ABC Alumni sleuths find evidence of Government attack on ABC independence

ABC Alumni sleuths find evidence of Government attack on ABC independence

A confidential 1976 Federal Government report – found only through the efforts of former ABC staffers – has revealed details about one of the “most serious attacks on the ABC’s independence in its history”.

Women working at 3ZZ in the 1970s

The report outlines the reasons why Radio 3ZZ – launched by the ABC in Melbourne in May 1975 to pioneer community access and multiculturalism in public broadcasting – was shut down two years later by the Fraser Government, with the assistance of the Commonwealth police.

Alex Butler and Fay Woodhouse are part of a group of former 3ZZ staff members who decided in 2021 to track down the details of the closing of the station, which was broadcasting weekly in 26 languages when it was closed.

A previous history, Radio Power, outlined the success and impact of the station despite its short history, but the 30 year ban on access to Cabinet documents meant that author, Joan Dugdale, had not had access to the confidential document or other material.

And in a plot twist reminiscent of the best true crime podcast, the report was only found by sheer luck and the persistence of the former staffers in an incorrectly labelled folder at the National Archives in Canberra.

In an ABC Alumni article, Butler and Woodhouse say that the report finally reveals that the station closure was the result of a “successful strategy by the new conservative Government to bring the ABC back into line after becoming, in its opinion, too radical during the Whitlam years”.

Project funding always too risky

The recovered report also shows that there is too much risk associated with funding tied to a program or project rather than ABC operational funding. 

In May, ABC Friends welcomed the Government’s Budget announcement that it had moved funding of two key initiatives into its operational grant, guaranteeing the programs’ futures for the first time.

The Enhanced News Gathering program, which provides a valuable service for local communities, and the TV audio description program were both secured.

We will continue to campaign for such funding of key programs.

Sophie Arnold
E-News Editor