ABC managing director David Anderson told a Senate Committee hearing last night that public broadcasters in the Pacific have raised concerns about Chinese government pressure to carry state-owned news content.
The ABC is lobbying to expand its operations in the Pacific and play a greater “soft diplomacy” role, as China increases its influence in the region. Across the Pacific there are many infrastructure projects funded by China that give it leverage in many areas, including broadcasting.
The national broadcaster ended its shortwave Radio Australia transmissions in 2017 under managing director Michelle Guthrie, amidst warnings that shortwave radio was still important and that other countries would extend their influence in the Pacific in the absence of ABC Radio Australia signals on shortwave. In 2018, China extended its shortwave broadcasts into the region on the vacated ABC frequencies.
“For the ABC to have an expanded presence there is important, particularly with concerns, frankly, over the Chinese government,” Anderson told the Senate Committee. “The single biggest piece of information that comes back to us from them is concern over the pressure the Chinese government put on them to carry content to broadcast through the Pacific.”
The ABC also previously broadcast tv news bulletins into 46 nations including Indonesia and Papua New Guinea through the DFAT funded Australia TV Network, which was closed in 2014 after federal budget cuts. Chinese President Xi Jinping has expanded the state-owned China Global Television Network in recent years, to “make the voice of China heard.”
The ABC continues to broadcast in the Pacific region, but at a smaller scale than in previous years.
The ABC is currently lobbying the federal government for an additional $12 million to support the expansion of broadcast services to the region again.
In his opening statement to the Senate Estimates Committee, David Anderson also outlined the success of the national broadcaster in several areas:
“The ABC is the leading Australian radio network with the highest reach and share of listening.
“ABC News finished 2021 as the number one digital news brand in Australia with more than 63% of Australians connected with ABC News platforms.
“ABC iview was the number one Broadcast Video on Demand Service.
“Importantly, 78% of Australians trusted the information provided by the ABC, which is significantly higher than all other media institutions and information providers… In its 90th year the ABC is more relevant to Australians than ever…”