The independence of Australia’s national public broadcaster continues to be under threat and must be protected, the union for Australian journalists says.
The Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance condemns the extraordinary pressure applied by government staffers and Senators before an ABC Four Corners investigation, “Inside the Canberra Bubble” into the behaviour and misconduct of federal parliamentarians, went to air on Monday night.
Coalition Ministers’ staff were reportedly calling and emailing senior ABC directors and management, questioning whether the episode was in the public interest. The pressure also included the questioning of senior ABC managers at Senate estimates – once again, in advance of the screening of the program.
MEAA Media acting director Adam Portelli says: “Attempts to harass or shut down the program before it had even gone to air is clearly intimidatory. It seeks to silence legitimate reporting. It was subsequently borne out that the Four Corners program was clearly in the national interest given the nationwide debate about issues raised in the program.
“Under the Australian Broadcasting Corporation Act, the ABC has legislated operational and editorial independence. However, the pressure exerted on senior ABC personnel aimed to avoid the prescribed channels for communicating with the ABC.
“This is not the only occasion in recent years when politicians have interfered in the ABC – on several occasions the government has chosen to override the legislated independent panel selection process for the appointment of ABC directors. Two years ago ABC journalists took a stand against political interference and are prepared to do so again.”
“Australia’s public broadcaster is consistently rated as one of the country’s most trusted news sources. This trust is enshrined in the ABC Charter that requires the ABC to act only in the interests of the Australian public – its independence is paramount. That trust must not be eroded by political interference. Politicians must not seek to avoid legitimate scrutiny,” he says.