Australian Broadcasting Corporation

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) is Australia's national broadcaster, founded in 1929. It is principally funded by the direct grants from the Australian government and is administered by a board appointed by the government of the day.[3] The ABC plays a leading role in journalistic independence and is fundamental in the history of broadcasting in Australia.

Australian Broadcasting Corporation
TypeStatutory corporation
IndustryMass media
Founded1 July 1929 (1929-07-01)
FounderLyons Government
Area served
Australia and South East Asia
Key people
Revenue A$1.06 billion[1] (2019-20)
Total assets A$1,401,757,000 (2019)[2]
OwnerAustralian Government
Number of employees
4,649[2] (2018-19)

Modelled on the BBC in the United Kingdom, which is funded by a television licence, the ABC was originally financed by consumer licence fees on broadcast receivers. Licence fees were abolished in 1973 and replaced principally by direct government grants, as well as revenue from commercial activities related to its core broadcasting mission.

The ABC now provides radio, television, online and mobile services throughout metropolitan and regional Australia and overseas through ABC Australia and Radio Australia. The ABC's headquarters is in Ultimo, an inner-city suburb of Sydney, New South Wales.


Founded in 1929 as the Australian Broadcasting Company, the ABC was a government-licensed consortium of private entertainment and content providers, authorised under government supervision to broadcast on the airwaves using a two-tiered system. The "A" system derived its funds primarily from the licence fees levied on the purchasers of the radio receivers, with an emphasis on building the radio wave infrastructure into regional and remote areas, whilst the "B" system relied on privateers and their capacity to establish viable enterprises using the new technology. Following the general downward economic trends of the era, as entrepreneurial ventures in National infrastructure struggled with viability, the "Company" was subsequently acquired to become a fully state-owned corporation on 1 July 1932 and renamed as Australian Broadcasting Commission, realigning more closely to the British, BBC model.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation Act 1983[4] changed the name of the organisation to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, effective 1 July 1983.[4] Although funded and owned by the government, the ABC remains editorially independent as ensured through the Australian Broadcasting Corporation Act 1983.[4]

The ABC is sometimes informally referred to as "Aunty",[5][6][7] originally in imitation of the British Broadcasting Corporation's nickname.[8]



The first public radio station in Australia opened in Sydney on 23 November 1923 under the call sign 2SB with other stations in Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth and Hobart following.[9] A licensing scheme, administered by the Postmaster-General's Department, was soon established allowing certain stations government funding, albeit with restrictions placed on their advertising content.[10]

Following a 1927 royal commission inquiry into radio licensing, the government established the National Broadcasting Service which subsequently took over a number of the larger funded stations. It also nationalised the Australian Broadcasting Company which had been created by entertainment interests to supply programs to various radio stations.[10] On 1 July 1932, the Australian Broadcasting Commission was established, taking over the operations of the National Broadcasting Service and eventually establishing offices in each of Australia's capital cities.[10][11]

Over the next four years the stations were reformed into a cohesive broadcasting organisation through regular program relays, coordinated by a centralised bureaucracy.[12] The Australian broadcast radio spectrum was constituted of the ABC and the commercial sector.[12]

News broadcasts were initially restricted, due to pressure from Sir Keith Murdoch, who controlled many Australian newspapers. However, journalists such as Frank Dixon and John Hinde began to subvert the agreements in the late 1930s. in 1939, Warren Denning was appointed to Canberra as the first ABC political correspondent, after Murdoch had refused to allow his newspapers to cover a speech by Joseph Lyons.[13]

In 1942 The Australian Broadcasting Act was passed, giving the ABC the power to decide when, and in what circumstances, political speeches should be broadcast.[14] Directions from the Minister about whether or not to broadcast any matter now had to be made in writing, and any exercise of the power had to be mentioned in the Commission's Annual Report.[14] It was used only once, in 1963.[14] In the same year, "Kindergarten of the Air" began on ABC Radio in Perth, and was later broadcast nationally. In 1944 18-year-old Patricia Delaney, of Sydney, was the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's only girl cadet announcer, and the youngest member of announcing staff.[15]


James Dibble, reading the first ABC News television bulletin in NSW, 1956

The ABC commenced television broadcasting in 1956, and followed the earlier radio practice of naming the station after the first letter of the base state. ABN-2 (New South Wales) Sydney was inaugurated by Prime Minister Robert Menzies on 5 November 1956, with the first broadcast presented by Michael Charlton, and James Dibble reading the first television news bulletin.[16] ABV-2 (Melbourne, Victoria) followed two weeks later, on 18 November 1956. Stations in other capital cities followed: ABQ-2 (Brisbane, Queensland) (1959), ABS-2 (Adelaide, South Australia) (1960), ABW-2 (Perth, Western Australia) (1960), and ABT-2 (Hobart, Tasmania) (1960). ABC-3 Canberra opened in 1961, and ABD-6 (Darwin, Northern Territory) started broadcasting in 1971, both named after the base city.

