Attacks – Global Moves Against Public Broadcasting

A former ABC editorial director, Alan Sunderland, has written that the coalition government’s constant attacks on the ABC are part of a global effort to undermine public broadcasting.

In an article written for the ABC Alumni group (an increasingly political organisation comprising former ABC staff) Mr. Sunderland reflected on the recent news that Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party had frozen the BBC’s income over the next two years, with the British broadcaster’s future income under question.

Alan Sunderland writes:

…once you scratch the surface and look beyond international borders, you can see that the debate is not really about the method of funding public broadcasting in the UK. It is really about growing government hostility around the world to independent media who do their job, ask tough questions, and hold the powerful to account.

When you look at the international media landscape, three things quickly become clear:
The news business is under pressure, funding and profits are scarce, and as a result there are fewer and fewer sources of independent, quality news.

He writes that in almost every country where public broadcasting exists, it is by far the most trusted and valued news source.

It’s as true here in Australia as it is in the UK, Ireland, Spain, Germany, Japan, Austria, Belgium and dozens of other places. In the US, which has famously never supported comprehensive public broadcasting, trust in the media generally is lower than anywhere else, and Americans put the BBC in the top four of the news sources they trust the most despite the fact that it comes from another country.

Despite public broadcasters being the most trusted source of news at a time when it is most needed, governments everywhere are searching for ways to starve, censor or destroy it instead of delivering the secure funding it needs.

The fear is that, whether it is licence fees in the UK or triennial funding here in Australia, Governments can and do use funding arrangements to starve and punish public broadcasters. The circumstances, the specifics and the justifications are different, but the dynamic remains the same. 


Mr. Sunderland was in charge of editorial policies at the ABC from 2013-19, in a range of positions including Head of Editorial Policies, Director of Editorial Policies and Editorial Director.

Before that, he was a Walkley Award-winning journalist at both the ABC and SBS.

He retired from the ABC in 2019.

When he is not talking about lofty editorial matters, Alan Sunderland is making up stories for children.

He’s now the author of no fewer than seven books for young people, including a series featuring a detective rat.