The ABC Act, section 78, subsection 6:

“Except as provided by this section, or as expressly provided by a provision of another Act, the Corporation is not subject to direction by or on behalf of the Government of the Commonwealth.”

Malcolm Turnbull is dangerously close to doing exactly that. Put aside the ideology of the war on the ABC, the grudges and accusations of bias that have come from every government since Aunty’s first broadcast, the convention is clear: ministers can’t interfere in the editorial content of the ABC.

Turnbull, we’ve learned, not only contacted ABC managing director Mark Scott — not, as convention dictates, the government-appointed chairman — but complained specifically about the deal under which ABC News ran The Guardian‘s cracking Edward Snowden-derived scoop on Indonesian spying.

It’s an extraordinary intervention, perhaps the worst since John Howard’s media minder Richard Alston formally and vigorously complained about the broadcaster’s coverage of the Iraq war in 2003.

Scott stood firm, as he should. And he’ll have the public firmly on side — the ABC is one of the most trusted institutions in the land; its many viewers don’t take kindly to bully governments trying to influence its reporting.

We’re told this morning’s Coalition party room meeting was dominated by talk of ABC bias. As if there’s nothing more pressing for a new federal government to focus on. The war will wage. But Turnbull won’t win.

Peter Fray

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