Independence central to public service media, the ABC says

Independence central to public service media, the ABC says

The Federal Government should legislate five year funding terms for the ABC and enshrine in law a prohibition on cutting funding during these terms, the ABC said in its submission to the Government’s review of options to support the independence of Australia’s two national broadcasters, the ABC and SBS.

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The ABC also recommended that, to increase certainty, its funding be reviewed in Year 3 of the cycle, with the funding amount for the following term announced no later than the beginning of Year 4.

In September we reported on our submission to the review.  

Our next task is to remind the Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese, that the independence of the ABC is paramount; and that includes a transparent arms length process for appointing the Chair.

We'll include the petition from our members and supporters as evidence that this is an issue Australians care about deeply. If you haven't done so, it's not too late to sign our petition.

The Department of Communications has now published other submissions on its website. Most addressed the two focus areas of the review: changes to funding arrangements and the selection of the Chair and Boards to ensure independence. 

To avoid “real term funding erosion as previously experienced” by the ABC, the Public Journalism Initiative (PIJI) suggested that future funding be linked to CPI, along with public interest journalism indices such as localism and diversity.

Long-time ABC journalist, Geraldine Doogue, called for a “secured, growth line of expenditure” so staff believe there is the financial capacity to pursue big, creative ideas.

The absence of such capacity, she said, “limits (if not altogether stops) the necessary bigger-thinking that is so vital for creative organisations to retain their vigour. Ideally, there should always be the sense among staff that the Corporation could, if necessary, fund something out-of-the-box”.

Doogue said that the lack of such a capability over the past decade has led to “demoralisation among both ABC creatives and managers” and a resulting sense of being “structurally hemmed-in money-wise”.

Appointing the Chair and directors to the ABC board

The ABC made many practical recommendations to strengthen the appointment processes for boards and chairs. These included new, more explicit definitions of the competencies required by Board members, including either mandatory knowledge and experience in digital and online media services - particularly those preferred by younger Australians – or practical experience in the audio industry, video industry and/or journalism.

“In addition to these competencies, it would be desirable if a proportion of Board directors demonstrably possessed knowledge or experience of Australia’s diverse communities, including directors of Indigenous heritage, from a culturally and/or linguistically diverse background, living with a disability and/or from lower socio-economic backgrounds.”

The ABC’s submission also called for the ABC Chair MD to be included in the Board appointment process through a requirement that the Nomination Panel complete a Board skills assessment aided by the Chair and MD when considering applications. 

The current process for selecting the Chairs and Board of both broadcasters can be read here.

The PIJI, meanwhile, has taken the push for greater transparency in the selection and appointment of SBS and ABC broadcaster boards to a further level by calling for transparent, skills-based selection criteria for membership of the Nominations Committee.

At present, the maximum 3-member Nomination Panel members are appointed by the Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C) for part-time terms of up to three years. The names of panel members are included on the Department’s website.

The Australia Institute called for the Australian community to be given a role in selecting an ABC Board member, through online or written submissions in response to candidate profiles, CVs and interviews made public through the ABC website.

It also suggested that a cross-party committee should be consulted prior to the appointment of the ABC Chair and either replace or oversee the current nominations Panel. 

Sophie Arnold
E-news Editor