The ABC and SBS should not be re-politicised. The Abbott government has made a serious mistake in appointing Liberal sympathisers to key roles at the public broadcasters.
Right-wing culture warrior Janet Albrechtsen and former Liberal Party deputy leader Neil Brown have been appointed powerful government jobs: a seat each on the panel which oversees the appointment of people to the ABC and SBS boards.
The fact that the government has appointed Albrechtsen and Brown to these highly influential roles should ring alarm bells for those who want a strong and independent ABC and SBS, operating at arm’s length from the political masters of the day.
The appointment of Albrechtsen, or any other figure seen as an ideologue with close sympathies to the Abbott government, re-politicises a process that was, briefly, de-politicised under Labor.
After decades of both sides of politics using the ABC and SBS boards as retirement gift for mates and opportunities for ideological control, the Rudd government established a far more independent process focused on — shock horror — appointing people to the broadcasters’ boards on merit.
Albrechtsen getting the gig signals this is being brought to an end, and ideology will once again be a key criterion for appointment to oversee the national broadcasters. Worryingly, people with little or no broadcasting experience could end up with the jobs. People like Ron Brunton, Keith Windschuttle and Christopher Pearson (who all sat on those boards under John Howard).
Pearson in particular — a former speechwriter for both John Howard and Alexander Downer — was a disaster for SBS. Unlike the ABC, which has multiple levels of management, SBS is a small organisation and there is little filter between the board and those with the power to hire and fire. Staff who were seen as “against the government” or “anti-Australian” in their international coverage were sacked.
When we alerted you to the rumour of Albrechtsen getting this job, in our edition on Wednesday, we urged Abbott not to go ahead with it. As expected, that had no effect. But we stand by our view; this decision is an error, and all those who value a strong and independent ABC and the SBS should pay attention to what happens next.