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The ABC of soft diplomacy -

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The ABC of soft diplomacy

Eleanor Hall reported this story on Thursday, November 5, 2009 12:21:00

ELEANOR HALL: The head of the ABC Mark Scott will this evening outline a plan to extend the
organisation's reach overseas. Mr Scott is proposing that the ABC take its operations to Africa,
the Middle East and Latin America, in addition to opening up five new bureaus in the Asia-Pacific
region.

He says that with Australia having played a critical role in the creation of the G20, it is now
timely for the ABC to engage in "soft diplomacy" to promote Australian culture and values.

The ABC's managing director, Mark Scott, joins us now in The World Today studio. Mark Scott thanks
for coming in, this is certainly an ambitious plan, how much would it cost?

MARK SCOTT: Well I think it depends on the extent of your ambitions and the timetable Eleanor, but
I think we see it's a unique opportunity for Australia. We're at the G20 table and Australia, the
Prime Minister talks about punching above our weight - we are now at a place where we are at the
key forum for economic decision making, we've got a crucial role to play in Copenhagen and in many
areas Australia's voice needs to be heard.

And one of the ways of doing that is soft diplomacy, and soft diplomacy is all about reaching out
to people not to governments, and influencing them favourably towards yourself as they understand
better your values, your culture and your way of life.

And the most powerful way of doing that is through the media, that's what nearly all other
countries in the G20 are doing very aggressively and Australia is doing it but only to a minor
degree so far and we think there's a lot more we can do.

ELEANOR HALL: So put some numbers on for us?

MARK SCOTT: Well take a look at what the BBC does. The UK spends $900 million on its international
broadcasting arm, the French and the Germans are spending around $600 million each, Japan $200
million, China has announced a multi-billion, multi-year plan to expand their international
broadcasting arm, and in Australia we're spending $35 million.

Now we're spending that money well we think, with Radio Australia very influential in the Pacific,
and again this week after events in Fiji the role of Radio Australia vital. Australia Network with
about a $20 million budget we're reaching into 44 countries in the region. But we think with some
more money we can do significantly more, we can get better content into more homes and get the
Australian message out.

ELEANOR HALL: How much more money are we talking?

MARK SCOTT: Well look, we're even saying a doubling from $35 to $70 million puts us about level
pegging with how much Singapore is currently spending on its international broadcasting, and
significantly below what most of the other G20 countries are spending.

But for a doubling of our effort, we could get our Australia Network into tens of millions of more
homes and the kind of people who are going to watch this network are people who are interested in
Australia, interested in doing business with us, doing trade with us, sending their sons and
daughters here to be educated, great tourism opportunities.

And what we do through this international broadcasting is put Australia on display and a key to it
is the news and current affairs service provided by the ABC.

ELEANOR HALL: It's a tricky realm though for a news organisation isn't it - soft diplomacy - isn't
it really up to the Government to take on this role?

MARK SCOTT: No I don't think so and I think if you look at the great examples around the world it
is of soft diplomacy in action. The ABC has been in the international broadcasting business for 70
years now and part of what we offer, part of what we put on display, is robust independent
journalism.

When I travel in Asia, I mean people comment on the programs we put to air on Australia Network
like Insiders and part of Australian democracy on display is robust debate, contestability,
journalists willing to ask tough questions of politicians who are providing the funding for that
network - that's what we are offering.

It's certainly not propaganda, it's not state broadcasting, it's not a chanting of a government
line, but it's a contemporary independent democracy on show and that's the value, that's the value
of what we're offering.

ELEANOR HALL: If you're asking for a doubling of funds though, I mean are you expecting to get some
of this money from the Department of Foreign Affairs and if so would that be tied or untied, and to
that extent would it then impinge on our ability to remain independent?

MARK SCOTT: No, no. Because Australia Network is currently funded by the Department of Foreign
Affairs to the tune of $20 million a year, they provide that funding and part of what they are
funding is the independent news service that showcases modern Australian democracy.

And so if the Department of Foreign Affairs was to put in more money it would be to showcase what
we're doing now, but to do it more effectively. I think we've got to realise as well that if we
don't step into this space, other G20 countries will, and already this year - Chinese Government,
Japanese, German, French have all announced major expansion of television networks in the region.

Asia-Pacific is the focus of this activity, it's going to be the Asian-Pacific century, it's where
the growth is going to come, it's where the wealth is being generated around the world, and unless
Australia steps up then others will do so.

And we feel particularly with our news and current affairs service, with the investment we already
have in journalism in the region then there's no reason why Australia and the ABC shouldn't be the
preeminent source, the authoritative source for news and information this part of the world.

We come from it, we understand it well, we have the resources to do it and so when a big story
breaks in this part of the world we think the rest of the world should look to Australia and look
to the ABC to be the authoritative source.

ELEANOR HALL: If that's the case though why go so broad? I mean, why go to Latin America, why go to
Africa? Why not just focus the ABC's resources on our own region and really build the ABC's
reputation as the quality broadcaster in the Asia-Pacific?

MARK SCOTT: Yeah, I think what we're really saying here is the focus of our news generation, the
focus of our reporting will be on the Asia-Pacific region but you want to make that available
around the world, and there are different ways of doing so. So that those in Latin America who are
interested in this part of the world, who are going to develop trade links with Australia, that
they can access this content - similarly in the Middle East, similarly in Western Europe.

But the focus of our reporting fundamentally will be on the Asia-Pacific region, but we know from
our experience that if you can present some of say that content in Arabic, then your audience for
that will significantly grow in those parts of the world. But our focus will be on the backyard.

ELEANOR HALL: Now you've flagged opening up five new bureaus in the region. Where will they be?

MARK SCOTT: We'd still be determining that. At the moment we have numbers of bureaus for the ABC
and Australia Network, but there are other places we'd like to drop journalists in to expand our
reach.

But that will depend finally on the funding, and so this is saying to the Government we've taken
the Government's language seriously about Australia's global ambitions. They've talked about soft
diplomacy. The most effective way of advancing soft diplomacy is through the power of the media and
we think that there is a significant role the ABC can play in that.

ELEANOR HALL: Now a few months ago the chief executive of Sky News Angelos Frangopoulos outlined
plans to expand the Australia Network into the global news service - is this vision today a bit of
a response to Sky?

MARK SCOTT: No I think I'd simply say that if you look at where the growth is happening all around
the world it's happening with governments using their public broadcasters to deliver this. You
can't outsource your diplomatic effort.

Now one of the great things that I've already experienced at the ABC is when you go and talk with
the Chinese Government or representatives in India or broadcasters in Malaysia or elsewhere, you
can walk in as a representative of the ABC and you have no other agenda on the table. We have no
other business there, we have no other media interest there, we're asking for nothing more than
access for our broadcasting service.

And if you look at where all the growth is, the French, the Germans, the British - that's all
happening through the public broadcaster and we are best equipped to play this role of that there's
no doubt.

ELEANOR HALL: Are you ready though to pick fights with some of the biggest news operators in the
world?

MARK SCOTT: Well we think, we're not going to take them on everywhere, but we think in our
backyard, in covering Asia and the Pacific, then no one is better equipped, no one has a better
understanding and no one has a longer heritage of doing that than the ABC.

ELEANOR HALL: Mark Scott thanks very much for joining us.

MARK SCOTT: Thanks Eleanor.

ELEANOR HALL: That's Mark Scott, the managing director of the ABC with his new plans for the ABC's
international operations.