LOWLY INSTITUTE – 11 December 2019
Australia’s depleted international broadcasting is impairing the projection of Australia’s soft power at a time when government is seeking to increase its regional influence, particularly in the Pacific.
Annmaree O’Keeffe, Chris Greene
- The past decade has seen a dramatic decline in Australia’s international public broadcasting, in large part attributable to an absence of strategic vision from both government and the ABC, exacerbated by declining funds.
- Neglect of international broadcasting has impaired the projection of Australia’s soft power, particularly in the Pacific. Government needs to clarify its purpose and commit to significant medium-term resourcing.
- To better project Australia’s strengths, a rejuvenated broadcaster should have a new institutional basis within the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s remit.
Since the first Lowy Institute report on international broadcasting in 2010, several global and regional powers have made major strategic investments to boost their international public broadcasters.
During the same period, both the Australian government and the ABC have lost sight of the potential soft power role of international public broadcasting. Australia is explicitly competing for global and regional influence, yet Australia’s international broadcasting has been weakened through a combination of government inconsistency and neglect, ideology-driven decisions, budget cuts and apparent ABC management indifference. The Australian government has been silent on the role of international public broadcasting in supporting Australia’s brand and reputation overseas, particularly in the Pacific. This has impaired the projection of Australia’s soft power and ignores the ABC’s long and distinguished history of broadcasting into a region which the government now identifies as a principle geo-strategic priority.
A fresh start for Australia’s international broadcasting is possible but requires a clear focus on strategic aims and the geographic and demographic characteristics of the intended audience. Stronger commitment and medium-term funding are essential, and overall responsibility for international broadcasting should be placed with DFAT. In renewing its commitment to international public broadcasting, government should also draw on a broader range of expertise, such as that of SBS, other Australian media, practitioners in the target communities and their diasporas.
Just under a decade ago, a Lowy Institute working paper, International Broadcasting and its Contribution to Public Diplomacy, concluded that one of the most efficient and effective soft power tools for government was international public broadcasting. Yet in the years that followed, Australia’s international public broadcasting has been diminished through a combination of government inconsistency and neglect, ideology-driven decisions, budget cuts and apparent ABC management indifference.
The fall from soft power relevance is so marked that in recent public policy documents describing Australia’s public diplomacy and soft power efforts, the Australian Government has been silent on the role of Australia’s international public broadcaster in supporting Australia’s brand and reputation overseas.
That is a serious and significant gap. It means that at a government level, Australia’s international broadcasting services are no longer recognised as a valuable contributor to our soft power, and ignores the ABC’s long and distinguished history of broadcasting into a region which the Australia Government identifies as a principal geo-strategic priority.
The question is therefore whether international broadcasting still has a role to play in Australia’s soft power efforts.
This paper attempts to answer that question, reviewing the evolving role of Australia’s international broadcasting and examining the lessons for Australia in the way international broadcasting has developed globally.
International public broadcasting is still a central tool of public diplomacy for a number of globally influential countries, and several have increased funding and broadened the services of their broadcasters. Yet, over the past decade, the Australian Government and the ABC have each withdrawn significant resources from Australia’s international broadcasting in an unfocused, piecemeal and unstrategic manner, leaving Australia’s international media reputation much diminished, particularly across the Pacific.
On balance, we conclude that public international broadcasting still has an important place among Australia’s principal soft power tools but the focus of the debate needs to shift from issues such as short wave and restoring Radio Australia, to a fresh approach. This approach should take account of the lessons from other international broadcasters, Australia’s own national interest priorities, and the needs of target audiences, notably in the media-deficient Pacific. To succeed, such a fresh approach would require a significant commitment in the medium to long term from government.
FULL TEXT HERE:
- Executive Summary
- International Public Broadcasting in the 21st Century
- The Australian Experience Since 2010
- Updated Survey of International Broadcasters in 2019
- Australia’s Actions And Policy in the Changing International Broadcasting Environment
- Conclusions And Recommendations
- Appendix – Survey Of International Public Broadcasters