Frontrunner Matt Peacock is facing a surprisingly long and impressive field of contenders for the prized position of staff-elected director on the ABC board.

Nine Aunty staffers have put their names forward for the role — Crikey has obtained the full list and their pitches — including current affairs journalist Peacock, Adelaide 891 Mornings host Ian Henschke, emergency services head Ian Mannix and Darwin-based sports broadcaster Charlie King.

Voting starts next Friday for the position, which was abolished by the Howard government in 2006 and reintroduced by Labor last year. ABC staffers are taking a keen interest in the race given some fear the Coalition might target public broadcasting for budget savings, as the Howard government did after its election in 1996.

Past staff-elected directors have played an influential role in opposing moves towards commercialisation and defending the importance of editorial independence.

ABC veterans told Crikey it was the largest field of contenders they could remember, with three or four nominees more common in the past.

Peacock — whose work reporting on asbestos at James Hardie inspired last year’s miniseries Devil’s Dust — is seen as the favourite within the ABC because he has secured the backing of well-regarded predecessor Quentin Dempster. The unions representing ABC workers –the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance and the Community and Public Sector Union — have yet to formally back a candidate.

In his pitch to voters, Peacock, who is based in the ABC’s Ultimo headquarters, promises:

“As staff-elected director I will fight for decentralisation and training to build the talent and skills of program makers, producers, managers and support staff. We need more specialisation, not less, to enhance the distinctiveness of our efforts. We need a mixed production model in TV/radio which expands, not cuts, in-house skills and creativity. I oppose advertising and sponsorship and will push for increased untied government funding to redress the 23% decline in real funds in the past three decades.”

Henschke, who sat on the board as staff-elected director for two years during the tumultuous Jonathan Shier era, says:

“On your behalf I defended Australia’s most important cultural institution from political and commercial interference. I then helped select Russell Balding as the new MD. I’m the only candidate with the crucial experience of having served on the ABC board. I know how to get things done at board level. And I understand the concerns of staff in multiple divisions in every state and territory — because I’ve worked in those areas and still keep in touch with all of them.”

Adelaide-based Ian Mannix, who won a public service medal last year for his work in emergency broadcasting, writes:

“I have always believed that while the ABC has an important role in reflecting what Australian society is about, we can also play a role in helping build a stronger community. I also believe the public broadcaster should better reflect the lives of all Australians, particularly in areas outside Sydney. Discovering new voices and promoting talent from regions and other capital cities is an important role of the national broadcaster and will require a bigger commitment from the ABC.”

The ABC has laid down tough laws for the elections, which conclude on April 19, with candidates only allowed to send two direct pitches to voters via all-staff emails. NSW 7.30 host Quentin Dempster is ineligible for the position because he served two successive terms on the board from 1992-1996.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story stated that Ian Mannix is based in Melbourne, rather than Adelaide. The story has been amended.