How good is the ABC?

Former ABC staff have been active during the election campaign. Here are powerful videos by former Chief Foreign Correspondent Philip Williams and former ABC Rural reporter Pete Lewis. Scroll down for a transcript of the speech by Alison Caldwell at our Cheltenham rally last month.

Two important new videos from ABC Alumni


Alison Caldwell’s ABC Rally Speech

Saturday April 23, Senator Van’s office, Cheltenham, Victoria.

The importance of the ABC to Australians has never been clearer.

Bushfires, cyclones, floods, the pandemic, the national public broadcaster’s emergency broadcasts, 24/7, have saved lives.

It brings relevant and reliable news to Australians via the most basic of communications devices, the battery powered transistor radio. While power, the internet and phone lines can get cut, a good supply of batteries and a transistor radio keeps vital information coming, rain, hail or fire. No one else does this so comprehensively. Many have tried and either given up or failed.

Despite years of funding cuts, today the ABC reaches more people in more ways than ever before.  The ABC’s critics in NewsCorp, the IPA and in Parliament House tend to focus their anger on Four Corners, 7.30, ABC News and Q&A. Crucial as these programs are, Australians value them immensely and so much more – Bluey, watched by 4.5 million children, Playschool, Backroads, Triple J’s Hottest 100, Coronacast, The Newsreader, Total Control, Landline, Australian Story and of course, Gardening Australia.

The ABC’s independent, impartial and accurate news services are now engaged by more than half of all Australians in more ways than ever before.

ABC News is the number one digital news site, the #1 news site on Apple News and on Instagram, not to mention the ABC’s YouTube  channel.

Fewer Australians watch or listen to live broadcasts on tv or radio but use of the ABC’s digital and online services is booming. In a typical month in 2021:

  • 27 million ABC podcasts were downloaded
  • Triple J’s YouTube channel attracted over 4 million unique viewers
  • 51% of people aged over 2, that’s 12.8 million Australians, used either the ABC News website or the ABC News app.

I use all of them.

Overall on tv, radio, online, iview, the ABC Listen app and throughout third party platforms, the ABC estimates it reaches 68% of Australians or 16.5 million Australians every week, far more than it ever achieved in the pre-digital age.

The ABC is the most trusted of all Australian media, according to the ABC’s Tracking Program, 78% of Australians trust the information provided by the ABC. That compares with 58% trust in newspapers and 36% trust in Facebook.

It’s not just the ABC’s Tracking Program that’s found this. The University of Canberra’s Digital News Report, part of an annual global survey conducted by Oxford University’s Reuters Institute reported 70% of its sample found ABC News trustworthy, compared with 53% for The Sydney Morning Herald, 47% for The Daily Telegraph, 52% for The Age and 49% for The Herald Sun.

The ABC wins more awards for excellence than any other Australian media organisation. In this year’s AACTA Awards, ABC commissioned productions won 22 awards, including Best Drama for The Newsreader, Best Miniseries for Fires, Best Factual for Old People’s Home for 4 year olds, Best Factual Entertainment for Love On The Spectrum, Best Children’s for Bluey, Best Narrative Comedy for Fisk, Best Comedy Entertainment for Hard Quiz, Best Documentary for My Name Is Gulpilil and Best Short Form Comedy for All My Friends are Racist.

The ABC’s quality investigative journalism has directly led to recent Federal or State Royal Commissions on banking, institutional responses to child abuse, juvenile detention in the Northern Territory, aged care and veteran suicides among others.

The ABC gives excellent value for taxpayers money. It reaches more Australians than ever before with quality Australian content on multiple platforms, all for less than 12 cents a day per head of the population, only 4 cents more than it cost in the 80s when the ABC only had five platforms across TV and Radio.

In 1987, the ABC offered one ABC TV channel, Local Radio, Radio National, ABC FM and Triple J – 5 platforms costing about 8 cents a day per Australian.

In 2022 for the equivalent in 1988 dollars of 4 cents per day per head, the ABC provides:

  • 6  tv services, News 24, ABC TV, ABC Kids, ABC TV Plus, ABC Me, and ABC Australia
  • 12 radio networks – ABC NewsRadio, Radio National, Local Radio in every capital city and most regional centres, ABC Classic, Triple J plus Double J, Kids Listen, Radio Australia, ABC Country, ABC Jazz, ABC Grandstand
  • ABC Online, with multimedia stories and blogs – news, science, religion, sport, arts, lifestyle across thousands of pages and millions of views each week.

Through ABC iview and the ABC Listen app and through third-party platforms, like Facebook, Apple News and YouTube, Australians can access all this output anytime, anywhere with a phone signal.

Critics often claim the ABC costs $1 billion a year. Well $190 million of that goes on transmission and distribution costs outside the ABC’s control.  In 2020-21, the ABC’s taxpayer funded operations budget was just under $880 million.

The ABC employs a little over 4,000 full-time equivalent staff but many are on lower grades than were experienced staff affected by redundancies. The ABC commissions hundreds of hours of screen content from independent production companies (drama, factual, children’s and documentary). Each dollar the ABC spends with independents generates an extra $1.11 from other investors (such as Screen Australia or state film agencies).

A recent Deloitte Access Economics report estimates that in three years from 2017 to 2020 ABC screen productions – both internal and external (not including news and current affairs) – contributed $744 million to the Australian economy and 8,319 full time equivalent jobs.

ABC funding as a proportion of total government expenditure has declined from 0.4% in 1992-93 to 0.14% of current Commonwealth spending. Despite its severely reduced budget and recent job losses, the ABC has excelled in its transition to digital media. No other media organisation recruits and broadcasts from so many locations, 8 capital city offices, 11 overseas bureau, 48 regional offices, staffed by more than 550 content makers.

Who knows what will happen in this federal election. Until now any serious attempts to privatise the ABC have failed in the Senate. This election could see independents, One Nation and the Australia Party win in both the House of Reps and the Senate. Who knows what they’ll trade in exchange for their support, maybe even the privatisation of the ABC. It’s time to stand up for the ABC, ask candidates if they truly value the ABC. Cast your vote for the ABC and vote for the people who pledge to protect the public broadcaster.