In breaking news this morning the Friends
of the ABC, who are mounting a vigil at the Melbourne Southbank headquarters, have
been told by management to move on and may soon be confronted by the police.

Security staff have told the vigil members
to move outside and take down banners. Acting state manager Sandra
Winter-Dewhirst later confirmed to campaign manager Glenys Stradijot that this
was on management’s orders, and that there was to be no vigil on the ABC’s
“footprint”. Winter-Dewhirst did not return calls asking for comment before
Crikey’s deadline.

For the moment the Friends are holding
their ground, which raises the possibility that police may be called – “in which
case, we will move on”, says Stradijot.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation
obviously doesn’t appreciate some kinds of friendship. Perhaps management judges
that a demonstration hostile to the government at this delicate time will do
more harm than good.

The current ABC management has for some
time given a distinct impression of wanting to disown its activist “friends”.
Softly softly has been the new official approach to government, rather
than “eight cents a day” style
campaigns. But how will Aunty look if its
middle-aged, middle-class Friends end up on the end of police action? Not
pretty at all.

The vigil, which started on Monday, is
planned to continue until budget night in May, with four or more “Friends”
manning the metaphorical barricades on a roster system.

Stradijot told Crikey that the vigil had been
held in the foyer area of the ABC in an attempt to avoid Melbourne’s cold
winds and rain. She said the Friends had often staged events in this space
before, including demonstrations during the dreaded Jonathon Shier regime.
“This is the first time we’ve been told to move out.”

The vigil is the Friends’ response to what
they see as the riskiest period in the ABC’s history, with the latest funding
submission about to be decided, and a “stacking” of the ABC Board including the
abolition of the staff-elected director position at the very time that a new
managing director is being chosen.

Winter-Dewhirst’s usual position is as
state director for South
Australia. She is filling in
for Murray Green, who in turn is in the hot seat as acting Managing Director
while the board ruminates on a replacement for Russell Balding.

Peter Fray

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