Friday, September 28, 2018

Today by Paddy Manning

ABC passes pub test
The suburbs care about the public broadcaster, too


After one of the most tumultuous weeks in the history of the ABC, it was hard to know what to expect doing vox pops in Seven Hills, the heart of the Western Sydney electorate of Greenway, held by shadow communications minister Michelle Rowland. The board-level bloodbath is a huge story inside the political bubble; would it register in the real world? I need not have worried. “I love the ABC,” says the state rail worker who doubled back after denying my request for an interview, first of the day. “It should stay independent!” Then he was off, rushing for his train. It was the same story as I wandered through the shopping centre, and then over to Hotel Seven Hills. Of 10 people who agreed to be interviewed, all watched or listened to the ABC, and believed it should remain independent.

Following this week’s sacking of MD Michelle Guthrie and resignation of chair Justin Milne, as well as the leaking of damning emails suggesting political interference, questions are swirling about the future of the ABC board. Serving director Kirstin Ferguson was today named by Prime Minister Scott Morrison as acting chair, and ABC sources told The Guardian’s media editor, Amanda Meade, that Ferguson had been “an exemplary board member”.

With well-regarded David Anderson acting as MD, and a temporary chair in place, there will no doubt now be a desire for a semblance of internal stability. With a federal election looming, as Meade reports, Labor insists it is crucial that the next chair be non-partisan. “We’ve seen the Liberals attack and undermine the ABC’s independence,” said Rowland. “This appointment is too important and shouldn’t be used by them to run their anti-ABC agenda. Labor is demanding that this appointment is done in a bipartisan way.” Given that Rowland is also demanding that Mitch Fifield be sacked as communications minister, the chances of bipartisanship are low. “Fifield’s fingerprints are all over the political interference scandal at the ABC,” Rowland said today, adding: “[His] attendance at the meeting that left the ABC Chairman with the impression that an ABC journalist needed to be sacked cannot possibly be consistent with his role as minister for communications.”

At Hotel Seven Hills, they’re not following it that closely … but they’re following it. Glen, who is a punter, Tele reader, 2GB listener and solid Labor voter, likens the ABC ructions to the Coalition’s recent leadership spill: “A bit like the politicians, I think they’re too busy running themselves, [rather than] looking after their customers … Well, we’re their bosses, actually.” He is concerned about the reports of emails suggesting the former chairman was trying to get certain journalists sacked for political reasons, and he’s convinced that the other directors knew what was going on. Should the rest of the board go? “Big call,” says Glen. “It’s a big company, it’s a bit hard to throw the lot out, the disruption would be horrible. I think most of them over time should not be renewed, whenever their term comes up, but I think at the moment they need to just settle things down … They were all in it together, they all knew what was going on, but you can’t just crunch a board like that, particularly with our billions of dollars going into it.”

A table of tattooed drinkers having a smoke on the back veranda, overlooking the train tracks, were happy to talk. “I like the ABC, they’ve got some good shit on it,” says one woman. She adds that she watches The Drum in the afternoon with her mum. When asked if she is worried about the ABC’s budget, she replies: “No, it doesn’t affect me”. Her mate pipes up that he’s worried about ABC funding, though. Does he think the ABC should be independent of the government?

“What does that mean?”

“As in, they make their own decision about what stories to run. They make their own decision about who to hire,” I explain.

“Yeah, they should.”

Now she chimes in again: “It should not be up to the government, because the government’s fucked.”

Don’t swear, he tells her.

Benjamin from Seven Hills tells me he’s followed the news this week. “I’m not sure if it’s good or bad that [Michelle Guthrie] has been fired. I know it’s bad if the politicians try to interfere with the ABC. It’s very important the ABC is free from political pressure.”

Another local resident, Rose, is wheeling a pram and is reluctant to give an opinion. “In terms of the political side, I don’t really follow it, to be honest with you,” she says. “In terms of the ABC itself? Love the channel. Kids watch it. I watched it growing up. Unreal shows … From my understanding it seems someone was unfairly dismissed due to a lot of nonsense going on at the moment.” When asked if she’s concerned about ABC budget cuts, Rose responds, “Oh without a doubt, understatement, yeah of course. You see all this bullshit with sports and all the other channels and the rest of it … Put the funding into the ABC, it’s got so many documentaries and educational stories.”

since this morning

In its interim report released this afternoon, the Hayne banking royal commission has blamed greed for misconduct.

The Australian reports [$] on a major win for unions in the Fair Work Commission. Casuals in the retail sector will see a 25 per cent bump to their Saturday penalty rates phased in over the next three years, increasing the pay from 135 per cent to 150 per cent.

Crikey’s Bernard Keane calls out [$] “five myths of the Milne–Guthrie saga that need to be laid to rest”.

in case you missed it

Fairfax Media reveals the full text of an email sent by former ABC chairman Justin Milne about journalist Emma Alberici that shows he wanted the high-profile presenter sacked because she was “sticking it” to the government with a “clear bias”.

A Guardian analysis shows that almost all the directors of the ABC’s eight-member board were appointed directly by the minister for communications, Mitch Fifield, and some were appointed after being rejected by the merit-based nominations panel.

In the latest instalment of The Guardian’s Transparency Project, a group of leading former judges and anti-corruption commissioners have released a blueprint for a federal integrity body with the investigative powers of a royal commission, far-reaching jurisdiction and strong bipartisan oversight.

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Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is the author of Body Count: How Climate Change Is Killing Us, Inside the Greens and Born To Rule: The Unauthorised Biography of Malcolm Turnbull.


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