Claims that the ABC has anti-government tendencies are well known, but
the ABC has now had to answer accusations that Inside Business and Alan
Kohler have been
favouring the government, plus concerns over  Melbourne’s
Breakfast radio host Red Symons and the ABC’s policy on commercial
advertising.

Senate Environment, Communications, Information Technology and the
Arts Legislation Committee
ANSWERS TO ESTIMATES QUESTIONS ON NOTICE
Communications, Information Technology and the Arts portfolio
Australian Broadcasting Corporation
Supplementary Budget Estimates Hearings 3 and 4 November 2003

Outcome 1 Output 1.1, 1.2, 1.3                        
Question: 174
Topic: Inside Business
Hansard Page: ECITA 124

Senator Mackay asked:

Senator MACKAY – ….. On the day that the Telstra sale bill was
defeated, the abc.net.au article included quotes from Minister
Williams, Senator Minchin, Mr Anderson and Senator Shayne Murphy. There
was no quote from Labor. I am just attempting to counter some of this,
so that is the first thing I would say. Inside Business has, as I
understand it, interviewed the coalition communications minister three
times in a row, but, sadly, there has been no interview with Mr Lindsay
Tanner. Also, Alan Kohler’s soft interview of Daryl Williams last
Sunday, when Alan Kohler effectively provided a dorothy dixer about the
government being the owner and regulator of Telstra, was, one could
say, evidence of ABC bias.  …

Senator MACKAY –The ABC kept a story on Simon Crean’s
leadership on the Internet politics site for weeks before the
opposition rang up and asked for it to be removed because it was not
news. I think it would be true to say that this kind of attack, this
sort of McCarthyism that is being shown here, is starting to have an
impact, from our perspective, on the independence of the ABC. ………..

Mr Balding –I am more than happy to have a look at those instances……

ABC Answer:

In relation to ABC News Online, it’s worth noting that there have been
many stories quoting Mr Lindsay Tanner MP and other members of the
Opposition in relation to the Telstra sale and other aspects of
communications policy. This hardly supports a view that ABC Online is
not reporting the debate fairly or that Mr Tanner has not received a
fair go.

In relation to Inside Business, it is true the Communications Minister appeared on Inside Business three times this year.

Senator the Hon Richard Alston appeared on the following dates and for
obvious reasons: February 9, after the government decided to terminate
the Telstra Inquiry; and June 29 to discuss the impasse on the three
bills: Telstra; Broadband and media deregulation.

The Hon Daryl Williams AM QC MP appeared on November 2 because the
program wanted to introduce the new minister to the audience and to
explore his plans for the portfolio/industries.

The ABC has extended invitations to Shadow Ministers to appear on the
program to discuss policy announcements relating to business, finance
and economics.

The ABC does not agree the description of the interview with Minister
Williams on Inside Business as ‘soft’.  Alan Kohler is one of the
most respected and most informed commentators in this country on
matters of finance and business affairs.

In relation to the story on The Hon Mr Crean’s leadership, this was a
“feature” item, which canvassed various issues broadly relating to his
leadership on the politics page of ABC News Online. It is usual for
these “feature” items to remain on the site longer than most news
stories.  However, in this instance, due to an oversight, it
remained longer than it should have.   

Outcome 1, Output 1.1, 1.2, 1.3                         
Question: 180
Topic: ABC Guidelines/Policy re: appearance in advertisements
Hansard Page: ECITA 133

Senator Mackay asked:

Senator MACKAY – With respect to ABC 3LO presenter Red Symons
appearing in commercial advertisements, does the ABC have a policy
regarding ABC presenters appearing in advertisements? Are the guidelines in writing?
Mr Balding – I believe they are.
Senator MACKAY – Would the committee be able to have a copy of those?
Mr Balding – Yes.

ABC Answer:

The policy regarding ABC presenters endorsing non-ABC commercial
products/services is set out in the ABC Editorial Policies, Section
15.9.  Full text is provided in Attachment A.

In essence, any regular ABC presenter or announcer must not endorse
non-ABC commercial products/services without approval from the relevant
Executive Director and such approval is only granted in exceptional
circumstances.  

Section 15.9.3 (g) of the ABC Editorial Policies outlines those matters
to be considered by Executive Directors when determining such
exceptional circumstances.  The matters include whether the
employee concerned had a public image established prior to commencing
with the ABC and whether they had entered into commitments to endorse a
product(s) prior their commencement.  

Red Symons, 774 ABC Melbourne Breakfast Presenter had an established
profile in the broader Australian community before joining ABC Local
Radio.  This factor was one of the matters considered together
with whether the products endorsed by Mr Symons adversely impacted on
the ABC’s integrity and independence in determining whether any
exceptional circumstances existed.

