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Australia – (F1) Geographic distribution of news media availability

Score in short:

Due to Australia’s geography and population distribution, regional areas are less well served than the metropolitan centres, where all media are available.

Score in detail:

In a country the size of Australia – 21.5 times the size of Germany and 186 times the size of Switzerland – and with a population density of close to 3 persons per square kilometre, it is no surprise that there are regional divides. Large parts of Australia are unpopulated or have so few people living in them that infrastructure, in particular broadband and mobile telephony coverage, has always been a problem for regional areas, and has been hotly fought over politically. Access to the media is no problem in the capital cities and large regional centres.

The media consist of commercial and public broadcaster radio and television stations, daily newspapers, as well as a large array of journals.

Table 2. Access to telecommunications in Australia

Media type Household access
Free-to-air TV 99 %
Digital free-to-air TV 77 %
Pay TV 32 %
Internet 78 %
Broadband 62 %

Source: ABS 2009b.

These figures show that analog free-to-air television, provided by the public broadcaster, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and, in the main, three commercial television networks, is available to 99 % of Australians, while the percentage of digital free-to-air users is increasing. In breaking down these figures, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA 2008, 7) shows that socio-economic reasons play the large part in determining access to the Internet, whereas country location has the largest impact on broadband access.

Access to radio is put at 99 %, and the availability map for 2007 shows that most of Australia is serviced by one to five stations, and up to twelve in the metropolitan centres (ACMA 2009). There are 274 commercial radio broadcasting licences in Australia, including 150 FM licences and 106 AM licences, with the largest concentrations of commercial radio licences in the major capital cities. Most regional centres are served by two licensees, typically with one AM and one FM service.

Table 3. Number of commercial radio licences by city

CityNumber of comercial licences

Source: ACMA licensing information (ACMA 2008, 4).

The public broadcaster, Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), provides 60 local radio stations throughout Australia, and four national broadcast networks: the national talk network, Radio National; the national news network, News Radio; the national youth network, Triple J and the national classic music network, Classic FM. Via shortwave, satellite and online Radio Australia broadcasts in the Asia-Pacific region.

The second public broadcaster, Special Broadcasting Service (SBS), whose brief it is to broadcast to Australia’s various migrant ethnic groups (Ang 2008), broadcasts in 68 languages to all capital cities and key regional centres on a mix of FM and AM frequencies. SBS radio provides Australian and international news, homeland news, a mixture of current affairs, interviews, community information, sport and music (ACMA 2008)

In terms of television, the public broadcasters Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) and Special Broadcasting Service (SBS), and three major commercial networks, Seven, Nine and Ten, are the main providers of free-to-air television. The ABC’s analog service is available to more than 98 % of the Australian population. SBS’s multilingual and multicultural television services reach 95 % of the Australian population through its analog service and 80 % through its digital service.

Map 1. Radio availability in Australia by licence area, January 2007

There are 28 distinct commercial television licence areas across Australia. Broadcast planning provides for three commercial television licence operators in Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney. The Seven, Nine and Ten networks operate in each of these cities. There are three licensees operating in Canberra and Hobart, and two in Darwin. In regional areas, the majority of broadcasting is provided by the NBN, Prime, Seven Queensland, Southern Cross Broadcasting and WIN networks (ACMA 2008).

Permanent community television services were established in Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney in 2004. In January 2007, there were 83 permanent community television licences, 79 of which were remote Indigenous media services (ACMA 2008).

Until 2001 only a limited number of analog free-to-air television channels were available. From 2001 the two public broadcasters and from 2004 the commercial channels have begun to add further digital channels.

In 2006 the reach of the major television companies was given as such:

Table 4. Reach of television broadcasters

Commercial broadcaster Channel name Reach
Seven Media Group Seven 72 %
Ten Network Holdings Ten 65 %
Nine Entertainment Co. Nine 51.5 %
Southern Cross Broadcasting Australia Ltd Southern Cross Television (Regional) 42 %
Prime Television Ltd Prime, Golden West Network, (GWN) (Regional)25 %
WIN Corporation Pty Ltd Public broadcaster WIN (Regional) 26 %
Australian Broadcasting Corporation ABC 98 %
Special Broadcasting Service SBS 97 %

Source: Jackson 2006.

