On 22 August 1996, the Academy made the following submission to the Mansfield Enquiry into the ABC.
The Australian Academy of Science is concerned with the promotion of science. Our activities cover advice to government on science policy, international relations in science, science education and science-industry linkages.
We are also concerned that Australians have enough understanding of scientific knowledge and methods to make informed decisions as citizens on the many public policy matters that involve science. The work of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation has been extraordinarily important in this area.
The ABC's Science Unit in particular has a remarkable record of achievement in science programming. It has produced programming in substantial quantity and of a consistently high quality. The weekly Science Show and Health Report are two of its outstanding achievements, but no doubt the expertise of Mr Robyn Williams and Dr Norman Swan, and their colleagues, support the inclusion of science content of a high standard in other programmes that would otherwise have lacked it. The capacity to absorb, assess and communicate advances in science is no small talent, and to have attracted and retained people of the calibre of Williams and Swan has been a major contribution to public awareness of science in Australia. On radio there is, to my knowledge, no alternative source of information and discussion of comparable competence.
On television, the magazine program Qantum provides a high-quality science input in the difficult peak-viewing time zone. I understand there is no commercial equivalent.
In its science programming the ABC is providing a very important public service that would otherwise be largely absent from broadcasting. In the Academy's view it is precisely the kind of broadcasting for which public broadcasters are needed, and should be given a high priority in the ABC's plans for its future. The quantity of this programming has been contracting in recent years, and we understand that ABC management plans further substantial reductions. We are particularly concerned about proposed programming cuts for "Qantum" and for radio science.
There is scope for the ABC to enhance its communication of science and technology. The audience for science programming contains too few young people who nevertheless have an appetite for news about issues that can not be understood in isolation from science knowledge, such as environmental issues. This is not an easy task, but the ABC's youth network JJJ provides one opportunity, and the obligation, to do more.
In the Academy's view the commercial broadcasters could do more to communicate science. However, there will always be a need for the public broadcaster to provide a depth of content and quality of treatment that the commercial broadcasters are unlikely to attempt.
The Academy supports strongly the continuation of the ABC's science unit as a focus of expertise in science broadcasting, and considers that science broadcasting is a prime responsibility of the national broadcaster.
The science presence on ABC television should be enhanced.
The ABC should also make additional efforts to provide science broadcasting suitable for children and young adults.
G J V Nossal
© 2021 Australian Academy of Science