The Howard Government is a slow learner. But nowhere is that slowness more evident than in its attitude towards the ABC.

After years of bashing by former Senator Richard Alston, John Howard, Santo Santoro, not to mention the cheer squad in the media, Piers Akerman, Michael Duffy and Janet Albrechtsen, the ABC is still there and still playing at being our national broadcaster, for better or worse.

So what are we to make of the latest little leak from Canberra, about the ABC, to the Packer-owned Bulletin (hardly the most unbiased media outlet so far as the ABC is concerned)?

Here’s a selection from the story which is a strong attack on ABC chairman, Donald McDonald:

Now, as he finishes a second five-year term, and with the government raising the prospect of commercials on the ABC, he’s a figure of contempt and ridicule among some senior Liberals; a poacher-turned-gamekeeper who, they maintain, became captive to the very culture he was expected to destroy. …(McDonald) no longer enjoys the faith of all on the ABC’s board. Next to no-one in federal cabinet – with the likely exception of Howard – is willing to support the third term he is said to seek. Loyalty might tempt Howard to railroad McDonald’s reappointment through cabinet, but the political cost would be high; the story that he backed McDonald despite cabinet opposition would quickly leak. Howard also faces another acutely embarrassing prospect – ABC board resignations if his man is reappointed.

“The board is so ineffective under his leadership that it’s ceasing to function,” one board member says.

So which unnamed board member broke the board’s policy on not commenting on board issues, the very issue that some accused Ramona Koval of breaching as an elected board member and which helped drive former board member, Maurice Newman, to resign in protest?

And where did The Bulletin‘s Paul Daley get the idea that board members of the ABC might resign if Donald McDonald was re-appointed?

According to Communications Minister Senator Coonan on the 7.30 Report last night, media groups will, in her new regime, have to declare when a news story or some other report affects another part of the group: ie when there is a conflict of interest. She sees this as a way of somehow maintaining diversity.

Should the Bulletin have been forced to make such a declaration of a conflict of interest about the ABC story? After all, its owner controls the Nine Network, a competitor to the ABC and has 25% of Foxtel and 50% of Fox Sports (Premier Media), both of which compete with the ABC and will be intense competitors in the future.

Peter Fray

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