On Thursday, it was announced that the ABC have launched an external investigation into issues raised by former Managing Director of the ABC, Michelle Guthrie.
This investigation is confidential and very much hush hush, the latest development in a series of shocking events at the ABC.
First, Michelle Guthrie was sacked as Managing Director of the ABC halfway through her 5-year term. Then, allegations arose that ABC Chairperson, Justin Milne, directed Guthrie to sack senior reporter Emma Alberici due to pressure from the former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.
Further, it came to light that Milne had allegedly directed Guthrie to stop Triple J from moving the Hottest 100 Countdown from Australia Day – because he was afraid of Turnbull’s reaction. Since these allegations came to light, Milne resigned as ABC Chairperson due to overwhelming public pressure. PM Scott Morrison’s recent thinly-veiled threat for the ABC board to “…do better. And if they don’t, well, they can expect a bit more attention from me” has galvanised a panicked, outpouring of support and activism from the public to protect the ABC from government and other private interests. Fast forward to today, we have the announcement of the external investigation into the ABC. It’s all chaos.
Allegations against Milne remain unproven. Turnbull has denied any interference in the ABC’s personnel choices. But the fact remains that the ABC needs to keep the Government on side. It has faced substantial budget cuts from the Government – $254 million in cuts since 2014, according to Guthrie. Employees at the ABC have been sacked left, right and centre, with remaining staff reporting dangerous levels of workplace stress last year due to increased workloads. High level management at the ABC has felt pressure to appease the government to increase their funding. But bowing to this pressure will start a problematic relationship with the Government, which we are already seeing evidence of.
When our Government interferes with what, who, how and when media organisations report information, they are robbing us of our fundamental human rights. Free media is a core element of any democracy, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”. We deserve to know whether the Government has influenced how, what and when news stories have been presented to us. Allegations against Milne need to be investigated, as do any other potential political influences, as it is our right to trust that our media is not tainted by government influence.
We deserve to know what really is going on at the ABC. We should all be paying attention to this, as more allegations will surely emerge.
This is not the end of the chaos at the ABC – it looks like its just the beginning.