The ABC has called for changes to how its funding is allocated to “protect against actual or perceived political interference”.
In a submission to a Senate inquiry into political interference in the ABC, acting managing director David Anderson argued for consideration of “alternative funding arrangements”.
“This will ensure that the ABC is not under threat of capricious or arbitrary political decisions that may influence or be perceived to influence ABC editorial or management decisions,” Anderson wrote.
The inquiry was prompted by a public blow-up at the broadcaster following managing director Michelle Guthrie’s sacking in September.
Anderson said the government should guarantee stable and sufficient funding so the ABC could fulfill its charter obligations, including setting the funding for years in advance which would “protect against actual or perceived political interference and to provide the corporation with the ability to plan for the future.”
“In order to ensure the ABC’s statutory role is carried out and independence not only safeguarded but seen to be safeguarded, it is essential that the Commonwealth guarantee stable and sufficient funding for the national broadcaster,” he said. “This will ensure that the ABC is not under threat of capricious or arbitrary political decisions that may influence or be perceived to influence ABC editorial or management decisions.”
Anderson’s comments are some of the strongest to come directly from the ABC regarding successive governments’ cuts to the broadcaster. Following the government’s cuts in the 2018 budget, Guthrie, who was still managing director at the time, said the cuts would “make it very difficult for the ABC to meet its charter requirements and audience expectations”. That had followed repeated complaints from Communications Minister Mitch Fifield and others government MPs to the ABC regarding its editorial decisions and coverage.
After Guthrie was sacked, she accused then-chair Justin Milne of asking her to sack journalists following complaints from government ministers. She has also suggested that Milne was unwilling to push back against criticism by the government in order not to risk future funding decisions.
The inquiry was ordered after Guthrie was sacked to investigate her claims of political interference, as well as the role of funding uncertainty in facilitating political influence and the circumstances of her sacking.
The Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (the journalists’ union), the ABC Friends and ABC Alumni supporters’ groups, the Centre for Advancing Journalism, The Australia Institute and the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council have also made submissions.
Should the ABC have special funding that is immune to political interference? Write to [email protected] and let us know.