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Jul 2, 2014

Crikey says: don't re-politicise the ABC, SBS boards

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.

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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.

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32 thoughts on “Crikey says: don’t re-politicise the ABC, SBS boards

  1. Electric Lardyland

    I do find it interesting, that to the modern right wing ideologue, a situation where appointments are made on merit, is seen as something that needs to be fixed. To me, this represents some of the deep seated reasons, why their mind set is such a problem for many of the saner members of society.
    Firstly, I think that many of them realise, deep down, that if promotions and appointments, were always made on things like; learning, perceptiveness and the ability to get along with other members of the organisation, then they themselves would stand little chance. So instead of admitting to any defects on their own account, they construct a world view that paints themselves as victims of bias. Thus, if their childish, petulant, largely evidence free, opinion pieces, are not seen as equal or better, than the work of talented, committed and well trained journalists; then this means that the organisation responsible for these outrageous slights, now becomes a target for their ‘reforms’.
    I also thinks that this reflects good and bad hierarchies. A good hierarchy, is a constructed social grouping, where people are taught by the educated and experienced, and with the aid of this learning, they progress up the hierarchy and while moving upward, become teachers themselves. And hopefully, this expands the group knowledge and functionality of the organisation. Whereas bad hierarchy, is largely based on conformity of ideas, sycophancy to the powerful and the endless repeating of slogans. It is also based on furiously attacking any evidence based ideas, that suggest your upward progress may be based on some very dodgy tenets.
    Which I suspect, may be a fundamental reason, why so many modern rightards, do seem to be particularly hostile to science, academia and well respected cultural organisations.

  2. David Hand

    Thanks to the commenters who have no problem with me contributing even though I expect most of you to have quite different views. Viva la difference!

    Well Sailor,
    My first post could have been written to say that I believe the ABC already has a left of centre political bias and that the groupthink within its elite broadcasters might benefit from an infusion of right of centre political views.

    But I’m sure you were able to work that out through the smart-arsed tone I chose to use.

    Your fears about the Abbott government can be fixed in 2016 when the country has an opportunity to vote them out. In my opinion, this depends on how much of the apocalypse predicted by the budget naysayers actually comes about.

    Here’s a fact for you. In 6 years, the government net debt rose from minus 3.8% to about 12.5% of GDP. That’s a trajectory of nearly 3% per year and clearly unsustainable. Bear in mind that GDP has been growing but government expenditure has been growing faster. Add to that the rapid decline in Australia’s terms of trade which will depress GDP growth.

    Then add all the future unbudgeted spending commitments by Labor in the NDIS, Gonski, the health partnership agreement and the inevitable swallowing by the taxpayer of the financial disaster that is the NBN and others. Someone has to pay for all that and it’s taxpayers who must cough it up. This is the problem that Hockey’s budget is designed to address. I got those numbers from the Guardian which got them from the budget papers.

    Don’t hold your breath if you expect to see such analysis on the ABC. They’re still banging on about that tried and true lefty concept with its Marxist roots, “fairness”.

  3. Sailor

    David Hand/24
    Indeed, David, I don’t doubt that Govt expenditure has grown, though you don’t acknowledge the reduction in spending put in place by Labor during its terms. And I’m no supporter of the dopey way they failed to counter Abbott’s hysteria nor of their many idiocies.

    Worse than the expenditure growth, though, was the sharp fall in tax revenues. Which you ignore.

    John Howard bears most of the blame for this problem because of his unsupportable personal tax changes that depended on the stupid assumption that the massive flow of money to his Govt in the first half of the 2000s would endure no matter what the future bought. He p****d the bulk of $313B up against the wall buying elections. Read the IMF report for the facts.

    “the future unbudgeted spending commitments by Labor in the NDIS, Gonski” you mention is one of the idiocies, but Abbott’s & Hockey’s mad obstructionism bears a great deal of the responibility for the inability to increase tax to repair the tax take position. When did Hockey ever support a Labor attempt to increase Govt revenue by increasing tax? And most of their attempts were focussed on increasing the fairness (a concept you sneer at) of the tax system.

    As to your claim that the NBN is or will be a “financial disaster”, on what evidence do you base that claim? How’s Tasmania going with it? IMHO, the NBN is a far-sighted plan to increase the communication power of all Australians.

    “Someone has to pay for all that and it’s taxpayers who must cough it up”, you say. You are blind to the difference between investment & expenditure – like a shameful war against Iraq hubristically fomented by John Howard, & which so crippled the action in Afghanistan that the initial aim got lost….so we’re still reading about it & the news is not encouraging)

    And if you actually assess Hockey’s budget fairly, it is “designed to address” a non-emergency. Yes, the projected difference between Govt money out vs in gets worse with time, but you cannot have studied the Budget except in the Murdoch press. A far more gradual approach attacking the real problem of falling tax revenues left over from John Howard’s time would cause far less needless pain to the less well-off.

    As for the astounding attempts to defy logic & evidence in, as just one example, the push to gut the FOFA legislation, I can only imagine these all arise from the zealotry, ideology, and a blind faith in dogma that I mentioned in my first post. The anti-science push against anything to do with reversing the helter-skelter rush towards restoring the atmospheric conditions existing during the Carboniferous era is just another example of this.

  4. David Hand

    You touch on the conundrum about whether the deficit should be reduced by increasing taxes rather than holding and reducing government spending.

    There’s a lot of enthusiasm on the left, using that favoured cliché “fairness” that of course the rich are sitting on all the money and they should just be slugged more. This runs contrary to the economic orthodoxy of both sides of politics since about 1985 which have favoured lower taxes, particularly income tax because it stimulates economic growth. Indeed, as I’ve said before, next year’s GDP does not exist yet and a wise government thinks about how the wealth should be created so it is actually there to tax.

    When you look at the country’s dismal economic performance in the 1970’s the top marginal income tax rate was as much as 70%. Add to that the European model today where income taxes are high and the whole EC edifice looks ready to fall over. When people say Australia’s tax is low by OECD standards, that’s because Europe has disappeared down the tax and spend plug hole so far, they’re in deep trouble and not to be envied or admired.

    There’s no easy answer to Australia’s government debt though focusing on spending rather than taxes supports economic growth. At the same time, the budget aims to move people from welfare to work, from being a drain on taxpayers to being taxpayers themselves.

    Paying 830,000 Australians a disability support pension is not an investment in the country’s future. Getting those able to work into work is. Paying the dole to young Australians is not an investment in the country’s future. Getting them into work or education is.

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