The huge news events of the Black Summer bushfires and the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated the value of ABC News to the Australian community as never before. In March 2020, 84% of Australians surveyed agreed ABC News ‘is a valuable source of news to the Australian community’ and 72% agreed it is ‘Australia’s most trusted source of news and current affairs’.1
Turning to the ABC
While news and media consumption were at an all-time industry high, ABC News, with its heritage and trust, experienced greater audience increases than most other players, especially digital coverage. ABC News became Australia's No 1 digital news brand in January and has remained there. In March, its unique digital audience of 15.2 million – 61% of the population – was a record for any digital news brand in Australia, and ABC News digital was ranked No. 1 for audience every day from 29 February to the end of the reporting period.
TV and radio audiences also soared. The ABC NEWS channel recorded its highest results ever, reaching 4.45 million metropolitan Australians on broadcast in the last week of March, while its livestreams on YouTube and ABC iview were up more than 300% and 200% respectively on the 2019 average.2
Shining a light
Flagship ABC broadcast programs continued to produce Australia’s leading in-depth investigative and current affairs journalism, breaking some of the year’s biggest stories. Highlights included 7.30’s exclusive interview with barrister-turned-police informer – or ‘Lawyer X’ – Nicola Gobbo, and investigative piece ‘The Final Race’, which revealed many Australian racehorses were ending up at slaughterhouses. The latter produced public outcry, resulting in changes to the racing industry’s management of racehorse rehoming and welfare.
Four Corners, for decades Australia’s leader in long-form investigative journalism, continued to evolve and strengthen its service with more quick-turnaround programs on current topics such as the bushfires, COVID-19 and the Hong Kong protests. Among its most impactful investigations of the past 12 months, ‘Boys Club’ exposed a toxic culture at Melbourne’s exclusive St Kevin's College, including the grooming of students.
Eye of the storm
To cover the year’s biggest international political story, ABC International established a ‘pop-up’ bureau in Hong Kong, rotating teams from the ABC’s Asia bureaux and Australia to provide nearly six months of ongoing coverage of the protests against the increasing influence of Beijing. This allowed ongoing research and engagement with sources, delivering deeper insights into the people and forces involved, and increasing awareness of the ABC as a trusted source of information in the region.
The ABC was on the ground on the biggest day of protests, when up to two million people made history.
Reporters also sought out and profiled those opposed to the protests, the so-called ‘silent majority’ that Beijing hoped would mount an effective pushback, showing the significant damage the protests caused to economic activity. In co-production with the Asia-Pacific Network, social media explainers were created to examine competing narratives about the protests.
In other news
The Asia-Pacific Newsroom grew audiences, especially for its Chinese language output. The team produced content in Bahasa Indonesian and Tok Pisin as well as English. Between July 2019 and June 2020, there were 5.4 million page views of the Chinese service on the ABC NEWS website and app – 260% above the same period the previous year (1.5 million page views).3 During the same period there were more than 26 million views of content published on Indonesian syndication partner websites, which is 5% up on the same period the previous year,4 and 2.6 million page views of the ABC Bahasa Indonesian service on the ABC NEWS website and app, 101% above the previous year.5
The ABC continued to have by far the largest international reporting operation of any Australian media organisation, with correspondents in Port Moresby, Bangkok, Jakarta, New Delhi, London, Washington, Beijing, Beirut, Jerusalem and Tokyo. The ABC also has a Pacific Affairs correspondent and a Pacific Beat reporter based in the Solomon Islands.
During the year, reporters were on the ground as the coronavirus disaster unfolded around the globe. Other major stories covered by foreign bureaux included Brexit and Boris Johnson’s UK election win, the Women’s Soccer World Cup in France, the Rugby World Cup in Japan, the Bougainville independence referendum, mass student protests in Indonesia, the attempted impeachment of US President Donald Trump, the start of the US Presidential election battle and the Black Lives Matter protests.
Near neighbour New Zealand also became a key focus after two tragedies within 12 months: the mosque shootings in March 2019, followed by the trial and sentencing of the Australian shooter; and the volcanic explosion on White Island in December 2019 while 47 tourists were on a shore excursion (including 24 Australians).
