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1301.0 - Year Book Australia, 2002  
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 25/01/2002   
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Contents >> Culture and Recreation >> Radio and television broadcasting

Broadcasting services in Australia are regulated primarily through the Broadcasting Services Act 1992. The Act identifies and defines categories of broadcasting services, establishes regulatory arrangements for broadcasting services, and establishes the Australian Broadcasting Authority (ABA) as the independent regulator for radio and television in Australia.

The Act defines six categories of broadcasting services covering both radio and television:

  • national broadcasting services - the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) and the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) are largely regulated through separate legislation;
  • community broadcasting services - non-profit free-to-air services provided for community purposes;
  • commercial broadcasting services - free-to-air radio and television services operated for profit and funded predominantly by advertising revenue;
  • subscription broadcasting services - services with general appeal to the public and funded predominantly by customer subscriptions;
  • subscription narrowcasting services - services with limited appeal to the public (either because of content or availability) and funded predominantly by customer subscriptions; and
  • open narrowcasting services - services providing programs targeted to special interests groups (e.g. foreign language), or of limited appeal because of content or availability, and not funded by subscriptions.


Broadcasting and transmission

In March 1999, the telecommunications company ntl won the bid to own and operate the National Transmission Network, previously managed by the National Transmission Agency. The transmission network comprises 560 strategic sites across metropolitan, regional and rural Australia, and ntl's core business is to transmit the analogue television and radio broadcasts by the ABC and SBS. Commercial and community broadcasters, emergency services and telecommunications operators have also leased space on the sites.


Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC)

The ABC has been in existence since 1932 as Australia's only national, non-commercial broadcaster. At 30 June 1999 the ABC provided:
  • a national television service carried on about 600 transmitters;
  • six distinctly targeted radio networks across Australia on over 6,000 transmitters which include metropolitan radio stations in nine cities, 39 regional radio stations and 11 smaller studios, Radio National, ClassicFM and the Triple-J (FM) youth radio network;
  • Radio Australia, an international radio service broadcast by shortwave to Papua New Guinea and the Pacific, and via satellite to the Asia-Pacific regions in English and other languages;
  • a 24-hour news and parliamentary broadcast radio service to all capital cities and to Newcastle;
  • an international network of press offices; and
  • an on-line service which includes news and program related sites.

Additional information about the ABC can be found on its website at http://www.abc.net.au


Special Broadcasting Service (SBS)

SBS was established by the Commonwealth Government in 1978. Its principal function is to provide multilingual and multicultural radio and television services that inform, educate and entertain all Australians and, in doing so, reflect Australia's multicultural society.

Both SBS Radio and SBS Television broadcast nationally. The radio service has its origins in 1975 when ethnic radio stations 2EA in Sydney and 3EA in Melbourne began limited broadcasts. By 1996 SBS Radio had expanded to its current five signal service broadcasting in 68 languages. It operates a national signal heard in all capital cities and key regional centres, and separate AM and FM signals in Sydney and Melbourne. It broadcasts in more languages than any other radio network in the world.

SBS Television, which began in 1980, is watched by more than six million people each week. More than half of the programs broadcast are in languages other than English, but they are made accessible to all Australians through subtitling. SBS Television broadcasts in more than 60 languages, more than any other television network in the world, and has access to over 400 national and international program sources.

Under the Commonwealth Government's $120m Television Fund, announced in 1999, SBS Television has progressively been introduced to 30 regional areas, each containing more than 10,000 people. The scheme, involving the installation of 78 new transmitter sites, was completed in mid-2001. This will make SBS available to an additional 1.2 million potential viewers.

Additional information about the SBS can be found on its website at http://www.sbs.com.au


Radio and television operations

Australian Broadcasting Authority (ABA)

The ABA, established in October 1992 under the Broadcasting Services Act 1992, is the regulator for radio and television broadcasting, digital broadcasting and Internet content in Australia. As well as planning the availability of segments of the broadcasting services bands (VHF/UHF television, FM and AM radio), the Authority has the power to allocate, renew, suspend and cancel licences and collect any fees payable for those licences.

Under the Television Broadcasting Services (Digital Conversion) Act 1998, the ABA was empowered to regulate for the introduction of digital broadcasting services in Australia from 1 January 2001.

The commercial and national broadcasters will use the DVB-T standard in providing their digital television services. They will also be required to simulcast their signal using the analogue service for the first eight years. Provision also has been made for datacasting services to use the broadcasting services bands.

The ABA continues to monitor international developments in Digital Radio Broadcasting.

The ABA is empowered to:
  • conduct research into community attitudes on programming matters;
  • develop program standards relating to broadcasting in Australia;
  • assist broadcasting service providers (licensees) develop codes of practice;
  • monitor compliance with licence conditions and codes of practice; and
  • investigate complaints about services.

The ABA administers a co-regulatory scheme for Internet content which applies to Internet content hosts and Internet service providers. It will also have a role in administering aspects of the Interactive Gambling Act 2001. The key provisions, to become operational in January 2002, include investigation of complaints about interactive gambling content, and registration of industry codes of practice (and/or determination of industry standards) relating to certain interactive gambling matters.

Additional information about the ABA can be found on its website at http://www.aba.gov.au


Television and radio services - summary of operations

Since the last edition of Year Book Australia, data summarising operations for 1999-2000 have become available for private television broadcasters. For private radio broadcasters and for public radio and television the operations data relate to 1996-97 (though some more current data are included in the above sections on the ABC and SBS).

At the end of June 2000 there were 41 private sector television broadcasters operating 48 television stations and 7 pay television stations. In 1999-2000 their total income was $4,181.9m, they employed 10,668 persons and had a net worth of $2,810.1m. Commercial free-to-air television broadcasters recorded an operating profit before tax of $803.5m, while pay television broadcasters reported a loss of $675.8m.

At 30 June 1997, there were 261 private broadcasters in radio services which employed 5,064 persons. Most of the income of private broadcasters in 1996-97 was derived from the sale of airtime. Private radio broadcasters had an operating surplus of $92.6m.

The two public broadcasters of radio and television services employed a total of 5,248 persons at the end of June 1997. Their income totalled $775.6m in 1996-97, with expenses totalling $772.1m.

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