Although radio programs could be distributed nationally by landline, television relay facilities were not in place until the early 1960s.[17] This meant that news bulletins had to be sent to each capital city by teleprinter, to be prepared and presented separately in each city, with filmed materials copied manually and sent to each state.[17] Other television programs at the time included the popular Six O'Clock Rock hosted by Johnny O'Keefe, Mr. Squiggle, as well as operas and plays.[17]

In 1973 New South Wales Rugby League boss Kevin Humphreys negotiated rugby league's first television deal with the ABC.[18] In 1975, colour television was permanently introduced into Australia after experimental colour broadcasts since 1967, and within a decade the ABC had moved into satellite broadcasting, greatly enhancing its ability to distribute content nationally. In the same year, the ABC introduced a 24-hour-a-day AM rock station in Sydney, 2JJ (Double Jay), which was eventually expanded into the national Triple J FM network.[19] A year later, a national classical music network was established on the FM band, broadcasting from Adelaide. It was initially known as ABC-FM (now called ABC Classic FM) – referring both to its 'fine music' programming and radio frequency.[19]

ABC budget cuts began in 1976 and continued until 1985. In 1978 the ABC NSW Staff Association organised a strike against budget cuts and political interference. Sydney ABC was off air for four days.[20] A packed free concert in support was held at the Regent Theatre and compered by Bob Hudson. It featured Fred Dagg and Robyn Archer.[21] In 1991, Tom Molomby wrote:

"The effects of the budget reductions had been so badly handled that the organisation was to remain seriously crippled for years."[22]


The Australian Broadcasting Corporation Act 1983[4] changed the name of the organisation from the "Australian Broadcasting Commission" to the "Australian Broadcasting Corporation", effective 1 July 1983.[4] At the same time, the newly formed Corporation underwent significant restructuring. The ABC was split into separate television and radio divisions, with an overhaul of management, finance, property and engineering.[23] Geoffrey Whitehead[24] was the initial managing director; however, following his resignation in 1986, David Hill (at the time chair of the ABC Board) took over his position.

Program production in indigenous affairs, comedy, social history and current affairs was significantly expanded, while the Corporation's output of drama was boosted.[23] Local production trebled from 1986–91 with the assistance of co-production, co-financing, and pre-sales arrangements.[23]

A new Concert Music Department was formed in 1985 to co-ordinate the corporation's six symphony orchestras, which in turn received a greater level of autonomy to better respond to local needs.[23] Open-air free concerts and tours, educational activities, and joint ventures with other music groups were undertaken at the time to expand the orchestras' audience reach.[23]

ABC Radio was restructured significantly again in 1985 – Radio One became the Metropolitan network, while Radio 2 became known as Radio National (callsigns, however, were not standardised until 1990). New programs such as The World Today, Australia All Over, and The Coodabeen Champions were introduced, while ABC-FM established an Australian Music Unit in 1989.[23] Radio Australia began to focus on the Asia-Pacific region, with coverage targeted at the south west and central Pacific, south-east Asia, and north Asia. Radio Australia also carried more news coverage, with special broadcasts during the 1987 Fijian coup, Tiananmen Square massacre, and the First Gulf War.[23]

The ABC's Sydney headquarters in Ultimo

In 1991, the Corporation's Sydney radio and orchestral operations moved to a new building in the inner-city suburb of Ultimo.[25] In Melbourne, the ABC Southbank Centre was completed in 1994, and now houses the radio division in Victoria as well as the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.[25]

The ABC Multimedia Unit was established in July 1995, to manage the new ABC website (launched in August). Funding was allocated later that year specifically for online content, as opposed to reliance on funding for television and radio content. The first online election coverage was put together in 1996, and included news, electorate maps, candidate information and live results.[25]

By the early 1990s, all major ABC broadcasting outlets moved to 24-hour-a-day operation, while regional radio coverage in Australia was extended with 80 new transmitters.[25] Live television broadcasts of selected parliamentary sessions started in 1990.[25] ABC NewsRadio, a continuous news network broadcast on the Parliamentary and News Network when parliament is not sitting, was launched on 5 October 1994.[25]

International television service Australia Television International was established in 1993, while at the same time Radio Australia increased its international reach.[25] Reduced funding in 1997 for Radio Australia resulted in staff and programming cuts.[25]

Australia Television was sold to the Seven Network in 1998, however the service continued to show ABC news and current affairs programming up until its closure in 2001.[26] The ABC's television operation joined its radio and online divisions at the corporation's Ultimo headquarters in 2000.[27]


In 2001, digital television commenced after four years of preparation.[27] In readiness, the ABC had fully digitised its production, post-production and transmission facilities – heralded at the time as "the greatest advance in television technology since the introduction of colour".[27] The first programmes to be produced in widescreen were drama series Something in the Air, Grass Roots and In the Mind of the Architect.

At the same time, the ABC's Multimedia division was renamed "ABC New Media", becoming an output division of the ABC alongside Television and Radio.[27] Legislation allowed the ABC to provide 'multichannels' – additional, digital-only, television services managed by the New Media Division. Soon after the introduction of digital television in 2001, Fly TV and the ABC Kids channel launched, showing a mix of programming aimed at teenagers and children.

In 2002, the ABC launched ABC Asia Pacific – the replacement for the defunct Australia Television International operated previously by the Seven Network. Much like its predecessor, and companion radio network Radio Australia, the service provided a mix of programming targeted at audiences throughout the Asia-Pacific region. Funding cuts in 2003 led to the closure of Fly TV and the ABC Kids channel.

The ABC launched a digital radio service, ABC DiG, in November 2002, available though the internet and digital television, but not available through any other terrestrial broadcast until DAB+ became available in 2009.

ABC2, a second attempt at a digital-only television channel, launched on 7 March 2005. Unlike its predecessors the new service was not dependent on government funding, instead running on a budget of A$3 million per year.[28] Minister for Communications Helen Coonan inaugurated the channel at Parliament House three days later.[29] Genre restrictions limiting the types of programming the channel could carry were lifted in October 2006 – ABC2 was henceforth able to carry programming classified as comedy, drama, national news, sport and entertainment.[30]

A high incidence of breast cancer in female staff working at the ABC's offices in Brisbane led to the closure of the site, based in Toowong, on 21 December 2006. Sixteen women were diagnosed with the disease in a period spanning 1994 to 2007.[31] A progress report released in March 2007 by an independent panel formed to investigate the occurrences found that the rate of occurrence for breast cancer rate at the offices was eleven times higher than elsewhere[32] – after the closure of the site, the ABC's Brisbane-based television and radio operations were moved to alternate locations around the city, including Ten Brisbane's studios at Mt Coot-tha. The ABC's managing director, Mark Scott, announced in August 2007 that new studios would be built on the site, following the final release of the Review and Scientific Investigation Panel's report.[33] In January 2012 the ABC in Brisbane moved into purpose-built accommodation in South Bank.[34]

On 8 February 2008, ABC TV was rebranded as ABC1, complementing the existing ABC2 digital-only channel which was launched on 7 March 2005. Branding was also added for a new kids' channel that had been announced throughout the Howard Government based on their winning the 2007 election but left to the 2009 Rudd Government Budget where ABC3 was funded and announced in June.[35][36] A new online video-on-demand service launched in July of the same year, titled ABC iview,[37] and the ABC launched digital radio broadcasts in the same month.