ATTACHMENT A (QoN 180)

Extract from ABC Editorial Policies

15.9 Endorsement by ABC presenters and announcers


15.9.1
    Regular ABC presenters and announcers are
not permitted to endorse, or be involved in the endorsement of, non-ABC
commercial products and services, other than in exceptional
circumstances. Where exceptional circumstances exist, prior written
consent must be obtained from Director Television, Director Radio,
Director New Media or Director News and Current Affairs. In addition,
non-regular ABC presenters and announcers must obtain the prior written
consent of those Directors before endorsing, or being involved in the
endorsement of, any non-ABC commercial product or service.

15.9.2    In this regard, the following expressions will have the following meanings:
regular ABC presenters and announcers: shall mean persons who,
on a routine basis, present ABC radio, television or online programs or
appear in such programs whether as interviewers, reporters or similar
and whether engaged by the ABC or by a separate production company or
organisation. The expression shall include persons presenting or
appearing in programs which have extended beyond one series.
endorse: shall mean ‘publicly advertise, promote, approve or
support, whether for money or any other form of consideration or for no
consideration’.
be involved in the endorsement of:
shall include interviewing people in segments which endorse a commercial product or service.

15.9.3    In deciding whether or not consent will
be given, Director Television, Director Radio, Director New Media or
Director News and Current Affairs as the case may be, will take into
account the following:

a. the objective of ABC policy and guidelines is to ensure that the integrity and independence of the ABC is preserved;

b. other than in exceptional circumstances, permission will
not be given for regular ABC presenters or announcers to endorse (or be
involved in any way in the endorsement of) non-ABC commercial products
or services in the market place;

c. non-regular ABC News and Current Affairs presenters and announcers will normally be refused consent;

d. permission will be refused in relation to non-regular
presenters and announcers not involved in News and Current Affairs
programs in those circumstances where, in the opinion of Director
Television, Director Radio, Director New Media or Director News and
Current Affairs, the ABC’s integrity or independence may be adversely
affected. This may occur where, for example, the non-ABC product or
service sought to be endorsed is directly associated with the program
in which the presenter or announcer appears;

e. all regular ABC presenters and announcers and all other
groups such as non-regular news presenters and announcers should be
treated equally. That is, their request for permission to endorse a
non-ABC commercial product or service should be weighed against their
roles and the interests of the ABC to maintain its integrity and
independence, and not according to their status whether as ‘staff’ or
‘contract’;

f. in addition to the restrictions relating to ‘on-air’
people, editorial staff who do not normally go to air, such as
executive producers, producers and researchers, should not endorse any
non-ABC commercial product or service if what is endorsed involves
subject matter which may be covered in their programs;

g. if the public image of a regular or non-regular ABC
presenter or announcer (not being a News or Current Affairs presenter
or announcer) was established before coming to the ABC and a commitment
was made prior to that date, such a commitment may continue consistent
with (d) above;

h. personal and company contracts should include a standard clause which reflects ABC policy on this matter; and

i. written permission to undertake external work in the
nature of in-house corporate videos must be obtained from Director
Television, Director Radio, Director New Media or Director News and
Current Affairs. They will only give permission if the proposal will
not affect adversely the integrity or independence of the ABC.


ABC journalists unhappy with Red explanation

An ABC broadcaster writes:

“I’ve just read the ABC’s explanation for Red Symons being allowed to
have commercial deals when this is against our policy on the Crikey
website.

The ABC gets off on a technicality!  Sure, Red Symons may have had
a pre-existing contract to do endorsements, but does this amount to
‘exceptional circumstances’?  And surely the term of any contracts
on foot at the time the ABC signed him up has expired.  Any new
deals would have
had to be reviewed by the ABC: have they given him carte blanche now to collect as many commercial endorsement deals as he can?

And what of the other policy requiring staff to be treated equally? I
know of other broadcasters who have turned down commercial voice-over
work where they wouldn’t be identified. Others have turned down unpaid
endorsement work for fundraising events.

The bottom line is that if this is how things turn out under the guidelines, what’s the point of having them?  Harrumph.

Thanks for listening.

Annoyed ABC Broadcaster”

Peter Fray

Fetch your first 12 weeks for $12

Here at Crikey, we saw a mighty surge in subscribers throughout 2020. Your support has been nothing short of amazing — we couldn’t have got through this year like no other without you, our readers.

If you haven’t joined us yet, fetch your first 12 weeks for $12 and start 2021 with the journalism you need to navigate whatever lies ahead.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

JOIN NOW