ABC censors Janet Albrechtsen
Currently in the spotlight of maladministration the ABC invited Janet Albrechtsen for an interview. Further strengthening ABC bias and public disapproval of the behemoth out of control, head of NewsRadio, Helen Thomas dared to edit out Albrechtsen’s issues about staff. How damned stupid is that? Thomas must know that Albrechtsen has probably a far wider audience with News Corp. Janet has skewered Thomas like an inset on a specimen board. What hope is there for the ABC as it is?
The crisis surrounding the ABC goes well beyond the sacking of managing director Michelle Guthrie on Monday. It extends beyond a tainted chairman who resigned on Thursday. It runs deeper than a clueless and incompetent board that was dragged to a decision about Justin Milne, too weak to defend the independence and reputation of the ABC before pressure mounted in the media.
Source: News Corp
ABC’s problems go far deeper than Guthrie and Milne
Sadly, the problems at the ABC go far deeper. Endemic among some senior ABC staff is a belief that the taxpayer-funded broadcaster is their plaything. Those who really call the shots at the ABC have contempt for the taxpayers who pay their salaries, for the law that regulates the ABC and for anyone who disagrees with them. It happens behind the scenes, carried out by people in power, incrementally, as on Thursday morning when a little interview pointed to the big problem with the ABC.
Two ABC radio stations invited me to speak about the unfolding crisis engulfing the ABC chairman. I rate Dan Bourchier on ABC Radio Canberra and Sandy Aloisi on NewsRadio as highly professional journalists. During live interviews, each asked me wide-ranging, intellectually curious questions beyond the Milne crisis.
Aloisi asked whether some staff had jumped the gun by expressing delight over Guthrie’s sacking. Maybe Aloisi was alluding to ABC journalist Sally Neighbour tweeting “Excellent decision” and her fellow ABC staff member Jon Faine similarly expressing his joy at Guthrie’s departure. I said that clearly the situation was more complicated than alleged poor performance by Guthrie. I suggested that Milne’s behaviour as chairman, if true, appeared to be far more damaging to the ABC as an independent media organisation than anything that Guthrie had done. Yes, staff members were wrong to jump for joy, I suggested.
By the time my interview with NewsRadio went online, someone had removed those remarks critical of a few ABC staff members for dancing so swiftly on Guthrie’s grave.
Curious about this, I rang the ABC and was referred to the head of NewsRadio, Helen Thomas. She told me it was her call to delete those remarks about staff. I pointed out to her that the ABC should be robust enough to air a few remarks critical of its staff. After all, it is our ABC, not their ABC.
I suggested that there was little point in inviting a conservative commentator, and a former ABC board member, on to ABC programs if someone then swept the interview clean of anything too challenging for ABC staff. Thomas said she had decided my criticisms of Milne were, in her words, a better ending. Of course she did. Deleting comments critical of a few ABC staff was not a case of clever editing. Instead, it reeked of unprofessional censorship.
In that small moment, Thomas revealed her contempt for diverse voices. She also undermined the professionalism of ABC NewsRadio’s Aloisi, who thought it worth asking about rash behaviour by some staff.
How many other good journalists at the ABC has Thomas undermined? What message does this send to senior and junior ABC journalists? Don’t bother asking intellectually curious questions or putting them online because the answers will be deleted by your superiors for failing to fit an ABC narrative.
This little episode is a telltale sign of what is truly rotten inside the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. The public broadcaster has a legal obligation under section 6 of the ABC Act to broadcast “programs that contribute to a sense of national identity and inform and entertain, and reflect the cultural diversity of, the Australian community”.
Large swaths of ABC content, mostly those coming out of city headquarters at Sydney’s Ultimo and Melbourne’s Southbank, routinely fail to reflect the diversity of Australia. That failure is a breach of the deal with taxpayers: we give the ABC more than $1 billion a year to abide by its charter. Why should we pay for an organisation when journalists such as Thomas don’t respect that fundamental deal?
The wider crisis now engulfing Aunty is one of its own making. Guthrie has been sacked for a failure of leadership. Milne has resigned because he failed to defend the ABC’s independence. Now the board must answer for its own similar sins of omission, backing Milne until Thursday. It acted only after reports became public about Milne’s behaviour towards Guthrie. He allegedly told her to “shoot” ABC political editor Andrew Probyn because Malcolm Turnbull, the then prime minister, “hates him”. He also told Guthrie to “get rid” of chief economics correspondent Emma Alberici because the government “hates her”.
But did the board raise questions about Milne’s apparent failure to defend the ABC as an organisation independent from government? Did it question his appalling language? Did it raise questions, before the government did, about Probyn and Alberici failing to deliver news and information that was accurate and impartial?
All we know for certain is that the ABC board acted on Thursday after outside pressure, rather than as an independent organisation proactively complying with its duties under the ABC Act.
Sadly, the ABC has a long history of failing to meet the most basic duties owed to Australian taxpayers.
I joined the ABC board in 2005. Back then, the ghost of former managing director Jonathan Shier was still wafting around Ultimo. I was told the board had tried change and it didn’t work. Now it was a case of steady as she goes under managing director Russell Balding. When Mark Scott successfully applied for the job as the next MD, he promised to be an effective editor-in-chief, something the national broadcaster desperately needed.
As a board member, my remit was simple: the ABC must meet its obligations to taxpayers in return for money provided to us each year in the federal budget.
Others on the board had the same aim. But without a chairman and a managing director willing to abide by that compact with Australians, nothing changed, no matter who was chairman. Donald McDonald wanted to be loved by staff. Maurice Newman failed to drive change. Journalists continued to run the place, Aunty swung one way — to the left of the Labor Party — and all flagship ABC programs were hosted by journalists with left-leaning views.
The bias is less about politics and more about a set of cultural values that are common in inner-city suburbs but less common elsewhere. I noticed this first-hand on our visits to ABC regional stations, where a more diverse range of journalists and producers delivered journalism that reflected the full diversity of the nation.
Back at Ultimo, it was business as usual through Scott’s 10-year tenure. Similarly unsuccessful, Guthrie as managing director and Jim Spigelman and Milne as chairmen have failed to bring diverse views to the ABC.
In due course, a new chairman and a new managing director will be appointed to the ABC. The spineless board might get a refresh, too. Rest assured this latest crisis, far bigger than the Shier debacle, won’t be wasted by Aunty.
In true ABC style it will be used to steady the ship again. It will announce an internal review, the usual kind of make-work project to keep new board members busy. And a new leadership team will speak in sombre tones about a period of consolidation, or use some other jargon to entrench another period of paralysis.
For weary taxpayers, that will mean Aunty will remain a staff-run collective. Probyn and Alberici will become protected species. Not a single major ABC program will be hosted by a journalist with views that differ from ABC orthodoxy on issues from climate change to gay marriage to asylum-seekers. Not only will that leave the ABC in breach of the ABC Act, it will continue to be dreadfully boring too. And nothing will change until professional journalists stand up against fellow staff members who are destroying the ABC’s legitimacy.
Surely it is time for us to deliver the ABC full independence by cutting it loose from taxpayers.
Janet Albrechtsen was a member of the ABC board from 2005 to 2010.