73% of those surveyed by the Compass Poll believe the ABC had a “good and realistic interest in and understanding of, all aspects of regional Australia.”
A paper analysing the results, written by Terry Barnes from Cormorant Policy Advice, recommends “giving Regional Australia a separate but complimentary ABC Regional organisation, with its own Charter and infrastructure, dedication to serving Australia’s regions.”
The Page Research Centre was launched in 2003 by the then National Party leader John Anderson, who is now Chairman of the think tank. The Page Research Centre is named for Sir Earle Page, who was briefly Australia’s 11th Prime Minister and a leader of the Country Party (now The National Party).
The study was reported in The Australian (subscription required) two weeks ago by Nick Cater from the Menzies Research Centre, with the headline ‘Patronising ABC no longer relevant in the digital era.’ Cater’s article picked up the angle presented in the Page Research Centre report, that, “contrary to its self-image and marketing, the ABC is falling short of the expectations of regional Australians.”
To determine whether Terry Barnes’ conclusions and Nick Cater’s reporting of the survey were valid, radioinfo requested the raw Compass Polling data, which was readily supplied to us by the Page Research Centre.
We did our own analysis of the data and concluded that the sample was valid and participants were gathered from reputable data providers across all political positions. We checked with several audience research specialists who confirmed that it accurately represented the spread of regional populations by state and demographics.
After validating the data, we went back to the raw data to learn more about what the survey discovered about radio listening habits outside Australia’s capital cities. The data is divided into two main sections, audience consumption data and attitudinal data. Focusing mainly on the audience consumption data, this is what we found:
- 59% of those surveyed listened to the ABC regularly. 41% do not listen to the ABC regularly.
- 36% listened to commercial radio regularly.
- 25% listened to commercial radio news and 21% listened to ABC Radio news at least once per week.
- 22% of those surveyed listened to podcasts.
- 20% said they listened to ‘internet radio,’ presumably radio streams through computer or phone apps.
- 97% listened to radio at least once a week, while 3% said they did not listen to radio.
For ABC Local Radio listening:
- 38% listened to their Local ABC radio station each week.
- 62% did not listen to their Local ABC radio station, however they did listen to a selection of programs across other ABC networks such as RN, triple j, Classic FM and others.
- Of those who listened to the ABC, 5% listened for less than 10 mins, 14% listened for up to one hour, 8% listened for 1-4 hours, 5% listened from more than 4 hours per week.
For listening across ABC program types:
- 25% listened to News and Current Affairs programs
- 20% listened to music programs
- 17% listened to talk programs
- 16% listened to ‘specialist programs’
- 6% listened to ‘The Country Hour and other regional focused programs.’
The spread of program consumption indicates that listeners select a range of audio programs from the national broadcaster. The study also included television, but we have concentrated mainly on the audio results.
The low listening number for ‘The Country Hour and other regional focused programming’ was highlighted by Terry Barnes’ paper as evidence for the assumption that “the ABC is out of touch with regional Australia.” Barnes was not entirely negative about the ABC and did acknowledge the positive responses in the survey in areas including Local Radio coverage, emergency broadcasting, News and Current Affairs, music programming, iView and sport.
Nick Cater’s opinion piece in The Australian took the same ‘out of touch’ viewpoint, but generally ignored the positive elements of the survey data.
Barnes’ paper criticised the ABC as being too city centred and lacking the kind of diversity needed to adequately cover regional issues.
“To the ABC leadership, unless it’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders living outside the capital cities, it seems that regional Australia is not part of contemporary Australia and, sadly, country yokels to be laughed at and patronised.
“In other words, the ABC’s structural biases on diversity relate to people’s personal characteristics, not the geography of Australian communities,” wrote Barnes in his interpretation of the Compass data.
We presented the data to the ABC for a response. A spokesperson who examined the data told radioinfo:
“We suggest the Page Research Centre goes back and has a good look at its own survey results. We are struggling to understand how it claims the ABC is out of touch with Regional Australia when its own study shows that at least 64 per cent of those living in regional Australia claim to have accessed at least one ABC platform across a week. This figure excludes some of our bigger platforms and sites such as ABC iview, digital news, apps, kid’s products and many of our smaller brands, which if included – as they should be – would push this figure much higher (ABC research, which includes all our platforms, indicates that 71.1 per cent of regional Australians access the ABC each week).”
