changes to the charter, as it would undermine the ABC’s independence.
ABC Friends National President Margaret Reynolds says it would be better for Parliamentarians to educate themselves about what the current charter actually says.
There is a strange misunderstanding that the ABC is a government entity and certain government members behave as if the ABC is an arm of government to simply broadcast government propaganda.
Any review would simply lead to further undermining of the ABC’s independence.
In full, the ABC charter says:
(1) The functions of the Corporation are:
(a) to provide within Australia innovative and comprehensive broadcasting services of a high standard as part of the Australian broadcasting system consisting of national, commercial and community sectors and, without limiting the generality of the foregoing, to provide:
(i) broadcasting programs that contribute to a sense of national identity and inform and entertain, and reflect the cultural diversity of, the Australian community; and
(ii) broadcasting programs of an educational nature;
(b) to transmit to countries outside Australia broadcasting programs of news, current affairs, entertainment and cultural enrichment that will:
(i) encourage awareness of Australia and an international understanding of Australian attitudes on world affairs; and
(ii) enable Australian citizens living or travelling outside Australia to obtain information about Australian affairs and Australian attitudes on world affairs; and
(ba) to provide digital media services; and
(c) to encourage and promote the musical, dramatic and other performing arts in Australia.
(2) In the provision by the Corporation of its broadcasting services within Australia:
(a) the Corporation shall take account of:
(i) the broadcasting services provided by the commercial and community sectors of the Australian broadcasting system;
(ii) the standards from time to time determined by the ACMA in respect of broadcasting services;
(iii) the responsibility of the Corporation as the provider of an independent national broadcasting service to provide a balance between broadcasting programs of wide appeal and specialized broadcasting programs;
(iv) the multicultural character of the Australian community; and
(v) in connection with the provision of broadcasting programs of an educational nature—the responsibilities of the States in relation to education; and
(b) the Corporation shall take all such measures, being measures consistent with the obligations of the Corporation under paragraph (a), as, in the opinion of the Board, will be conducive to the full development by the Corporation of suitable broadcasting programs.
(3) The functions of the Corporation under subsection (1) and the duties imposed on the Corporation under subsection (2) constitute the Charter of the Corporation.
(4) Nothing in this section shall be taken to impose on the Corporation a duty that is enforceable by proceedings in a court.