In 2006, the definitive history of the ABC by Ken Inglis was issued by Black Inc., re-issuing the 1983 edition of This is the ABC - 1932-1983[38] and issuing his Whose ABC - 1983-2006.[28] These tomes combined to give a comprehensive overview of the ABC's history to that year.


ABC News launched on 22 July 2010,[39] and brought with it both new programming content as well as a collaboration of existing news and current affair productions and resources. The ABC launched the 24-hour news channel to both complement its existing 24-hour ABC News Radio service and compete with commercial offerings on cable TV. It became the ABC's fifth domestic TV channel and the fourth launched within the past 10 years.

On 20 July 2014, ABC1 reverted to its original name of ABC TV.[40]

In 2014 the ABC ran its first "Mental As" week focusing on improving awareness of mental health issues, as part of Mental Health Week.[41]

In December 2015 it was announced that former BSkyB, Star TV and Google executive Michelle Guthrie would take over from managing director Mark Scott, who was to retire in April 2016.[42]

In June 2018, the Liberal Party's annual federal council voted to privatise the ABC. The decision is not binding on the federal government, so is seen as unlikely to impact government policy.[43][44]

In September 2018 it was announced that Michelle Guthrie had left the position of Managing Director, after "directors resolved that it was not in the best interests of the ABC for Ms Guthrie to continue to lead the organisation".[45]

It was reported in February 2019 that Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison, has been given a shortlist of potential candidates for the role of ABC Chairman after the company has gone without a chairman or managing director for over four months. The recruitment process has been started by the global recruitment firm, Korn Ferry. The final choice for chairman has yet to be sent to the cabinet for approval.[46] The ABC board has started the search for a new managing director even though the chairman has yet to be appointed.[47] Ita Buttrose has been named the new chairwoman of the ABC, pending formal approval from the Governor-General.


In 2020 it was reported that the ABC was cutting up to 250 jobs and a number of programs, budgets and initiatives; after a multi-year indexation freeze reduced its financial capacities.[48]



Below is a diagram of the ABC's divisional structure.[49]

Entertainment and Specialist
Michael Carrington
Radio and Regional Content
Judith Whelan
News Analysis & Investigations
Gaven Morris
Director of Editorial PoliciesCraig McMurtrie
ABC Board
Managing Director
David Anderson
Product and Content Technology
Helen Clifton
ABC Strategy
Mark Tapley
Chief of Staff/ Chief People OfficerRebekah Donaldson ABC Commercial
General Manager
Andrew Lambert
ABC Legal
Connie Carnabuci
ABC Secretariat


The operations of the ABC are governed by a board of directors,[50] consisting of a managing director,[51] five to seven directors,[51] and until 2006, a staff-elected director.[51][52] The managing director is appointed by the board for a period of up to five years, but is eligible for renewal.[53] The authority and guidelines for the appointment of directors is provided for in the Australian Broadcasting Corporation Act 1983.[4][54][55]

Appointments to the ABC Board made by successive governments have often resulted in criticism of the appointees' political affiliation, background, and relative merit.[56][57] Past appointments have associated directly with political parties – five of fourteen appointed chairmen have been accused of political affiliation or friendship, include Richard Downing and Ken Myer (both of whom publicly endorsed the Australian Labor Party at the 1972 election),[28] as well as Sir Henry Bland. David Hill was close to Neville Wran, while Donald McDonald was considered to be a close friend of John Howard.

From 2003 the Howard Government made several controversial appointments to the ABC Board, including prominent ABC critic Janet Albrechtsen,[58] Ron Brunton,[59] and Keith Windschuttle.[57][60]

During their 2007 federal election campaign, Labor announced plans to introduce a new system, similar to that of the BBC, for appointing members to the board.[61][62] Under the new system, candidates for the ABC Board would be considered by an independent panel established "at arm's length" from the Communications Minister.[63] If the minister chose someone not on the panel's shortlist, they would be required to justify this to parliament. The ABC chairman would be nominated by the prime minister and endorsed by the leader of the opposition.[61][64][65]

The new merit-based appointment system was announced on 16 October, in advance of the new triennial funding period starting in 2009.[66][67]

Current board members are:[68]

Name Functional role Term start Notes / reference
Ita ButtroseChair28 February 2019
David AndersonManaging Director3 May 2019
Jane ConnorsStaff Elected Director1 May 2018
Kirstin Ferguson12 November 2015
Joe Gersh11 May 2018
Vanessa Guthrie23 February 2017
Peter Lewis2 October 2014
Georgie Somerset23 February 2017
Donny Walford24 November 2005


The ABC is primarily funded by the Australian Government, in addition to some revenue received commercial offerings and its retail outlets. Based on a triennial funding system, the ABC's funding is set and reviewed every three years.[69]

Until 1948, the ABC was funded directly by radio licence fees; amendments were also made to the Australian Broadcasting Act that meant the ABC would receive its funding directly from the federal government. Licence fees remained until 1973 when they were abolished by the Whitlam Labor government, on the basis that the near-universality of television and radio services meant that public funding was a fairer method of providing revenue for government-owned radio and television broadcasters.

