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Issue #1660      October 15, 2014

Editorial

Commercialisation agenda on ABC

Remember Tony Abbott’s pre-election promise not to cut the ABC? It went up in smoke just like his promises on Medicare, education and pensions. The ABC has already been subjected to cuts and is struggling to maintain its quality broadcasting. Treasurer Joe Hockey’s 2014-15 budget contains a one percent cut to base funding, with the promise of more to come. The Coalition cancelled the ABC’s $220 million, 10-year contract with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) to run the Asia Pacific television service, Australia Network.

This was in the first year of its contract. The Australia Network provided an important, non-commercial service to the region, reaching audiences in 44 countries across parts of Asia, the Pacific and India. The renewal of the ABC’s contract was controversial at the time with Rupert Murdoch confident that his Sky would get the contract. Murdoch, whose media campaigned hard and dirty to have Tony Abbott elected, must be feeling more relaxed and comfortable now with his competitor out of the way.

In July, the government appointed Janet Albrechtsen and Neil Brown, two strong ABC critics and supporters of the Liberal government, to the panel of three that recommends appointments to the ABC Board. To make matters worse the Abbott government has announced the appointment of Peter Lewis to the Board. Lewis is the former chief financial officer of Seven West Media and Southern Cross Austereo. He conducted the government’s efficiency review of the ABC.

“Mr Lewis’s background is in commercial media finance – skills which are totally unsuited to the governing board of a public broadcaster and the country’s foremost cultural institution,” Glenys Stradijot, ABC Friends national spokesperson said. “Mr Lewis’s appointment appears to be a reward for him having devised a blueprint for how the ABC should be cut. It also looks to be an attempt by the government to impose an agenda of commercialisation on the ABC. Peter Lewis should never have been appointed to conduct a review of the ABC due to his recent employment in senior roles with media companies that are competitors of the ABC. It is even worse that someone with such a clear potential for conflict of interest has been appointed to the broadcaster’s governing board.”

In addition to cancelling the Australia Network, the Board is considering closing down a number of current affairs/news programs. In particular, Lateline, The Business, which follows it and the Friday night state editions of 7.30 such as 7.30 NSW and 7.30 Victoria – which air during prime viewing time. It is also looking at cutting ABC radio programs including The World Today, which airs for 50 minutes on local radio and Radio National at lunch time on weekdays. Every cut, every cancellation means highly skilled and experience employees are sacked.

The atmosphere and morale at the ABC is taking a hit. Those who still have jobs live in fear of being next in line. This is taking a heavy toll on some of the ABC’s top current affairs programs and its news services, acting as a gag on featuring material that might upset the Abbott government.

Emma Alberici’s assault on Wassim Doureihi from the Hizb ut-Tahrir during the Lateline program on October 8 was appalling. She started by reporting that Abbott wanted to put a ban on the radical Islamic organisation Hizb ut-Tahrir, “We’ve invited you here tonight to help Australians better understand what it is that you stand for.” She then asked if his organisation supported the murderous campaign being waged by Islamic State fighters. Immediately after asking the question and failing to receive a simple yes or no answer, Alberici jumped down his throat in the most aggressive manner. This aggression and constant interrupting continued, with Alberici appearing increasingly out of control. The audience was definitely not going to gain any understanding of his organisation’s views.

Alberici could hardly have done more to inflame hatred and please Abbott, and he was very pleased with her “interview” calling her a “patriot”. She may have saved a program called Lateline, but not its integrity. As for saving the ABC, she has put another nail in its coffin.

Next article – Permanent work a right

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