The ABC Managing Director Mark Scott has chosen the Sydney Institute – the think tank run by Gerard and Anne Henderson – to release the new editorial policies for the ABC next Monday night. The choice of venue is bound to be controversial.
ABC corporate spokesperson Sandy Culkoff tells me that the choice of the Sydney Institute was Scott’s personal decision. Pressed, she said that Scott would brief ABC editorial staff on the policies on Monday, a few hours before his address to the Institute.
So what’s in the policies? They are the result of a regular review process, there has been an extensive period of consultation, and when last seen by editorial policy people there was nothing contentious. What ABC insiders fear is that they will have been last-minute amendments made at board level. We’ll all find out on Monday.
In the meantime, the Sydney Institute apparently knows more about the policies than ABC editorial staff. For the last two days I have been ringing around trying to find out about the approval process. Senior ABC broadcasters and managers have not been sure either what was in the policies, whether they had yet been approved by the Board or when they would come into effect.
But yesterday morning the Sydney Institute sent around an ad for what will be Mark Scott’s first public address since his appointment. The Sydney Institute said the policies were “recently approved by the ABC Board” and would come into effect on 1 March next year. Thanks for the info.
The issue is one of perceptions, perhaps more than reality. Gerard Henderson has been a strident critic of the ABC over many years – one of those who believe there is institutionalised bias at the national broadcaster. He is a leading conservative commentator.
However speakers at the Sydney Institute include people from all sides of life and politics. Diverse points of view tend to get a fair shake of the stick. Faces within the audience sometimes include the ABC Chairman, Donald McDonald.
Asked “why the Sydney Institute?” Culkoff said it was because it was a respected venue for debate on media policy.
Nevertheless within the ABC Scott’s choice of venue is almost certain to be regarded with alarm. Particularly since, as one ABC broadcaster put it: “We’re all waiting to see how Mark walks the tightrope between advocating the ABC’s fearless journalism and being seen by the Windschuttlers to be courageously attacking the Marxists who apparently still reside within.”
On the other hand, the Board and those within the Government who want Scott to take on the “Marxists” within the ABC might well find the choice of venue reassuring. Perhaps that is the aim.
Declaration: Margaret Simons has addressed the Sydney Institute on three occasions.