The ABC Kids listen news podcast News Time Podcast unpacked complex topics and featured children’s voices to help kids understand the top five news stories of the week. The show’s host Ruby Cornish regularly receives feedback from parents on its impact:
“Tonight we listened to the latest episode about COVID-19. [My three-year-old Matilda] has been home in voluntary isolation with us and today started talking about missing her friends and cousins. Your words made her feel that her experience was shared at a time when her friends and cousins are not self-isolating…coming from you, who she has come to admire and often quote, it meant the world…Your program has been such an important part of our days.” – Emma N
A trusted neighbour
The ABC’s international media services have promoted awareness and understanding of Australia across the globe for more than 80 years. In particular, the ABC has considerable experience in the Pacific and has an excellent reputation with audiences across the region. In 2019-20, its digital and broadcast services continued to create awareness, understanding and trust to serve as a foundation for Australia's endeavours to increase engagement with our Pacific neighbours. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the ABC’s international media services provided reliable, practical and timely information to the peoples of the Pacific.
Australia’s Ocean Odyssey took viewers along Australia's eastern current from the Great Barrier Reef to Antarctica, revealing how ocean currents create life on our planet. The ABC produced complementary curriculum-aligned education materials using clips from the series aimed at upper primary and lower high school students, as well as stories of Australians involved in citizen science projects and how to get involved. A number of organisations hosted online Q&A discussions with their communities following the broadcast of the series including the Great Barrier Marine Foundation, the Sydney Institute of Marine Science and the WWF.
“Congratulations@ABCTVon such a fantastic#OceanOdysseyAUseries. Engaging, inspiring & informative. 2020 has a been a rough year but if it's shown us anything, we can rise to the challenges before us & create a better world”
Silent No More, a revelatory exploration of how #MeToo is changing Australia, saw veteran journalist Tracey Spicer speaking with Australians who had been affected by sexual harassment and assault. Through sharing their experiences, they addressed how the system must be reformed. Social and iview short series A Few Good Blokes was produced to support the conversation around Silent No More. It followed three Australian men as they worked supporting other men in their communities and exploring what it means to be a good role model. The three-part series had more than 2.5 million views on ABC social media and iview.
Revelation was an important documentary series exploring abuse in the Catholic Church. For the first time, cameras were inside the courtroom as two of the Catholic Church's most notorious child abusers went on trial for sexually assaulting children in their care. In another first, Revelation featured interviews with paedophile priests, one from behind bars in a maximum-security prison.
Education for all ages
ABC Kids Early Education launched as the trusted source on childhood development for parents, families, carers and the early childhood community. The online resource features the latest childhood research and studies and provides early childhood workers with practical and fun exercises that can be used in centres around the country. The ABC's Early Education team also works alongside program makers to embed critical research and updated advice into all ABC Kids in-house programs. https://www.abc.net.au/abckids/early-education/
In July 2019, the ABC celebrated the 50th anniversary of the moon landing (including Australia’s role receiving Apollo 11’s signals) and looked into the future of space exploration. Two television specials were broadcast, Stargazing: Moon and Beyond and Fly Me To The Moon, a suite of digital features including interactives were released, outside radio broadcasts were held, and a series of 10 short audio pieces from ABC Science retold the story ‘as it happened’ over the five days of the journey – distributed across ABC radio and in the Cosmic Vertigo podcast.
The Top 5 ABC Media Residency program is now in its sixth year. Established as a Science residency, Humanities was added three years ago in partnership with the University of Sydney. In 2019-20 Arts was the third residency to join, in partnership with the University of Melbourne and supported by the Australia Council. Researchers from around Australia who are recent PhD graduates (and in the case of Arts, early-career practitioners) are selected to work with Radio National content teams on developing their communication skills and media awareness, so they might be able to share their knowledge and expertise with audiences seeking credible material and informed debate on a variety of current issues. Inaugural recipients of the ABC Top 5 Arts residency included architecture, art, design and screen practitioners.
"Congratulations @ABCTV on such a fantastic #OceanOdysseyAU series. Engaging, inspiring & informative. 2020 has a been a rough year but if it’s shown us anything, we can rise to the challenges before us & create a better world"