In 2014, the ABC absorbed A$254 million in federal budget deficits.[70]

Since the 2018 Budget handed down by then-Treasurer Scott Morrison, the ABC has been subject to a pause of indexation of operation funding, saving the Federal Government a total of A$83.7 million over 3 years.[71] In fiscal year 2016-17, the ABC received A$861 million in Federal Government funding, which increased to A$865 million per year from 2017-18 to 2018-19, representing a cut in funding of A$43 million over three years when accounting for inflation.[72][73][74] In 2019-20, the federal budget forecast funding of A$3.2 billion over three years (A$1.06 billion per year) for the ABC.[1] The Enhanced Newsgathering Fund, a specialised fund for regional and outer-suburban news gathering set up in 2013 by the Rudd Government, currently sits at A$44 million over three years, a reduction of A$28 million per year since the 2016 Australian federal election. This came after speculation that the fund would be removed, to which the ABC Acting Managing Director, David Anderson, wrote to Communications Minister Mitch Fifield expressing concerns about.[70]

The term "where your 8 cents a day goes", coined in the late 1980s during funding negotiations,[75] is often used in reference to the services provided by the ABC.[76] It was estimated that the cost of the ABC per head of population per day was 7.1 cents a day, based on the Corporation's 2007–08 'base funding' of $543 million.[77]

Politics and criticism

Independence and impartiality

Under the Australian Broadcasting Corporation Act 1983,[78] the ABC Board is bound to "maintain the independence and integrity of the Corporation" and to ensure that "the gathering and presentation by the Corporation of news and information is accurate and impartial according to the recognized standards of objective journalism."

In relation to impartiality and diversity of perspectives, the current ABC editorial policy requires of the broadcaster that:[79]

... the ABC gather and present news and information with impartiality and presents a diversity of perspectives so that, over time, no significant strand of thought or belief within the community is knowingly excluded or disproportionately represented. The broadcaster is expected to take no editorial stance other than a commitment to fundamental democratic principles.

ABC Editorial Policy


As a publicly funded broadcaster, the ABC is expected not to take editorial stances on political issues, and is required to present a range of views with impartiality. Over the decades, accusations of "bias" at the ABC have arisen at different times, and various inquiries undertaken.

Reviews of the ABC are regularly commissioned and sometimes not released.[80][81]

Former Lateline host Maxine McKew won a seat in federal parliament in the 2007 and served for one term.

The ABC's requirement of impartiality has led to persistent debates. External critics have complained in particular of left-wing political bias at the broadcaster, citing a prominence of Labor Party-connected journalists hosting masthead political programs or a tendency to favour "progressive" over "conservative" political views on issues such as immigration, refugees, the republic, multiculturalism, reconciliation, feminism, environmentalism, anti-Americanism, gay marriage, budgeting.[82][83][5][84]

There have been internal and external research on the question of bias at the ABC. A 2013 University of the Sunshine Coast study of the voting intentions of journalists found that 73.6 per cent of ABC journalists supported Labor or The Greens - with 41% supporting the Greens (whereas only around 10% of people in the general population voted Green).[85][86] A 2004 Roy Morgan media credibility survey found that journalists regarded ABC Radio as the most accurate news source in the country and the ABC as the second "most politically biased media organisation in Australia".[87] Former Prime Minister of Australia Malcolm Turnbull commented on 3AW radio in 2018 that "some" journalists and programs "contain a left-wing bias."[88]

Conservative commentators such as Andrew Bolt, Tim Blair and Gerard Henderson accuse the ABC of a left-wing bias.[89] In rejecting criticisms of bias, ABC journalist Annabel Crabb said in 2015 that the organisation gives "voices to Australians who otherwise wouldn't be heard, on topics that are too uncommercial or too remote or too hard to be covered by anyone else, broadcasting into areas from which others have long withdrawn resources".[90] ABC journalist turned NSW Liberal MLA Pru Goward said of the organisation: " I have no doubt there was left-wing bias, I certainly thought it when I was there", while ABC journalist turned Federal Labor politician Maxine McKew said there was no left wing bias, though "what I detected years ago in the ABC, much more of a collectivist philosophy".[91] However former ABC Chairman Maurice Newman says, "the ABC bias is absolutely palpable" and "the ABC is now 'shameless' and there is no attempt to bring balance to its programs".[92]

At the 2016 federal election, a study commissioned by the ABC and conducted by iSentia compiled share-of-voice data and found that the ABC devoted 42.6% of election coverage to the Coalition government (this compares to the 42.04% vote received by the Coalition in the House of Representatives (HOR)), 35.9% to the Labor opposition (34.73% HOR), 8% to the Greens (10.23% HOR), 3.1% to independents (1.85% HOR), 2.2% to Nick Xenophon's Team (1.85% HOR) and 8.1% to the rest. However, the ABC itself notes the "significant limitations around the value of share of voice data" as "duration says nothing about tone or context".[93]

From Hawke to Rudd

Labor Prime Minister Bob Hawke considered the ABC's coverage of the 1991 Gulf War to be biased.[94] In 1996, conservative Opposition Leader John Howard refused to have Kerry O'Brien of the ABC moderate the television debates with Labor Prime Minister Paul Keating because Howard saw O'Brien as biased against the Coalition.[95]

During the subsequent Howard Government years, ABC TV's masthead political programs were anchored by journalists with Labor affiliations: the 7.30 Report was hosted by former Whitlam staffer Kerry O'Brien; the Insiders program by former Hawke staffer Barrie Cassidy and the Lateline program by Maxine McKew who went on to defeat Liberal Prime Minister John Howard as the Labor candidate for the seat of Bennelong in 2007, at the same time as ABC Sydney News weatherman Mike Bailey ran for Labor against Liberal minister Joe Hockey.[96][97]

