The executive producer of ABC shows The Checkout and Gruen, Nick Murray, doesn't like the ABC getting into bed with Swisse, one of three "foundation partners" helping fund the ABC's Australia Plus forays into Asia. The independent producer told TV Tonight: "We don’t like them and they don’t like us," a reference presumably to the fact that Swisse sued, then settled with the ABC over a Checkout segment that questioned wither the company's vitamins were "independently tested".
"It is astounding that the ABC thinks that Swisse is an appropriate brand partner,” Murray said. He added that the ABC's lack of experience dealing with advertisers didn't bode well for how they would handle Swisse:
“How is it going to be possible for the ABC to maintain relationships with commercial parties such as Swisse when it also broadcasts shows that Swisse dislikes?
“How will ABC Management including Lynley Marshall and the Managing Director balance independent programming decisions with the commercial pressures from huge advertisers like Swisse?”
The other two "foundation partners" for the ABC in Australia Plus are Monash University and the Victorian state government. In its release on Monday, the ABC said the three organisations would receive "exclusive branding and advertising opportunities across all Australia Plus online platforms, digital and social media channels and Australia Plus TV; exposure through Windows on Australia media events with the ABC's International media partners."
Swisse chief executive Radek Sali said the partnership would help Swisse expand into Asia:
“Our mission at Swisse is to make people around the world healthier and happier, and through this exciting partnership we will be able to take our message to a number of new regions and audiences.”
“It also gives us the opportunity to learn more about our different consumers needs, so as we launch into new countries we tailor our approach to suit."
On Tuesday, former ABC staff-elected board member and veteran journalist Quentin Dempster also questioned what he called the "advertorial future" of ABC Plus. "Without a network of in situ correspondents we're left with ads/PR fluffery," he tweeted. The ABC told Fairfax the "partnerships" would have no impact on programming. On social media, several other members of the Checkout team (including Kirsten Drysdale and Ben Jenkins) have expressed their bafflement over the decision to partner with Swisse.
In the 2014 budget, the ABC lost the $20-million contract with DFAT to fund the Asia-focused Australia Network. Australia Plus is the ABC's replacement service.