The Compass data found that regional dwellers got most of their news, weather and community information from mainstream media:
- Free to Air TV (66%)
- Other, internet, social media, apps and pay tv (13%)
- Radio (11%)
- Local/Regional Newspapers (5%)
- Metro/National newspapers (4%)
- Specialist regional newspapers, such as The Land, Weekly Times, etc (0.003%)
A specific question about trust in ABC News was asked in the Compass poll:
“Do you trust the news and current affairs information you get from the ABC as being balanced, accurate and reliable?”
76% answered yes, while 24% said no
The ABC spokesperson told radioinfo:
“The Page research shows that ABC News is the number one news brand outside metropolitan cities with a weekly reach of 47 per cent– almost double that of commercial radio news and three times more than Sky News.
“One of the strongest results for the ABC in this research was around trust and representation of regional life.
“Three in four people (76 per cent) living in regional Australia said they trusted the ABC to deliver balanced, accurate and reliable news and a large majority (73 per cent) believed the ABC had a good and realistic interest in and understanding of, all aspects of regional Australia.
“Almost 90 per cent of people said they believed ABC was chosen over alternatives for being more accurate in its content (32 per cent), having no bias (11 per cent) and no advertising (45 per cent).”
The second part of the paper by Terry Barnes moves beyond consumption to attitudes, and is much more subjective in its tone. On the topic of whether regional Australians get full value from the ABC, Barnes wrote:
“Going by the commentary in is latest Annual Report, the ABC itself says a resounding yes. Going by the findings of the Page Research Centre opinion survey, however, the picture is not as rosy.
“When asked the question, “Do you think people living in Australia get full value for money from the ABC?” 56 per cent of respondents answered no…
“There was also surprisingly strong support across gender, regional and political spectrums for governance reform of the ABC to make it more responsive to the needs and interests of regional Australia, when its corporate mindset is so connected to urban Australia, and to the Corporation’s geographic concentration in the capital cities, and in inner Sydney and Melbourne in particular.”
Asked about this section of the report the ABC spokesperson told radioinfo:
“We believe questions relating to the ABC charter, cost, location and responsibilities were leading and designed to elicit particular responses.
“The ABC’s Corporate Tracking shows that those living in regional and rural Australia say ABC is doing a better job of covering country and regional Australia than commercial media. Just over 70 per cent are positive about how the ABC covers regional issues, compared with just under 60 per cent for commercial media.”
Terry Barnes’ paper concluded that a parallel ABC organisation should be created for the regions. “The new corporation would derive from a split based on geography. The new organisation – which could be called ABC Regional, or Australian Regional Broadcasting – would have a legislative remit and sufficient budget to ensure that regional Australia has fair access to high-quality broadcasting, entertainment, and news services.”
The ABC does not agree with Barnes’ view.
Since the Compass poll was conducted and the Terry Barnes report was written, the Federal Government has pledged to restore some ABC funding if it is re-elected in the upcoming federal election.
With the ABC now an election issue, another survey about the national broadcaster was also conducted during this pre-election season, with an Australia Institute poll showing support for an increase in ABC funding and for a more independent ABC board appointments process.
Last weekend’s NSW state by-elections in two regional and two metropolitan seats showed swings away from the Nationals and Liberals. The Conversation has published a balanced analysis by Adrian Beaumont of the weekend by-election results.
Notes on the survey:
The Page Research Centre commissioned Compass Polling to conduct the survey. Data collection was completed on 28 September 2021.
Compass Polling’s results gauge public opinion with an at most 2.5% margin of error, based on margin of confidence calculations for a sample of 1000 drawn by probability methods.
The sample was recruited from consumer panel providers PureProfile and Dynata.
The sample consisted of 1002 people, who live outside of major cities in Australia and are representative of the national population on key demographics of age, gender, location, income and education, as measured by the most recent Census.
In our analysis we have rounded figures to the nearest whole number, except in one case (specialist regional newspapers) where the result was less than 1%. We have tried to take a neutral approach to the data and to include both the Page Research Centre and ABC viewpoints.
Our thanks to The Page Research Centre and Compass Polling for their cooperation in answering data validation questions and supplying raw anonymised data for our analysis.
Main Picture, Floodplain: ABC Country Hour, Andrew Prince.