The reach of the major commercial television broadcasters is calculated according to the number of metropolitan and regional television licences they hold. The Seven Media Group controls five metropolitan and one regional television licences; the Ten Network controls five metropolitan television licences and the Nine entertainment Co, which also is Australia’s largest magazine publisher, controls three metropolitan and one regional television licences. The regionally based Southern Cross Broadcasting has one metropolitan and seven regional television licences. Recent audience share figures show the following:

Channel Channel 7 Pay TV Channel 9 Channel 10 ABC SBS
Audience Share 23.9 % 21.3 % 20.9 % 14.5 % 13.5 % 3.3 %

Source: The Numbers, 1.11. 2010.

Despite an overall decline of metro newspaper circulations (daily and Sunday) in Australia of 7.31 % since 2000, this compares favourably with falls in circulation in other english-speaking countries.

Table 5. Circulation figures October – December 2009

Newspaper Oct-Dec 09 Newspaper Oct-Dec 09
National Queensland Regionals
Australian 131,246 NewsMail (Bundaberg) 10,926
Weekend Australian 300,941 Cairns Post 25,626
Aust Financial Review 77,470 Gladstone Observer 6,949
Aust Financial Review (Sat) 84,528 Gold Coast Bulletin 44,232
NSW Gympie Times 5,630
Daily Telegraph 359,171 Queensland Times (Ipswich) 10,512
Daily Telegraph (Sat) 322,456 Daily Mercury (Mackay) 15,421
Sunday Telegraph 632,009 Sunshine Coast Daily 20,603
Sydney Morning Herald 211,006 Fraser Coast Chronicle 9,406
Sydney Morning Herald (Sat) 353,878 Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton) 18,036
Sun-Herald 442,357 Chronicle (Toowoomba) 22,644
NSW Regionals Townsville Bulletin 29,147
Border Mail (Albury) 24,734 Daily News (Warwick) 3,344
Barrier Daily Truth (Broken Hill) 5,928 South Australia
Daily Liberal (Dubbo) 5,299 Advertiser 180,853
Daily Examiner (Grafton) 5,554 Advertiser (Sat) 250,757
Northern Star (Lismore) 14,466 Sunday Mail 300,483
Herald (Newcastle) 48,500 Western Australia
Northern Daily Leader (Tamworth) 7,454 West Australian 188,211
Daily Advertiser (Wagga Wagga) 11,655 West Australian (Sat) 327,251
Illawarra Mercury (Wollongong) 26,997 Sunday Times 315,024
Victoria Western Australia Regional
Herald Sun 514,000+ Kalgoorlie Miner 5,612
Herald Sun (Sat) 503,000+ Tasmania
Sunday Herald Sun 601,000+ Mercury 45,210
Age 202,100 Mercury (Sat) 61,123
Age (Sat) 291,000 Sunday Tasmanian 58,968
Sunday Age 228,600 Tasmania Regionals
Victoria Regionals Advocate (Burnie) 23,545
Courier (Ballarat) 18,631 Examiner (Launceston) 32,245
Advertiser (Bendigo) 13,860 Sunday Examiner 39,307
Geelong Advertiser 29,276 Northern Territory
Sunraysia Daily (Mildura) 7,268 Northern Territory News 20,553
News (Shepparton) 10,414 NT News (Sat) 31,084
Standard (Warrnambool) 12,801 Sunday Territorian 21,640
Queensland ACT
Courier-Mail 211,230 Canberra Times 33,000
Courier-Mail (Sat) 288,924 Canberra Times (Sat) 55,000
Sunday Mail 300,483 Canberra Times (Sun) 33,000

Source: Isaacs 2010b, 9-11.

Australia does not have the diversity of daily print media experienced until recently in the United States or europe. Its demographic distribution brought about a higher concentration of press ownership much earlier. There are two national papers, The Australian and The Financial Review. each of Australia’s major cities has one local or metropolitan paper, with only Sydney and Melbourne having two papers, one broadsheet and one tabloid.