Mon, May 12, 2014 - Page 8 News List

Australian TV station under threat

By Bradley Winterton

Australia Network, the top-quality TV station beamed to 46 countries in the Asia-Pacific region, including Taiwan, is almost certain to be axed by Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s government in its budget expected tomorrow.

If this happens, it will be a tragedy for the station’s many fans. With its detailed regional news coverage, in-depth interviews of regional politicians, unparalleled sports reporting — and particularly its very extensive rebroadcasting of serious documentaries gleaned from networks around the world — Australia Network is often credited with being the best English-language TV channel its viewers have ever seen.

The station combines original news broadcasts with some of the most charismatic programs created in Australia. As a result, such personalities as news anchor Jim Middleton, financial analyst Alan Kohler and Q&A host Tony Jones are household names for many English-speaking viewers throughout the Asia-Pacific region.

They present the finest face of Australia — well-informed, fair-minded and cheerful, yet serious. For such a carefully nurtured lineup to be abandoned in the interests of financial savings — especially in the context of an economy that is generally perceived as doing well — would be an act of unbelievable folly.

That Australia Network presents such a distinguished image of its country of origin has not been lost on observers. Those used to other TV stations are routinely astonished at the brevity of its commercial breaks — most programs have none at all — and the absence of both trivia from its programming and bias from its reporting.

In addition, Australia Network has a very distinguished record in English-language education, and programs devoted to this dominate the daylight hours in its target countries. For many viewers, it is this that will be missed most keenly.

A sign, perhaps, of its combination of accessibility and nonpartisan objectivity, plus its expertise at teaching the English language, is that the network was in the process of finalizing a deal to make its programs available throughout China, in conjunction with the Shanghai Media Group.

Australia would have been the third foreign country to win access to that gigantic audience. The promotional value to Australia’s image would have been impossible to overestimate, but with the likely imminent closure of the station this huge potential will quite possibly be entirely lost.

There are other media companies waiting in the wings to take over Australia Network’s role. The tendering process by which Australia’s national public broadcaster, the Australian Broadcasting Corp, was given the right to run the station under Australia’s previous Labor government had its critics and this is not the place to repeat rumors that the Abbott administration is eager to allot the franchise to a business-friendly corporation such as Sky News.

However, if that is the outcome one cannot help but wonder whether Beijing will be as eager to admit [Sky’s] broadcasts as China’s government clearly has been to accept those of Australia Network.

Australia Network is not available to viewers within Australia. Even so, it does rebroadcast many programs familiar to Australian viewers, such as the drama series Packed to the Rafters and Home and Away, a program that investigates people’s ancestry called Who Do You Think You Are?, plus the very lively talk show Q&A, in which a panel of usually five guests from across the political spectrum answer questions live from a studio audience, is especially gripping, being both spontaneous and unpredictable. Special editions of Q&A were recently broadcast from India and China.

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