ABC Managing Director Russell Balding and columnist Gerard
Henderson have had a skirmish that could be read as “I’ve got better Government
contacts than you.”

Last week Henderson’s column suggested Balding had failed in his
job, because the ABC was biased and wouldn’t get any more funding:

The
only managing director who will have succeeded in the job is the one who can
deliver new funding for important and balanced programming. Balding will depart
without achieving such an aim. I understand that during his tenure as managing
director, he has not had an official meeting with Costello. Yet the Treasurer
meets key figures in the community regularly…Yet the soon-to-resign Balding
expects that his advisers and maybe his replacement (who will be decided by the
ABC board in the only really significant decision it ever makes) will roll up
in Canberra and receive a large load of extra money. Well, it might work. But
it hasn’t in the past. The ABC is most likely to receive the funding it needs
after, and if, it reforms itself.

Balding was clearly stung – in part by Henderson’s claim
that the Government remained unhappy with the ABC’s complaints procedure.
Balding wrote:

I am not sure what
regular contact Mr Henderson has with senior figures in the Federal
Government but he is wrong about their attitude to the very substantial
and effective
complaints handling reforms instituted by the ABC.

Balding insists that he “remains confident that the
Government will give serious consideration to the ABC’s funding submission and assess it on its merits.”

It’s a sharp change
in rhetoric from last year, when Balding said the Government seemed to regard
ABC funding submissions in much the same way they regarded Spam.

One can’t help but
think that Balding must have been given some assurances.

The funding submission, of course, is more modest than
those in previous years – but backed by the KPMG review of the organization, as
reported in Crikey last week.

Balding’s letter, which was published in The West Australian but not in The Sydney Morning Herald, can be read in full here.

Peter Fray

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