Then ABC general manager Russell Balding fronts senate estimates in 2002.

The fall out from ABC economics correspondent Emma Alberici’s piece on the logic of tax cuts for big business — removed from the ABC website after complaints from Coalition politicians, subject to attack pieces in The Australian and the Australian Financial Review and eventually returned to public view in an amputated form — has certainly let ABC journos know where they stand.

During a train wreck performance at Senate Estimates last night, Managing Director Michelle Guthrie — who denied Alberici had been “hung out to dry” — was asked whether Alberici still had her full confidence, and Guthrie’s spoke volumes: “Emma Alberici will remain our chief economics correspondent”. 

Of course, this isn’t the first time the ABC has come under attack along partisan lines — AM‘s reporting of the Iraq war in 2003 attracted an amazing 68 complaints from then Communications Minister Richard Alston (some of which were a touch, how shall we put this, pernickity?) and resulted in the network being threatened with the imposition of an “independent censor”.

The response? Then director of news and current affairs at the ABC Max Uechtritz wrote an op ed in Fairfax defending the ABC’s work and the role of sceptical journalism in a time of war, while then managing director Russell Balding, while acknowledging “coverage of a war by a high profile current affairs program such as AM, in a contested and difficult environment, is not a simple matter”, stood “vigorously” by his journalists and how they reported the war. Then ABC chair Donald McDonald, who was initially criticised as too close to John Howard after the latter appointed him to the role, also stood by the broadcaster and refused to allow it to be bullied, costing him some conservative friendships. What Alberici would have given for similar support.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey