Comment from Peter Saxon
When Ita Buttrose was confirmed as the ABC’s new chair one of her first statements was, “I’m a passionate believer in the independence of the ABC and will do everything in my utmost power to make sure it remains that way.”
She rejected the notion held by some that the ABC is biased, citing the regular polls that find that up to 80 per cent of Australians believe that the national broadcaster is the most credible news source available, “80 per cent of Australians say we’re unbiased. Eighty per cent of Australians say they trust our news more than they trust any other kind of information. So, we must be doing something right,” Ms Buttrose said.
If anyone was in doubt that the ABC needed defending from political interference, testimony given yesterday by ABC acting managing director David Anderson and triple j content manager Ollie Wards before the Senate, Environment and Communications References Committee proved Ms Buttrose’s point.
The Committee grilled Anderson and Wards as well as other ABC staff regarding political interference from former Chairman Justin Milne, focusing on triple j’s decision to move the 2018 Hottest 100 Countdown away from Australia Day. Milne, they testified, had put considerable pressure on Wards to leave the program where it is.
At a meeting in October 2017, Milne warned Wards that activists who get ahead of public sentiment can be “burnt at the stake,” adding that the PM at the time Malcolm Turnbull, “will call me and tell me I’m crazy.”
Wards said he was told to “take one for the team” and to “look after the interests of the whole ABC” rather than follow the wishes of the triple j audience.
In complete contrast to the former chairman’s viewpoint, Ms Buttrose has promised to put the “audience first,” a sentiment echoed by Scott Morrison who said, “It’s about their viewers, it’s about their listeners, it’s about their readers, and the services they provide to Australians.”
Yes, indeed, Prime Minister!
Let me make this clear: I appreciate that there are some very strong arguments for moving the date of Australia Day. Yet, I, personally, believe it should remain on January 26. I said as much in November, 2017, and gave my reasons why.
But triple j has every right – in fact, a responsibility – to program their station based on the needs of their audience. Not Triple M’s audience or 2GB’s audience, not even the listeners of any of the other stations under the ABC umbrella. triple j had spent the better part of a year asking their listeners when they reckon the Hottest 100 should be broadcast. And 60 per cent of respondents said, ‘any day but Jan 26.’ Accordingly, the station made a perfectly valid programming decision.
Yet when the conservative commentariat found out about the Hottest 100’s move to another date (or as they say on television: ‘to a new and exciting timeslot’) one would be forgiven for thinking that the network had somehow managed to move Australia Day itself rather than a mere program.
All this fuss made, mainly by people who would never listen to triple j or their Hottest 100, regardless of when they chose to play it.
Then, of course, out comes the old chestnut about, ‘commercial stations can do what they like, and be as biased as they want, because they’re not tax-payer funded.’ It sounds a logical argument until you examine it more closely and come to the inevitable conclusion which suggests that if we’re all paying for it, like customers, then all of us must be satisfied with the product, if not al the time, then at least most of the time.
Fact is, though, we’re not customers, we’re tax-payers. As such, we elect governments to distribute our tax dollars as equitably as they can leavng almost none of us entirely happy with the way they do it. And we never will be. It’s an occupational hazard of living in a democracy.
Yet, 80 per cent of Australians, whether regular ABC consumers or not, trust in Aunty and value her contribution to the nation’s culture. As Ita says, they must be doing someting right.
When you do a quick guesstimate on the back of an envelope of the listeners, readers and viewers of media that tend to present a negative view of the ABC, then 20 per cent of Australians sounds about right.
Mr Milne’s reported actions regarding The Hottest 100’s move away from Australia Day to January 27 is unbefitting a chairman whose role it is to maintain the independence of the ABC, not to undermine it – according to the charter.
(1) It is the duty of the Board:
(a) to ensure that the functions of the Corporation are performed efficiently and with the maximum benefit to the people of Australia;
(b) to maintain the independence and integrity of the Corporation;
If Ms Buttrose can truly keep the politicians, of all stripes, from meddling in the programming of the ABC and keep its focus firmly on, ‘we the people’ that make up its audience, perhaps she should then stand for election to parliament.