ABC chair Ita Buttrose has said the federal government should terminate or suspend an inquiry into the national broadcaster’s complaints handling process, saying it is a “blatant attempt to usurp the role of the ABC Board” and undermine its independence.
In a forthright statement published on Sunday, Buttrose said the inquiry, which was announced by Senate Communication Committee chair Andrew Bragg, is “an act of political interference” that is designed to intimidate the ABC and “mute its role as this country’s most trusted source of public interest journalism”.
The government’s inquiry into the ABC’s complaints handling was announced last week and comes after the ABC Board last month launched its own independent review on the same issue.
“Instead of respecting the integrity of this process, the Senate Committee under the leadership of Senator Bragg has decided to initiate a parallel process,” Buttrose wrote in her statement.
“I will leave it to Senator Bragg to explain his motives but the impact of this action is clear. As Chair of the ABC Board I am duty bound to call out any action that seeks to undermine the independence of the national broadcaster.”
Buttrose’s statement was critical of the Senate committee’s action to initiate a review, saying it is the legally the ABC board’s responsibility, and the government had no place doing so. She said it was an attempt to “weaken trust” in the public broadcaster.
“Once again, an elected representative has chosen to threaten the ABC’s independence at the expense of the integrity of this irreplaceable public service. Any incursion of this kind into the ABC’s independence should be seen by Australians for what it is: an attempt to weaken the community’s trust in the public broadcaster.”
The ABC’s independent review is well under way, headed up by former Commonwealth and NSW Ombudsman Professor John McMillan AO and Jim Carroll, former SBS Director. It’s the first official review of the complaints handling process at the ABC in 12 years, and findings will be released in April 2022.
“This review is well underway and members of Parliament, including Senator Bragg, have already been interviewed as part of the review process,” Buttrose said. “An issues paper will be released shortly and the review will then be seeking public submissions.”
“Instead of respecting the integrity of this process, the Senate Committee under the leadership of Senator Bragg has decided to initiate a parallel process.”
Buttrose said the Senate Committee, led by Bragg, performs “a vital role” but said it was regrettable it has decided to operate its own inquiry.
“Politicians, like all citizens, are welcome to criticise anything they find wrong or objectionable that is published by the ABC but they cannot be allowed to tell the ABC what it may or may not say,” she said.
“When Parliament resumes later this month, I respectfully ask the Senate to act to defend the independence of the ABC, as Australia’s national broadcaster, by passing a motion to terminate or suspend this inquiry until the independent process commissioned by the ABC Board has been completed.”