ABC to launch 24-hour news channel

Australian pubcaster move raises competitors' eyebrows

SYDNEY -- The Australian Broadcasting Corp. said Thursday that it will launch a new 24-hour domestic news channel as part of its suite of digital terrestrial channels this year, following an upgrade to its internal news gathering and broadcast systems in the last few years. 

“No media organization in the country is better equipped to deliver this channel than the national broadcaster,” ABC managing director Mark Scott said Thursday announcing the broadcasters plans, which come just two months after the successful launch of kids channel, ABC3. 

“We can draw on the investment already made in the ABC, through its major newsrooms in every state and territory, 12 international bureaus and 60 regional newsrooms, to deliver to Australians a top-quality 24-hour news service that is comprehensive, independent and up to the minute," Scott said.

The channel will provide live continuous news coverage of major breaking stories from Australia and around the world, according to an ABC statement.

“Broadcasting around the clock will enable the ABC to increase its in-depth coverage of local, national and international affairs through background features and analysis, combined with the ABC’s unrivaled long-form current affairs reporting,” it said. 

The ABC said its capacity to “go live” with continuous news coverage will feed into its international channel, Australia Television, covering audiences in 44 countries. 

New programs are being developed specifically for the channel, while many of the ABC’s existing television news and current affairs programs will also be featured. A launch date and program line-up are yet to be set. 

Scott said that because of the national broadcaster’s investment in new newsgathering and broadcast technologies and processes in recent years, the channel will require no additional funding from the federal government. 

He said the project was a vital part of the ABC’s charter obligation to” inform the public and provide innovative and comprehensive broadcasting services of a high standard."  

The announcement of the channel comes concurrently with the upcoming expiry of the contract to run Australia Television. The international channel is currently operated by the ABC but the is “owned” by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The ABC is expected to face stiff competition from commercial 24-hour news service, Sky News Australia, in its bid to extend the contract. 

And in November the ABC’s Scott also outlined ambitious international expansion plans under which the ABC’s Australia Television would compete with CNNI and BBC World. They would initially focus on launching TV news and entertainment channel and radio services in China and India, followed by a staged rollout to the Middle East, Latin America and Europe and North America. 

The ABC’s plans have already drawn fire from News Ltd. and commercial news service, Sky News Australia. 

Longtime News executive Malcolm Colless said that the plan “amounts to a taxpayer-funded declaration of war on commercial media outlets in Australia. It also raises serious questions about the ability of the national broadcaster to support its image as the provider of high quality news and current affairs programming,” he said.

Colless said that ABC insiders are concerned that with no additional funding from the government for this service, ABC management will have to rely on savings in other areas to underwrite this digital channel.

News’s parent News Corp. is a shareholder in Sky News Australia alongside the Seven Media Group and Nine Network owner PBL Media. 

Sky has expanded in recent years from a single channel 24-hour news service to a multichannel service offering news, business news and local news channels and a six panel interactive news service as well as the 24-hour public affairs channel APAC. 

Communications minister Stephen Conroy welcomed the announcement saying “The ABC is an integral part of our national media landscape and this new channel will be a welcome addition to the high quality services it offers Australian digital television viewers." 

“The provision of news and current affairs is central to the ABC charter and the new news and current affairs channel will continue a great tradition of innovation at our national broadcaster.”

The channel will provide “another great reason” to make the switch to digital television, he added.