In the subsequent Rudd-Gillard period, Cassidy retained his position at Insiders, while O'Brien shifted to host Four Corners in 2011.[98][99] Chris Uhlmann, husband of Labor MP Gai Brodtmann, was appointed as co-host of the 7.30 current affairs program,[100] and Sydney ABC News anchor Juanita Phillips began a relationship with Labor's Minister for Climate Change, Greg Combet.[101][102][103][104]

Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison Government (2013–present)

Liberal Prime Minister Tony Abbott perceived the ABC to be left wing and hostile to his government, while his successor Malcolm Turnbull enjoyed better relations with the National Broadcaster. When the ABC co-published stolen documents purportedly revealing Australian spy agency activities overseas, Abbott told 2GB radio: "people feel at the moment that the ABC instinctively takes everyone's side but Australia's".[105][106][107] He reportedly called the Q&A program a "Lefty Lynch Mob".[108] Abbott denounced the program for inviting Zaky Mallah, a man convicted of threatening Commonwealth officials, to participate in questioning one of his ministers, asking: "whose side are you on?".[109][110][111] Abbott initiated a brief ministerial boycott of the Q&A program following the affair.[112]

The broadcaster was critical of Abbott when he broke an election-eve promise not to make cuts to the ABC as part of his "Budget repair" program.[113][114] In early 2015, an internal ABC review of its coverage of Joe Hockey's first Budget criticised the post-budget interviews by 7:30 and Lateline, finding that the interviewers had given the impression of bias.[115]

Support for leadership coup against Abbott

When Abbott lost the leadership to the less conservative Turnbull in the September 2015 Liberal leadership spill, the hosts of the ABC's political programs spoke in favour of Abbott's demise. Kerry O'Brien and Barrie Cassidy, hosts respectively of the ABC's flagship weekly current affairs programs Four Corners and Insiders, welcomed the replacement of Abbott by Turnbull,[116][117] as did ABC radio commentators Fran Kelly[118] Paul Bongiorno[119] and Amanda Vanstone.[120] Fairfax and News Limited reported that Leigh Sales, the host of 7.30 gave Turnbull an unusually warm first interview following his toppling of Abbott.[121][122]

Opposition to leadership coup against Turnbull

When Turnbull lost the leadership after a conservative challenge in August 2018, the hosts of the ABC's political programs denounced the change. The 7pm News political correspondent Andrew Probyn, who had been censured by ACMA earlier in the year for biased reporting against Abbott, said the removal of Turnbull was about "vengeance pure and simple".[123][124] Earlier in the year. Insiders' Barrie Cassidy called it "insanity and madness".[125] 7:30 Chief Political Correspondent Laura Tingle was selected by Turnbull first among a handful of journalists to ask questions at his final press conference. She said "one of frustrations that voters have had with your prime ministership is the sense that you have conceded too regularly to the conservatives"[126] Vanstone called the challenge "disgraceful".[127]

Management responses to allegations of bias

In a March 2016 interview with ABC Managing Director Mark Scott, Media Watch host Paul Barry examined the question of perceptions of left wing bias at the ABC. Scott noted that while perhaps the ABC was more concerned about gay marriage than about electricity prices, he did not accept the criticism of bias because "a lot of that criticism comes from right wing commentators and they wonder where are the strong right wing commentators on the ABC. We don't do that kind of journalism. We don't ask questions about our journalists' voting pattern and where their ideology are. We look at the journalism that they put to air and we have strong editorial standards..."[128] Following the interview, conservative ABC critic Andrew Bolt wrote "How can the man heading our biggest media organisation be so blind to the ABC's unlawful and dangerous Leftist bias?" while former Media Watch host Jonathan Holmes wrote for The Age that this interview indicated that ABC management had failed to recognise a clear problem of left wing bias among some capital city radio presenters.[129]

Over the period, ABC TV and radio hosts advocated strongly in support of same-sex marriage, upon which the wider Australian community and political parties were divided. When the Turnbull Government announced plans for a postal plebiscite on the issue, advocacy for change continued, prompting a call for restraint from the ABC's editorial policy manager Mark Maley.[130]

An interview by ABC presenter Joe O'Brien with Lyle Shelton was the subject of a complaint by the Australian Christian Lobby. Bringing up Ian Thorpe's swimming achievements, O'Brien asked Shelton "what right do you have to participate in that joy, and take national pride in those achievements, if you now deny him the right to feel like an equal and experience the joy of marriage?"[131] In rejecting any perceived bias, the ABC said "It was a 'devil's advocate' question and not inconsistent with standards".[132]

Australia Day

The ABC is criticised for allegedly giving undue support to opposition to Australia Day being held on 26 January.[133] In 2017, the ABC's youth radio network announced that, after extensive consultation and opinion polling, it would no longer play its Hottest 100 Australian music list on Australia Day, choosing instead to broadcast the playlist on the fourth weekend in January.[134] The Federal Communications Minister Mitch Fifield said in response "I am bewildered by the ABC's decision to move the Hottest 100 from Australia Day. The ABC shouldn't be buying into this debate. Australia Day is our national day. The ABC should honour it and not mess with the Hottest 100."[135][136] In 2018, an opinion piece appeared on ABC's website suggesting the date should be moved to 1 January, citing symbolism.[137] Justin Milne, the chair of the ABC Board, held a meeting trying to convince the board to overrule Triple J's decision.[138]

