Right when Australia finds itself with serious strategic interests in its neighbourhood, it has managed to turn its once influential international broadcasting voice into a whisper.
One that’s difficult to hear outside a handful of major cities across the region.
Colleagues here at the Lowy Institute have written about international broadcasting before, highlighting its relationship to international diplomacy, lamenting government decisions about funding, and decisions by the national broadcast the ABC about services, and shutting down shortwave broadcasts to the Pacific islands region.
Both sides of politics can share in the blame for the poor state of Australia’s interational broadcasting.
Labor’s bitter internal wrangling over whether a contract for international television should be outsourced to Sky News over the ABC left the way clear for the incoming Abbott government to simply axe the contract entirely.
And let's not let off the hook the decision makers at the ABC who took the opportunity of a funding “crisis” to seek elusive digital audiences in China – while junking decades of experience broadcasting to audiences in Southeast Asia and the Pacific.
The much reduced Radio Australia is still providing important news and current affairs coverage for the Pacific. Its last remaining foreign language broadcast service – in Tok Pisin – is still keeping audiences informed in remote Papua New Guinea and across Melanesia. The ABC’s website is still producing news in Mandarin and Indonesian. A bare-bones television service can be found – with some effort – across the region.
The elements are there to once again gently raise the volume of Australia’s voice in the region.