ABC grilled about interference and funding by Senate Committee

David Anderson is this afternoon appearing before the Senate, Environment and Communications References Committee into allegations of political interference in the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

The Committee has also grilled other ABC staff regarding interference from former Chairman Justin Milne.

Anderson has just told the committee session in Sydney that former Managing Director Michelle Guthrie’s out of court settlement after being sacked was $730,000. She was also paid a salary of $900,000 last year, a total of  $1.63 million.

David Anderson is currently being questoned by Senator Christina Keneally about an inaccurate answer to the Estimates  Committee regarding the tv show The Checkout. “It is an unfortunate error Senator and I have taken measures to make sure that I will now see all questions on notice. I apologise to the committee.”  Senator Keneally asked whether discliplinary action will be taken against those who formulated the wrong answers for misleading the parliament.

Asked about cuts to ABC funding by Senator Hanson-Young, David Anderson explained that $254 million of cuts came in 2014, which were additional to the national broadcaster’s own initiative at the time to find efficiencies – such as management staff cuts. As a result of the cuts the ABC has “reduced the workforce significantly from 2014 levels,” according to Anderson.

He was also asked about the enhanced news gathering funding. If that specific targetted funding is not renewed “there will be an additional 80 jobs lost,” he said.
Asked if there would be any cuts at ABC Renmark, the acting managing director said, “the ABC has a presence in our 48 regions because it is imporant for Australia… I would like to grow this aspect of the ABC, not reduce it.”

Questioned about cuts to the ABC’s International Broadcasting activities by both Hanson-Young and Keneally, Anderson said:

“We have an obligation in our charter to provide international broadcasting…   We continue to run international services costing about $11 million per year.”

Senator Keneally asked: “The government will give $17 million to commercial networks to provide programming to the Asia Pacific, were you consulted about this?” Anderson replied that the ABC was not consulted about the announcement but had made submissions to two inquiries into Foreign Affairs funding and soft power.

Senator Hanson-Young said: “Do you think it is appropriate that shows like married at first sight will be part of our soft diplomacy strategy?”
David Anderson replied: “I can’t comment on [what the commercials might do], what I can tell you is that the ABC takes its role seriously in international services.
Asked: “Could you use a further $17 million to support international broadcasting? What would you do with that?” Anderson replied: “We would expand our services and improve the content that we offer for international audiences. We have an obligation to service the million Australians who live overseas, plus other audiences… It would improve the service we have at the moment.”




The ABC Alumni group also appeared before the committee, with four former high profile ABC staff, Jonathan Holmes, Matt Peacock, Helen Grasswill and Quentin Dempster, telling Senators:

“It is ABC Alumni’s view that there is a compelling need to strengthen both the ABC’s funding base and the mechanisms of delivery to protect the corporation from political
harassment and outright interference in its editorial processes…

“This three-year cycle has also proved inadequate for the corporation to confidently plan ahead, to properly fulfil all of its Charter obligations, and to carry out its operations efficiently.

“We believe it is essential for the ABC to have secure (or “guaranteed”) funding, free from the risk of political interference, and that the current three-year funding cycle should be increased to a minimum period of five years. A shorter funding period with uncertainty about medium-term and longer-term funding levels is crippling for any media organisation, especially in this time of digital disruption.”

Today’s committee hearing adjourned at 2.25pm.

Yesterday, Triple J content manager Ollie Wards told the committee that Justin Milne warned senior staff that the government would not give the ABC any more money if the national broadcaster moved the date for the Hottest 100 broadcast, previously aired on Australia Day.
Wards discussed a meeting with Milne, Michelle Guthrie and Michael Mason after research found the youth audience supported moving the date of the countdown.
Milne told him about an impending pitch for the Jetstream project and advised that moving the Hottest 100 would be “too controversial.”
Wards described a “heated discussion” where Milne told him it was better to avoid making a controversial decision in the interests of a good relationship with the government and the community.
Wards told the parliamentary committee he was “disappointed and surprised” by the pressure he was put under to reverse the decision to change the date of the Hottest 100.



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