The ABC this morning rebutted claims by the Australian Football League that it had effectively bought the right to control which state league matches got screened by the national broadcaster, in breach of editorial independence.

The disagreement has arisen as a result of a story broken by Rosemary Bolger of the Launceston Examiner yesterday (sadly, only visible behind a paywall) in which she quoted Tasmanian AFL general manager Scott Wade as saying that in return for a $50,000 contribution to the ABC each season, the AFL decided which games would be screened.

“We basically pick the games,” Wade was quoted as saying. “If we wanted one game covered and the ABC wanted a different one, the decision’s ours.”

The issue is causing some heat in Tasmania because clubs and fans in the North of the island feel they have been ignored in this year’s schedule. The ABC’s editorial policies allow for funding arrangements for co-productions, but state that the ABC must retain editorial independence.

A ring around other state AFL branches by Crikey this morning revealed that most regard themselves as deciding on matches “in cooperation” with the ABC. The CEO in Victoria, Grant Williams, said “we work in with the ABC, and I don’t think we’ve ever had a disagreement, but it’s their say in the end”.

The AFL CEOs in Western Australia and South Australia made similar comments.

Meanwhile the Head of ABC TV Sport, Justin Holdforth, told Crikey Wade’s understanding was wrong: “All ABC contracts enshrine the independence of the ABC,” he said. “The ABC, under the contract, has editorial control at all times. These are standard clauses in all our contracts. A copy of the relevant clauses of the ABC Editorial Policies are attached formally to the signed contract.

“The ABC has the final say on match selection and all editorial aspects of the broadcast. Having said that, the ABC works in conjunction with its sporting partners to establish the best possible broadcast schedule for every sporting competition. Each sporting organisation and its members have issues around venues, logistics, crowds and budgets that need to be taken into account when choosing a match schedule. We operate in a spirit of cooperation to provide the best outcome for the audience.”

The question remains how the Tasmanian AFL could have gotten it so wrong?

It would be nice to be a fly on the wall at the next meeting over which matches get screened in that state.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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