Has a
one-time senior adviser to the prime minister been appointed by ABC
managing director Russell Balding to repair the broadcaster’s
relationship with the government in the lead-up to a major government
review of the broadcaster?

Crikey understands that Gary Dawson
will start at the ABC in the next few weeks with the title Manager –
Business Strategy and Government Policy.

A former John Howard and Kate Carnell aide, Dawson has also worked
as communications director for the Law Society of NSW and popped up on
Sky on various election panels last year. Many of his former colleagues
are astounded that he could now join the enemy, where he will give the
ABC much-needed access to the top ranks of government.

What
makes Dawson’s appointment so astounding is the key role he played in
pushing former communications minister Richard Alston’s complaints
about ABC war coverage. Dawson was the PM’s adviser with responsibility
covering the ABC during the battle – and John Howard was right behind
his minister.

The PM spoke about the issue in an interview with Neil Mitchell on Melbourne radio back in July 2003:

MITCHELL:
It’s reported today prime minister that you want to set up a panel to
assess balance within the ABC. What if the ABC resists that?

PRIME
MINISTER: Well I haven’t made any decision on that, I have expressed a
view before, publicly, that the best way for the ABC to be seen to be
dealing with complaints about bias would be to have a completely
independent review process. But I haven’t got to a stage of having any
discussions of substance with Richard Alston or the ABC or anybody
else.

MITCHELL: So these reports are misguided are they?

PRIME
MINISTER: Well I haven’t actually seen them, I understand it’s in one
of the Melbourne papers, I’ve been told about it, I haven’t actually
read the report. I would have talked about the issue with a number of
my colleagues, certainly, but not in the sense of saying well look we
should do this rather, consistent with what I said at the press
conference in Canberra earlier this week, I was asked about the reply
and I gave the response that it would be better if there were an arms
length independent assessment process.

MITCHELL: Is, well I mean there’s a basic point to it, is there is a culture of bias within the ABC?

PRIME
MINISTER: Well it’s, depends a bit on what the programs are, I mean
there is no doubt, I thought the coverage of the Iraq war by the AM program was broadly as Senator Alston argued, I did and I listen to AM carefully, I listen to all these programs carefully, I should – must. Things vary, and those complaints were rather specific.

It looks as if the PM will soon be better informed about all matters ABC.

Peter Fray

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