1 9 6 1 – Current (Australia)
Four Corners debuted on the Australian ABC network on 19 August 1961 and went on to become that country’s longest-running and most acclaimed weekly current affairs programme.
The show was originally conceived as a programme with a magazine format offering an informed commentary on the week’s events, filling a space on Australian television roughly comparable to the BBC’s Panorama (from which it often borrowed material in the 1960s) or the early current affairs programming developed by CBS in the USA.
The programme frequently presents itself as personalised and argumentative, with the narrator generally appearing on-screen, rather than the off-screen “voice-of-God” narration which was the dominant convention in 1950s documentaries.
Since the mid-70s, the programme has developed the format of a 45-minute topical documentary introduced by a studio host, occasionally varied with studio debate. The most frequently cited examples are investigative reports which have had a direct impact on political institutions, such as the 1987 programme ‘The Moonlight State’ which revealed corruption at high levels in the Queensland police force and prompted the ‘Fitzgerald Inquiry’.
Another chilling report from the Four Corners team helped to reveal that the French secret service had been responsible for the bombing of the Greenpeace boat, Rainbow Warrior.
Four Corners has consistently been accused of political bias (of a left-wing orientation) and for failing to abide by the ABC’s charter which requires “balance” in the coverage of news and current affairs.
The programme is defended by ABC management and supporters on the grounds that the importance of open public debate outweighs the damage that might be caused to interested parties and that while the programme may be argumentative it is not unfair.
The programme is also a frequent point of reference in debates over government-funded broadcasting. Four Corners has never achieved high ratings by the standards of the commercial networks and is often contrasted in content and style to commercial rivals such as 60 Minutes which is able to claim much wider popular appeal.
Despite increasing pressure on the ABC to become more commercially oriented, the show has continued to articulate values which are distinct from considerations of popularity: The importance of representing positions and points of view of minorities, the necessity of forcing public institutions to be accountable, and a place for television current affairs to perform an educational role.
1962 – 1963
1965 – 1967
1969 – 1971
1971 – 1972
1985 – 1994