The Guardian has published an article by the ABC Friends National President, Margaret Reynolds, as our national broadcaster is facing a tumultuous time.
Please see the full piece below, or you can read the original HERE.
It’s essential to democracy that the ABC is free from political interference
In Australian democracy, we expect heated and often hostile political debate as our elected representatives battle to promote their priorities for public policy. Fair and factual reporting of these ideas is the job of professional journalists who we expect to keep us informed about our options.
But it is not the role of journalists to favour government or opposition or any other political representative. Already we know that much media reporting will focus on the government of the day because it is responsible for immediate policy decisions. It is then the media’s role to ensure that scrutiny and public debate follows to test the viability of specific policy announcements. At all times the information provided should be clearly defined as fact or opinion.
This week Australians have seen worrying warning signs that these assumptions about our democracy are being challenged.
Firstly, in terminating Michelle Guthrie as ABC managing director, the board included her leadership style and capacity to work with the federal government.
No doubt ABC board members have internal knowledge about this performance area and it is up to them to exercise judgement. However, the relationship between a managing director of the independent national broadcaster and the government is much more complex and needs some elaboration.
The ABC is responsible to the people of Australia, so a managing director needs a strong working relationship with viewers and listeners in providing national programming and services. The second priority is an absolute loyalty and commitment to staff on whom the ABC relies.
Certainly, any wise managing director will aim to maintain a strategic relationship with government and all parliamentarians to ensure that ABC direction and priorities are understood
But it is not the role of either the managing director or the board to allow for political interference or trade off particular staffing or programming decisions in exchange for increased funding agreements.
In reality future reform of ABC funding agreements should consider fresh processes for more independent decision making and transparency.
The current allegation that there could have been any pressure exerted from either the federal government or the ABC board to silence a professional journalist is alarming because it suggests we are forgetting essential principles of Australian democracy. We know that some competing media organisations may already take their instructions from overseas moguls, but it must not become the environment in which our national public broadcaster operates.
The current debate about the role and responsibility of the national public broadcaster is an important opportunity to remind ourselves and indeed our elected representatives why we need a public broadcaster free from political interference.
While there are many sources of so-called “news”, professional, in-depth and investigative journalism is harder to locate despite the number of available sources.
In recent years we have become obsessed with the number of platforms we can access rather than the content offered. The ABC is valued and respected for battling against the odds to maintain independent journalism.
The unfortunate events and media scrutiny of the ABC this week gives Australians the opportunity to reaffirm our expectations of how the ABC must be independently managed and governed. We can and should speak up about our expectations of the national public broadcaster. As we approach the next federal election, ABC Friends will be reminding all candidates for office of their responsibilities to defend the independence of the ABC and commit to the very real need for professional journalism regardless of who it offends.
It is essential that the chairman of the ABC board, Justin Milne, reveal any board member involvement in current allegations relating to political interference in staffing decisions and all board members declare their absolute commitment to ABC independence, transparent management and governance.
• Margaret Reynolds is national president of ABC Friends