Coverage of the Catholic Church

The ABC's coverage of the Catholic Church has been controversial. The Archbishop of Brisbane, Mark Coleridge, condemned the ABC in 2017 for an "antagonistic, one-sided narrative" of the Catholic Church.[139] Gerard Henderson of the Sydney Institute has written that "The ABC's focus on historic child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church stands in contrast to its failure to cover the public broadcaster’s own history in this area."[140] In the aftermath of the wrongful conviction of Adelaide archbishop Phillip Wilson in 2018, and the wrongful conviction of Cardinal George Pell by a jury in 2019, journalist Paul Kelly wrote that "calculated media assaults on Pell" had been "spearheaded by the ABC", contributing to an intense and unjustified public hatred of the Catholic leader and prejudicial environment in which to conduct a trial.[141]

The ABC's coverage of the issue has also won praise including the awarding of the 'Melbourne Press Club 2016 Quill for Coverage of an Issue or Event for the report 'George Pell and Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church' and the 2016 Golden Quill award to Louise Milligan and Andy Burns for their extensive coverage of Cardinal George Pell's evidence given at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. In awarding the prize judges noted "Their interviews with victims were compelling, moving and handled with great humanity. The work delivered a series of scoops, including detailed allegations about the conduct of Cardinal George Pell. This is journalism at its best: giving voice to those who have long suffered in silence."[142][143]

Cardinal George Pell

Initial reports into the accusations against Cardinal Pell were broken by the Herald Sun in February 2016[144] with the ABC first covering the story in July that year on the program 7.30 which featured two alleged victims. Cardinal Pell was invited to participate however declined and instead issued a statement.[145] The ABC News and Current Affairs programs provided coverage of the investigation and trial of Pell, in particular Four Corners in March 2019 and the series Revelation in 2020. In its statement the ABC maintained "In every case, Cardinal Pell was made aware of all the allegations against him well before the programs were broadcast and given every opportunity to address and respond to them.".[146] In a review of the programming the ABC noted "Obtaining interviews with Cardinal Pell’s supporters was not always easy; reporters and producers covering the case for ABC News, local radio and daily current affairs often had interview requests declined. Nonetheless, many of the Cardinal’s most prominent supporters have regularly appeared on major ABC programs, and the ABC’s coverage has consistently included a wide diversity of voices, accurate news and authoritative analysis of the many complex legal issues raised by the case"[146]

In the aftermath of the unanimous acquittal of Cardinal George Pell by the High Court of Australia in 2020, Cardinal Pell and a variety of commentators accused the ABC of sustained bias against him and of "abuse of power".[147] Asked on Sky News if the ABC's "persecution" concerned him, the Cardinal replied: "Yes it does, because, I mean, it's partly financed by Catholic taxes... in a national broadcaster to have an overwhelming presentation of one view, and only one view, I think that's a betrayal of the national interest."[148] Australian Catholic University vice-chancellor Greg Craven accused the ABC of being "virulent" in creating "an atmosphere conducive to a conviction."[149]

In response the ABC conducted an editorial and legal review of its coverage where it rejected the accusation of bias, and defended its reporting of Pell as having been "without fear or favour".[150][151] A number of ABC presenters and reporters expressed disappointment about the acquittal on personal social media accounts and in the press.[152][153][154][155] ABC Media Watch's Paul Barry reported: "and to prove that point perhaps, two ex-ABC [sic] titans Barrie Cassidy and Quentin Dempster took to Twitter to declare that just because the high court unanimously acquitted Cardinal Pell that did not mean he was innocent. Technically that may be right but the principle of our legal system is you’re innocent until proven guilty"[145] ABC reporter Louise Milligan, author of Cardinal: The Rise and Fall of George Pell, asked her Twitter followers to "Hug your children" after the High Court published its judgment.[152] Greg Sheridan wrote for The Australian: "Milligan, an ABC journalist, wrote a book damning Pell. It too was based in part on allegations now dismissed in court. Yet she was used on the ABC as though she were an impartial reporter... Milligan’s book was never searchingly critiqued on the ABC. Given the massive power of the ABC, this is an abuse of power".[156]

Paul Kelly wrote: "The job of the ABC was to inform and educate on one of the most contentious trials in the past half-century. Instead, it campaigned against Pell, essentially offering a one-sided condemnatory view in a coverage that was extensive, powerful and influential with the public."[157] Tony Thomas wrote for Quadrant: "The producers' tricks include hard editing of material favourable to Pell and long lingering on adverse material."[158] Gerard Henderson wrote: "The ABC led the campaign in programs such as 7.30, Four Corners, Lateline (as it then was), Q&A, News Breakfast and Radio National Breakfast."[159]

Summarising his case against the ABC's coverage of Pell, conservative commentator Greg Sheridan wrote on 16 April:

[The ABC] should understand the multiplying, almost exponential, intimidating effect of its tendency to project the same message across all its platforms, including the social media platforms of its journalists and its comedy and satire programs. No individual can withstand a full herd assault by the ABC. No one should have to. Pell was not only abused and unfairly reported in ABC news and current affairs. The ABC featured favourites like Tim Minchin singing Come Home Cardinal Pell, which included the line: "I think you’re scum". Does no one in the ABC anywhere have the slightest misgiving about this? Can anyone the ABC hates ever get a fair trial? Four Corners and the 7.30 Report devoted whole programs to vilifying Pell. The allegations they used were either dismissed or lacked sufficient evidence to come to court, despite the overwhelming desire of the Victorian system to prosecute Pell. There is an acknowledgment of this on the programs' websites, but viewers who don’t read the websites have not been informed that the slander of Pell was wrong.

Greg Sheridan, Foreign Editor, The Australian[156]

ABC journalists in politics

A number of former journalists and presenters have moved from positions at the ABC to politics.

