BOYER, SIR RICHARD JAMES FILDES (1891–1961)
The longest-serving chairman of the ABC was born at Taree, New South Wales. Graduating from the University of Sydney in 1913, Boyer enlisted in the AIF in 1915. Gassed and wounded at Passchendaele, he was invalided home in 1918 and became a successful grazier in Queensland before returning to Sydney in the late 1930s.
Appointed a Commissioner with the ABC in 1940, Boyer led two Australian delegations to Institute of Pacific Relations conferences in north America in 1942 and 1945. He became chairman of the ABC when the incumbent, W.J. Cleary, resigned in March 1945 following political interference by the Curtin Labor government and tensions with ABC general manager (Sir) Charles Moses. Boyer secured a promise of independence for the ABC from Curtin, and established a workable—though sometimes volatile—relationship with Moses.
However, they were both keen to promote the ABC’s cultural role in the community. Between 1945 and 1950, ABC symphony orchestras were set up in each state capital. In January 1946, a ‘Radio in Education’ conference foreshadowed many of the educational uses to which ABC media could be put. Despite Boyer’s misgivings about cost, the federal government imposed further responsibilities on the ABC: the provision of an independent news service in 1946 and a monopoly of Frequency Modulation (FM) broadcasting in 1948. That year, the ABC was granted funding from consolidated revenue provided representatives of the Postmaster-General’s Department and the Treasury were added to the Commission. However, Boyer managed to retain the ABC’s power over political broadcasts, and in 1956 ensured the bureaucrats were removed from the Commission and replaced by community representatives.
Political interference proved harder to counter. Although Prime Minister Ben Chifley was supportive of the ABC’s independence, other front-benchers interfered. In the Cold War climate of the later 1940s and early 1950s, even mildly radical ABC commentators, such as Professor C.P. Fitzgerald and Dr Peter Russo, were attacked for their opinions. Some wanted to ban even factual reports about the Communist Party. Boyer’s belief in an even-handed presentation of all political views drew fire, but he was reappointed chairman in 1949.
He served two further four-year terms under the Menzies Coalition government. In 1950, the management of Radio Australia was restored to the ABC, and Boyer fostered an Asian emphasis for the service. When television was introduced in 1956, he ensured that the ABC provided state-owned services. He saw the ABC’s role as ‘primarily an informative and educational force’ belonging to ‘those areas of social activity which do not have to sell their goods in the open market’. He was the driving force behind the University of the Air program. But radio was not neglected, and in 1959 he persuaded the ABC to initiate an annual series of lectures by an eminent scholar on the model of the BBC’s Reith Lectures—after 1961, known as the Boyer Lectures.
In 1960, the ABC joined with its British and Canadian counterparts and with a US producer to form Intertel, to produce features promoting knowledge of international affairs. Australia was responsible for a program entitled Living with a Giant, about US–Canada relations, but the Australian government refused funding. A now ailing Boyer was distressed at this revival of political interference. He was contemplating resignation when he died on 5 June 1961. A liberal with a strong belief in liberty of conscience, freedom from censorship, and education, Boyer significantly influenced the ethos of the ABC, but his pragmatism in operating within the system could not always avert the ongoing threat of political pressures.
REFs: G.C. Bolton, Dick Boyer (1967); K.S. Inglis, This is the ABC (1983).