ABC chief seeks massive funding boost

Australian Broadcasting corporation (ABC) chief Mark Scott will argue tomorrow night in a speech for a massive expansion in the broadcaster’s overseas services in an effort to rival the BBC, CNN and the emerging Chinese media offensive. Mr Scott will argue that Australia’s new-found influence as a member of the G20 group of nations means it needs to expand its ‘’soft diplomacy” campaign to win support not just in the Asia-Pacific region but around the world.

Under the Scott plan, the ABC would:

Merge its international television service, Australia Network, and Radio Australia into a single brand
Expand its broadcasts to reach 53 countries in Africa, 22 in the Middle East and up to 21 in Latin America
Create five more news bureaus in the Asia-Pacific region, bringing its total to 14, more than the BBC or CNN.
The speech will be targetted in part at senior government decision-makers in foreign affairs and communications, who will need to chip in several hundred million dollars a year to make the plan a reality.

Mr Scott points out that Britain spends $868 million on the BBC’s overseas services; France more than $600 million and Germany $532 million on their overseas broadcasters; while China is in the midst of an $8 billion media expansion that will involve its bilingual Chinese-English television service going global by the end of next year. He contrasts this with the $34 million funding for the ABC’s overseas broadcasts, which is about the same spent by Mexico and Brazil.

The Department of Foreign Affairs-funded Australia Network currently broadcasts into 44 countries across the Asia-Pacific. Radio Australia has a network of 11 around-the-clock stations in almost every Pacific capital city.

Mr Scott’s plan will also seek to give the ABC a strategic advantage as it battles with Sky News for the contract to run the Australia Network, which expires in 2011.