State Labor premiers and chief ministers Bob Carr,[160] Alan Carpenter,[161] and Clare Martin[162] are all former ABC journalists. Other ABC journalists who stood as Labor candidates include Mary Delahunty,[163] Maxine McKew,[164] Mike Bailey, Ian Baker, Leon Bignell, John Bowler, Bob Debus, Malarndirri McCarthy, Frank McGuire, Neville Oliver and Diana Warnock. Senior ABC political reporter Kerry O'Brien was press secretary to Labor prime minister Gough Whitlam and Labor deputy leader Lionel Bowen[84] and Barrie Cassidy was press secretary to Labor prime minister Bob Hawke. Susan Templeman's husband, Ron Fuller, is the former Chief of Staff for ABC TV News. Radio National's Phillip Adams is a former member of the Communist Party of Australia and the Labor Party, and Melbourne ABC radio's Jon Faine is a former member of the Labor Party.[165]

On the Coalition side of politics, Pru Goward has served as a Minister in the NSW state Liberal Government,[166] Rob Messenger,[167] Peter Collins,[168] Eoin Cameron,[169] Scott Emerson and Sarah Henderson all held, or hold, positions at the ABC. Radio National's Counterpoint program is hosted by former Liberal minister Amanda Vanstone, who describes herself as "liberal" rather than "conservative".[170]

Research undertaken by the broadcaster in 2007 indicated that out of a total of 19 former employees moving into party political positions, 10 have joined the Labor Party and nine the Liberal Party.[171]

Planet Slayer website

"Planet Slayer" was a controversial environmentalist website for children owned by ABC.[172] The site featured a "Greenhouse Calculator" which says the age a person needs to die if they are not to "overuse their share of the earth".[173] The site has also been criticized for attacking those who eat meat, blue collared workers such as loggers, and nuclear energy.[174] ABC managing director Mark Scott said the site was not designed to offend anyone, but instead have children think about environmental issues.[175]

2019 police raid

On 5 June 2019, police raided the headquarters of the ABC looking for articles written in 2017 about alleged misconduct by Australian forces in Afghanistan. Search warrants naming two journalists and news director Gaven Morris were issued.[176][177]

The raid was countered by lawyers for the ABC challenging the examination of over 9,200 documents, including internal emails.[178][179]



The ABC operates 54 local radio stations, in addition to four national networks and international service Radio Australia. In addition, DiG Radio launched on digital platforms in 2002, currently offering three separate stations.

ABC Local Radio is the Corporation's flagship radio station in each broadcast area. There are 54 individual stations, each with a similar format consisting of locally presented light entertainment, news, talk back, music, sport and interviews, in addition to some national programming such as AM, PM, The World Today, sporting events and Nightlife.

The ABC operates four national radio networks, available on AM and FM as well as on digital platforms and the internet.

  • Radio National - A generalist station, broadcasting more than 60 special interest programmes per week covering a range of topics including music, comedy, book readings, radio dramas, poetry, science, health, the arts, religion, social history and current affairs.
  • ABC News - A news based service, broadcasting federal parliamentary sittings and news on a 24/7 format with updates on the quarter-hour. Broadcast's news content produced by the ABC itself, as well asprogrammes relayed from the BBC World Service, NPR, Deutsche Welle, Radio Netherlands and CNN Radio.
  • ABC Classic - A classical music based station. It also plays some jazz and world music. ABC Classic was the ABC's first FM radio service. It was originally known simply as "ABC FM", and for a short time "ABC Fine Music".
  • Triple J - A youth-oriented radio network, with a strong focus on alternative and independent music (especially Australian artists); it is targeted at people aged 18–35.

ABC Radio broadcasts regular news bulletins across most of its radio stations. Many of these bulletins are heralded by the "Majestic Fanfare", written by British composer Charles Williams in 1935.

In addition to these, there is also Radio Australia, the international radio station of the ABC.

The ABC also operates several stations only available online and on digital platforms, as listed below.

  • ABC Classic 2 - a sister station to ABC Classic, focussing on performance's by Australian artists. Only available on streaming platforms.
  • Triple J Unearthed - one of two sister stations to Triple J, focussing on unsigned and independent Australian Talent.
  • Double J - The other sister station to Triple J, focussed on an older audience.
  • ABC Jazz - A station exclusively dedicated to Jazz from Australia and the world.
  • ABC Country - A Exclusively Country music station, mainly focussing on Australian country.
  • ABC Grandstand - A sports dedicated station, also broadcast as a weekend program on ABC Local radio stations.
  • ABC Extra - A temporary special events station.
  • ABC Kids - Children's based programming, and a sister station to the ABC Kids television channel.


The ABC operates 5 national television channels.

  • ABC TV, the Corporation's original television service, receives the bulk of funding for television and shows first-run comedy, drama, documentaries, and news and current affairs. In each state and territory a local news bulletin is shown at 7 pm nightly.
  • ABC TV Plus (originally ABC2), launched in 2005, shows comedic content in addition to some repeats from ABC TV of which the amount has decreased gradually since ABC TV Plus's inception. It is not a 24-hour channel, but is broadcast daily from 7 pm to around 3 am the following night. The channel shares airspace with the ABC Kids programming block from 5 am to 7:30pm.
  • ABC Me (originally ABC3) became a fully fledged channel on 4 December 2009, but has been part of the electronic guide line-up since 2008, broadcasting an ABC1 simulcast until 4 December 2009, then an ABC Radio simulcast and teaser graphic until its official launch. It is broadcast from 6 am to around 10 pm on weekdays and 6 am to 2 am the next day on weekends, and consists of a broad range programmes aimed at a young audience aged 6–15, with a core demographic of 8–12.
  • ABC Kids (originally ABC For Kids on 2 and ABC 4 Kids) is a new preschool children's block featuring children's programming aimed at the 0 to 5 age groups. ABC Kids broadcasts during ABC2's downtime, from 5 am to 7:30pm daily.
  • ABC News (originally ABC News 24), a 24-hour news channel, featuring the programming from ABC News and Current Affairs, selected programs from the BBC World News channel, coverage of the Federal Parliament's Question Time, documentaries and factual, arts programming and state or national election coverage.

