Submission to the Review of Australian Broadcasting Services in the Asia Pacific
Duncan Graham: An Australian journalist and author living in East Java and writing for the English language media in Indonesia, Australia and elsewhere. In Australia he was a producer and presenter on ABC current affairs TV. He also established and managed community radio station 6NR. His prizes include a Walkley Award and two Human Rights Awards. For his complete CV and work see: www.indonesianow.blogspot.com
Ross Taylor AM: President of the Indonesia Institute, a WA-based NGO he helped setup in 2010. Formerly a WA Government Regional Director to Indonesia, and National Vice-President, of the Australia-Indonesia Business Council, he’s now a regular media commentator on Indonesia-Australia relations. His Order of Australia (AM) is for significant services to Australia-Indonesia relations and the philanthropic community. In 2013 the Indonesian Government named him a Presidential Friend of Indonesia.
Disclosure: The authors are Australian citizens and this is our personal submission. We have no connection with any media other than as consumers and contributors; we are not members of any political party or lobby group.
Release: This submission can be made public.
Background: As consistent and long-time viewers of Australia’s TV offerings in Indonesia, we have amassed much knowledge of the fare telecast to the people next door. Duncan Graham subscribes to a home cable service which includes ABC Australia along with several other international services delivered in English.
Earlier comment: In 2017 Duncan Graham presented a paper at the Indonesia Council’s Open Conference at Flinders University. The full text can be found here: http://indonesianow.blogspot.com.au/2017/07australia-plus-is-minus-merit.html
A shortened version was published in Asian Currents. See: http://asaa.asn.au/australia-plus-minus/
Further analysis can be found on Pearls and Irritations here: https://johnmenadue.com/duncan-graham-australia-plus-unfit-for-export/ and again here: https://johnmenadue.com/duncan-graham-new-name-old-menu-but-hope-looms/
Reason for submission: For many years we have been vigorously and consistently involved in trying to improve Australia-Indonesia relations in both countries.
In these roles we have become increasingly ashamed of the quality of our TV service when compared with those of other nations; we are concerned at the impression it makes on local audiences, and depressed at the lost opportunities to use the medium to engage constructively with our neighbours.
We are both wedded to the concept of public broadcasting and conscious of its value in maintaining democracy. Access to an impartial and trustworthy outside information source is essential to overseas viewers, as commercial networks in Indonesia become more partisan; the government network TVRI, which had a monopoly from 1962 to 1989, is low quality and rarely watched.
It’s estimated that 80 per cent of Indonesians still rely on TV for news, a legacy of the Soeharto era when huge sums were spent on relaying government propaganda into every nook of the world’s largest archipelago.
Once we looked out, now we look in.
On 1 July this year our overseas TV channel formerly known as Australia Plus, and before that Australia Network, quietly changed its purpose and name to ABC Australia.
Apart from the absence of commercials this was purely cosmetic. No new directions have been set or contents varied, so comments about Australia Plus are relevant to ABC Australia.
This was the fifth change in 25 years, bemusing viewers and corroding the brand
The critical questions are: Why does Australia bother to telecast to the Asia-Pacific, and to what end? There are two primary reasons:
Firstly the ABC has a legal duty to broadcast overseas, and secondly because we once proclaimed a moral responsibility to assist other nations to learn more about our country, its people and our values.
Till recently Australia took its international communications responsibilities seriously. The service seemed adequately funded and the programmes were curated for the markets. That is no longer the situation, and as a result we are all diminished.
In brief Australia as presented by ABC Australia is becoming more parochial while claiming to be international.
We are retreating from the region when our academics, business leaders, journalists, NGOs and politicians on all sides consistently urge better education, improved communications and closer contact.
These civic-minded citizens stress the social, economic, defence, security and community benefits of developing a strong and enduring relationship.
This retreat is grand scale hypocrisy and offensive to people on both sides of the Arafura Sea.
Our media presentations to the Asia Pacific were once different. We had pride in our nation’s achievements and wanted to share these with the world
For this the ‘partners’ got the chance to exclusively back an ‘audience category’. So, for example, in the ‘Explore + Experience’ section sponsored by the Victorian State Government ‘stories about events, places, travel, arts, culture and music around Australia’ were supposed to be featured.
This was meant to provide:
In the absence of information (ABC Management does not acknowledge our polite requests for facts) it seems safe to assume that Australia Plus was a failed marriage of public service broadcasting and business.
Policy has changed with ABC Australia. It now says its content is ‘for Australians living abroad’ and in a tautological addition ‘local audiences living outside of Australia’. Which is why Rules rules.
In Indonesia the principal sports are soccer, badminton and silat (martial arts).
ABC Australia remains a one-size-fits-all mishmash which ignores regional differences and treats its audiences with contempt.
It is not being produced to meet the needs of the targeted countries. It does not recognise local viewing times, or provide captions in the national language.
* Either legislation is changed to delete the ABC’s obligation to provide an international channel, or enough cash and resources are allocated to do the job properly.
* If the service is to be maintained it must be funded as a stand-alone network able to hire expert staff, commission programmes to suit the region, and muster material from services like SBS and independent Australian film-makers.
* If not, then Australia should yield the field to the Americans, British, French, Germans, Japanese, Russians, Chinese and others - and say openly to Asia-Pacific nationals: ‘ABC Australia is not for you; it’s only for our citizens abroad.’
Duncan Graham / Malang firstname.lastname@example.org Ph: +62 817378460 / +61 426759063
Ross Taylor / Perth email@example.com Ph: 1300 793 144.
19 July 2018