Coalition policy to expand ABC NewsRadio and Local Radio

The Coalition has announced its policy on the ABC, which includes expansion of the NewsRadio and Local Radio networks and the maintenance of current funding.

Coalition policy “is committed to ensuring that Australians have access to
a wide range of quality media services regardless of where they live… and making sure that the national
broadcasters, the ABC and SBS, are as widely available as possible.”

The Coalition is “committed to maintaining the
ABC’s triennial funding in real terms. In 2004-05 the Coalition will
provide the ABC with $774 million to meet its Charter obligations.”

The policy also commits a Coalition government, if re-elected, to fully funding the digital transmission and distribution costs for the ABC and SBSto the tune of around $1 billion over ten years.

“The Coalition recognises that the ABC is an important resource for
many Australians. For Australians in regional and remote areas it can
be particularly important for keeping in touch with national, local and
international events.”

As part of its commitment to ensure that all Australians can hear
the ABC’s comprehensive range services, the Coalition will provide up to
around $14 million over four years to improve ABC NewsRadio and
ABC Local Radio coverage.

The Coalition will fund the extension of ABC NewsRadio to all
transmission areas around Australia with populations over 10,000,
subject to the availability of spectrum in those areas. It will bring this service to up to 62 new areas around Australia with an audience reach of up to 9 million people. At present, ABC
NewsRadio reaches an estimated 78% of the population. With these
extensions, NewsRadio will potentially reach approximately 95% of

The Coalition will provide approximately $1.5 million over three years to
fund the improvement of ABC Local Radio transmission services for
Dubbo, Wagga Wagga and Geelong to better serve up to 205,000
people in these major centres and their outlying areas.

In accordance with its commitment in 2001, the Coalition Government
is also spending $90 million over five years to re-establish the ABC’s
international television service, ABC Asia-Pacific.

The ABA will also get a small share of the promised funding to allow it to identify approapiate spectrum for the expansion plans.

The Friends of the ABC however, is not happy with the Coalition promises on the ABC, saying: ”The Coalition’s policy contains no promise to restore funds the Howard Government slashed from the ABC’s programming budget shortly after it was elected.”

Friends spokesperson Terry Laidler has told radioinfo: “It guarantees only to maintain ABC triennial funding at the level to which it has been cut.

“Shortly after its election to office, the Howard Government cut the ABC’s triennial funding by $66 million (12%) per annum. It has since restored only a small proportion of funds – undermining the ABC’s independence by providing those funds on a one-off basis for specific purposes. And the pittance the Coalition has promised to extend the transmission reach of ABC NewsRadio and ABC Local Radio is a ‘Clayton’s’ promise.”

The May 2004 Senate Estimates, from Laidler’s point of view, show the ABC has lost $42m per annum on funds available for program making under the Howard Government.

“It is a tiny amount, and the only reason the Government has to fund the ABC’s transmission needs at all is because the Coalition sold-off the country’s national transmission system. Having privatised the national transmission network, the government now has to provide funds for the ABC to purchase its transmission needs on the commercial market.

”The Coalition is directing the geographical areas to which ABC transmission will be extended, and has excluded Triple J from its promise of funds for increased radio coverage. Once again, it is interfering in ABC planning and programming.

”Disappointingly, the Coalition has offered nothing to redress its short-sighted decision to sell Cox Peninsula and thereby stifle Radio Australia. [Cox Peninsula is Australia’s most powerful shortwave transmitter system.]

”There is nothing in the Coalition’s policy to indicate it has changed its hostile attitude to the independent national broadcaster,” says Laidler.

Meanwhile, ABC Radio National’s Media Report has covered the communications policies of the major parties in this week’s program. Click below to listen.