Although the ABC's headquarters in Sydney serve as a base for program distribution nationally, ABC Television network is composed of eight state- and territory-based stations, each based in their respective state capital and augmented by repeaters:

The eight ABC stations carry opt outs for local programming. In addition to the nightly 7 pm news, the stations also broadcast weekly state editions of 7.30 on Friday evenings (until 5 December 2014), state election coverage and in most areas, live sport on Saturday afternoons.


The ABC operates ABC Studios.[180] ABC TV, the corporation's original television service, receives the bulk of funding for television and shows first-run news, and ABC Kids.


An experimental Multimedia Unit was established in 1995, charged with developing policy for the ABC's work in web publishing.[25] This unit continued until 2000, when the New Media division was formed, bringing together the ABC's online output as a division similar to Television or Radio.[27] The division had over a million pages of material published by late 2003.[27]

In 2001 the New Media division became New Media and Digital Services, reflecting the broader remit to develop content for digital platforms such as digital television. In addition to ABC Online, the division also had responsibility over the ABC's two digital television services, Fly TV and the ABC Kids channel, until their closure in 2003.[181] In March 2005 the division oversaw the launch of ABC2, a free-to-air digital television channel, in effect a replacement for ABC Kids and Fly.

In conjunction with the ABC's radio division, New Media and Digital Services implemented the ABC's first podcasts in December 2004. By mid-2006 the ABC had become an international leader in podcasting with over fifty podcast programmes delivering hundreds of thousands of downloads per week,[182] including trial video podcasts of The Chaser's War on Everything and jtv.[183]

In February 2007, the New Media & Digital Services division was dissolved and divided up amongst other areas of the ABC. It was replaced by a new Innovation division, to manage ABC Online and investigate new technologies for the ABC.[184] In 2015 the Innovation division was replaced with the Digital Network division.[185]


ABC Australia is an international satellite television service operated by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, funded by advertising and grants from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Aimed at the Asia-Pacific region, the service broadcasts a mixture of English language programming, including general entertainment, sport, and current affairs.

ABC Radio Australia is an international satellite and internet radio service with transmissions aimed at East Asia and the Pacific Islands, although its signals are also audible in many other parts of the world. It features programmes in various languages spoken in these regions, including Mandarin, Indonesian, Vietnamese, Khmer and Tok Pisin. Before 31 January 2017 Radio Australia broadcast shortwave radio signals which were terminated in favour of online and satellite radio.

Radio Australia bulletins are also carried on WRN Broadcast, available via satellite in Europe and North America.


ABC Commercial is the division of the ABC responsible for pursuing new sources of revenue for the Corporation.[184] It comprises ABC Retail, ABC Content Sales and Distribution, ABC Publishing and Licensing, ABC Music and Events, and ABC Studio and Media Productions. ABC retail outlets were established in 1974, and closed in 2015. All profits from the sale of consumer product and production services return to the Corporation to reinvest in programme making.[186]


Up until the installation of disc recording equipment in 1935, all content broadcast on the ABC was produced live, including music.[187] For this purpose, the ABC established broadcasting orchestras in each state, and in some centres also employed choruses and dance bands. This became known as the ABC Concert Music Division, which was controlled by the Federal Director of Music – the first of whom was W. G. James.[188]

There are currently six state symphony orchestras:

The orchestras were corporatised in the 1990s,[25] and were divested into independent companies on 1 January 2007.[189]

The Lissajous curve logo, as it appears on some properties since October 1974.
Lissajous figure on an oscilloscope, on which Bill Kennard designed the current logo

The ABC logo is one of the most recognisable logos in Australia.[190][191][192] In the early years of television, the ABC had been using Lissajous curves as fillers between programmes.[193] In July 1963, the ABC conducted a staff competition to create a new logo for use on television, stationery, publications, microphone badges and ABC vehicles.[194][195] In 1965, ABC graphics designer Bill Kennard submitted a design representing a Lissajous display, as generated when a sine wave signal is applied to the "X" input of an oscilloscope and another at three times the frequency at the "Y" input. The letters "ABC" were added to the design and it was adopted as the ABC's official logo. Kennard was presented with £25 for his design.[194]

On 19 October 1974, the Lissajous curve design experienced its first facelift with the line thickened to allow for colour to be used. It would also be treated to the 'over and under' effect, showing the crossover of the line in the design. This logo would be served as the longest-running design with a lifespan of 44 years and 28 on its first on-air run. To celebrate its 70th anniversary on 1 July 2002, the ABC adopted a new logo, which was created by (Annette) Harcus Design in 2001. This logo utilized a silver 3D texture but the crossover design was left intact. This logo would then be used across the ABC's media outlets. However, some brands may continue to use this logo. The 2002 silver logo is no longer in use by the corporation, with the exception of some of the ABC's radio station logos. After the on-air revival of the 1974 logo since 2014, the ABC gradually reinstated the classic symbol while using a new logotype in 2018. The change comes with a press release that the ABC released on 12 February announcing a new brand positioning under its tagline, Yours.

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Further reading

  • Cater, Nick The Lucky Culture and the Rise of an Australian Ruling Class (2013) pp 199–228
  • Curgenven, Geoffrey. Dick Boyer, an Australian humanist (Bolton, 1967)
  • Inglis, K. S. This is the ABC – the Australian Broadcasting Commission 1932 – 1983 (2006)
  • Inglis, K. S. Whose ABC? The Australian Broadcasting Corporation 1983–2006 (2006)
  • Moran, Albert, and Chris Keating. The A to Z of Australian Radio and Television (Scarecrow Press, 2009)
  • Semmler, Clement. The ABC: Aunt Sally and Sacred Cow (1981)
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