A new digital news report shows that most Australians think the ABC is important to themselves personally and to society more generally. However, the ABC’s struggle to attract younger audiences was also reflected in the survey, which showed Gen Z the least likely cohort to say public media is important to them personally.
Prepared by researchers at the University of Canberra News and Media Research Centre as part of a long-running international survey coordinated by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, the Digital News Report: Australia 2023 said that while funding of public service media in Australia is a "traditional political football", SBS and ABC always find refuge in broad community support.
Some 60% of Australian respondents said that the ABC and SBS are "very" or "quite" important to society and 52% said they are important to their own lives.
Researchers said the findings reflect Australians' appreciation for the commercial and political independence of the national broadcasters, which consistently receive high trust scores in the survey.
And while the research also found that left-leaning audiences are most likely to be supportive of the role of public media organisations, age and education are just as likely to predict support as political orientation.
The report showed that people with lower education were less likely to support public media than those who are highly educated and that women and people on low incomes are less likely to think that public service media is important.
In a contributing chapter, Deakin University Professor Matthew Ricketson writes that the people least likely to consider public service media to be important to them personally are those who consume most of their news via social media.
However, such people may "may well not know the original source of much of the news they are consuming".
"The ABC actually has a strong presence in online and social media…Its content reaches 17 million monthly unique viewers on YouTube, the number of its Instagram users grew 15% in the last year and the ABC’s podcasts recorded a monthly average of 33 million unique downloads — up 22% compared to 2020–21."
Ricketson said that continued support for the ABC shows that people continue to value public media which was "regarded by media scholars as fusty, old-fashioned and destined to fade at the dawn of the digital media age".
Ricketson said that, instead, many public broadcasters had proved themselves “unexpectedly nimble in adapting to the possibilities created by new communication technologies”.
"During the same period their commercial broadcast rivals have gradually lost audiences to online media and, especially, streaming services while the nation’s big newspaper companies have struggled to find a new business model to offset the loss in advertising revenue to stand-alone classified sites," he wrote.
Editor of ABC Friends email newsletter