Under section 8 of the ABC Act, it’s the board’s duty “to maintain the independence and integrity of the Corporation”.
The current ABC board has failed to do so.
In 2003, this board’s predecessors stood fast in the face of a campaign of intimidation over the broadcaster’s coverage of the Iraq War, led by Liberal communications minister Richard Alston. That board — nearly entirely appointed by the Howard government and including such conservative figures as Donald McDonald, Judith Sloan, Ron Brunton and Maurice Newman — rejected attempts by Alston to discredit the ABC’s coverage of what turned out to be a profound, and deadly, mistake.
The current board, however, has caved to pressure from the Abbott government and agreed to shift Q&A into its News and Current Affairs division in exchange for Tony Abbott agreeing to allow his ministers back on the program.
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It is a bizarre decision: the Abbott government is deeply unpopular, and the outrage directed at Q&A by Abbott, his ministers and Rupert Murdoch’s media outlets was entirely confected. Meanwhile, the ABC remains one of Australia’s most respected institutions.
But worse, this decision establishes a highly damaging precedent: any government now has a legitimate expectation that it can dictate to the ABC about individual programs. In failing to defend the independence of the ABC, its directors have damaged one of the most important institutions in the country.