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ABC and SBS: lessons from the front line

Date: Monday, 8 December 2008

This seminar shared the insights of public broadcasting leaders about how the national broadcasters can make the best contribution to Australian society.  Obvious issues included:

  • new or different services in the multi-channel, digital environment
  • support for innovative services in Australia and its region
  • how to achieve stable, efficient funding
  • independence and relations with Parliament and executive government

The seminar was held at short notice, because of the 12 December deadline for submissions to the federal government inquiry into the ABC and SBS.  With all the usual debating points included in the inquiry agenda, we decided to inject a new element into public discussion: hard-bitten experience. 

All the speakers have worked and lived with public broadcasting issues for years.  Rather than inviting people who still work for the ABC or SBS, we invited people who had freedom to offer frank opinions about issues such as multichanneling, funding, and bureaucracy.  Their experience is a sample of different periods in ABC and SBS history, and of the gamut of roles from journalist to managing director:

Andy Lloyd James, founding General Manager of SBS Independent 1993-6, ABC Head of Drama then ABC Head of National Networks 1996-2000.
 (currently Adjunct Professor, University of Technology Sydney)
Malcolm Long, ABC reporter, producer, network manager, then Deputy MD 1991-93, Head of Radio 1985-91.  SBS Managing Director 1993-98.  [slides]
  (currently Chairman, National Institute of Dramatic Art and Director, Macquarie   Communications Infrastructure Group)
Ian McGarrity, former Head of SBS TV, GM ABC TV resources, Head of ABC Development. [slides]
  (currently a consultant to the television industry in Australia and overseas)
Nigel Milan, SBS Managing Director 1998-2005, CEO Radio New Zealand 1992-96.
  (currently CEO, Royal Flying Doctor Service)
Helen O'Neil, ABC journalist, reporter, then policy adviser to the board 1979-87.
  (currently Executive Director, Council for the Humanities, Arts And Social Sciences)
Professor Julianne Schultz, 1998-2000 ABC GM Corporate Strategy and Communications; 2008 Co-chair of the Creative Australia stream at the 2020 Summit
  (currently author, consultant and editor of Griffith REVIEW)

We minimised any agenda-setting for this event.  The whole idea was to ask the six public broadcasting leaders to say what they thought should be done in future, given their experience from the front line at the ABC, SBS and elsewhere.  We suggested that in their session each of them address at least one internal issue, such as programming or management, and one external issue such as funding or relations with government. 

The seminar was not limited to scope of the current government inquiry.  However, it you wish to read Towards a digital future, the discussion paper for that inquiry, you can download it from:
If you want to skim through issues raised in that paper, click here to download a cut and pasted collection of the summaries at the end of its successive chapters.

To read the government's recent statement about ABC & SBS Board appointments, go to

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