The Friends of the ABC are planning a 24 hour vigil outside the ABC’s
Melbourne headquarters at Southbank. The aim – if they can get enough bodies –
is to start as early as next Monday and run through until the evening of the
Federal Budget on Tuesday 9 May.

Will they get the necessary support? A petition circulated on the internet
and calling for more funding for the ABC got more than 50,000 signatures in
astonishingly quick time last week, but sitting outside on a cold footpath
takes more commitment and time than a few clicks of the mouse.

The Australian Survey of Social Attitudes
has found the ABC ranks third in a list of Australia’s
most trusted institutions – after the defence forces and the police, but before
universities, charities, federal parliament, churches, courts and the legal
system. It is an extraordinary result. In the past this level of public support
has been Aunty’s strongest guarantee of survival, but in these apathetic
times, will it be enough to get bums on to the pavement, or shift votes?

It’s been a harrowing week for the Aunty. Cabinet’s expenditure review
committee met on Tuesday. We have yet to hear whether Helen Coonan’s pleas, and
the petition, were sufficient to melt the Treasurer’s heart and reverse his
earlier decision not to give more core funding to the ABC.

Meanwhile Ramona Koval, the staff elected director of the ABC, yesterday
attended a board meeting which must have been uncomfortable on any number of
levels. Oh to be a fly on the wall on the top floor at Ultimo.

The government has announced Koval’s
position is to be axed because of concerns about “governance”, including
confidentiality. So it would be very surprising indeed if there was no fuss at
yesterday’s meeting about the fact that a board member – clearly not Koval –
has been leaking poison about Chairman Donald McDonald to The Bulletin.

The government is moving with strange
urgency on the axing of the staff elected position. Some speculate that Coonan is
horse trading, abolishing the staff elected director position in a trade off
for more money for Aunty.

Coonan has pronounced herself a friend to
the ABC. It would be nice to think it wasn’t complete tosh. But don’t expect to
see her at the vigil.

Peter Fray

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