Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his captain’s pick for ABC chair Ita Buttrose had a tete-a-tete today. Here’s the agenda both needed to bring to the table:
What Ita wants from Scott
1. Show me the money
This is the big one; in the first three years of Coalition government, the ABC faced cuts of around $100 million. Then in 2018 another $84 million was slashed. Ita Buttrose will ask for “adequate” funds.
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2. Less attention from the AFP
Probably Ita’s most impressive moment at the ABC’s helm came in the aftermath of the Australian Federal Police raids on the ABC offices. She issued a firm, clear statement and called the raids what they were: intimidation.
She, Morrison and Communications Minister Paul Fletcher already had a “productive” (albeit very brief) meeting about the matter, but still, she might want to make sure.
3. Get your people under control
To be fair on him, Morrison has avoided actively culture warring with the ABC unlike his predecessors Tony Abbott, which had a real zealotry to it, or Malcolm Turnbull, who approached it with an indifferent malevolence.
But the same can’t be said of his colleagues. Only this week LNP Senator James McGrath stood up and talked about some people he knew who were definitely real average voters (and not just Craig Kelly).
“Too many people I know no longer see the ABC as ‘the national broadcaster’, they see it as ‘the un-Australian broadcaster’,” he said, the day after Nielsen revealed it was the most visited news website in Australia for January.
What Scott Wants from Ita
1. Less scrutiny
While Morrison has not gone out of his way to war with the ABC, he’s not gone out of his way to avoid it either.
First, there was his Trumpy accusation that an ABC journalist was taking her questions from Labor Party talking points. His firm conviction that “no one is above the law” after the AFP raided the ABC’s offices didn’t inspire much confidence in his press-freedom credentials.
2. More admissions of bias
Part of the reason Morrison hasn’t had to go too hard on the ABC during his premiership is Buttrose has done some of that work for him.
Prior to the last election, Buttrose told her own radio station that the organisation “might be biased” in its reporting, during a discussion about the election and the looming funding cut expected to hit the broadcaster.
Buttrose said some staff could be unconsciously showing bias and that the broadcaster “could do with more diversity of views”.
I mean, she’s not the only person who thinks the ABC could improve on that front.
Further, it can’t have displeased Morrison to see Buttrose rule out an “ABC-staff climate crisis advisory group” aimed at a “solutions journalism” approach to climate change reporting, or to see her jump upon the “political correctness has gone mad these days” trampoline.
A spokesman for Fletcher told The Australian that the government was “open” to hearing “any specific additional costs” the ABC has incurred as the emergency broadcaster.
Then the kicker, just so no one forgets who holds the purse strings: “The government would expect that any such detailed information would also demonstrate the progress the ABC is making in securing efficiencies across the organisation.”