Independence is paramount for the ABC

OPINION

The legends at ABC Friends sent a questionnaire to the Wentworth by-election candidates to gauge their support for the national public broadcaster. I've been listed as a "moderate" supporter, which is justifiable because of how I answered two questions relating to funding.

Here's what I think, so you can make your own judgement:

We'd be worse off without the ABC. It gives a voice to rural Australia and it shares Australian news and views with the Asia-Pacific.

But the ABC needs to be reconstructed with independence baked in. I signed this petition and encourage you to do the same if you agree.

The government's hold on the broadcaster has been revealed: its board members were hand-picked by Communications Minister Mitch Fifield (who happens to be a member of the Institute for Public Affairs, which would sell the ABC). It was pressured to sack troublesome journalists.

Any and all inappropriate influence must be extinguished. The ABC's value—both as a source of information and as a cultural conduit—is diminished if it's reasonable to hold the slightest suspicion that it might be a government mouthpiece.

Perhaps a step towards ensuring greater independence is to take decisions about the ABC's funding (currently based on a triennial agreement) out of the hands of the government of the day. I think the ABC is likely to be underfunded, but I don't think I should be making that call. That's why I answered "no" to the two questions that listed a dollar amount.

Here are the questions and my answers. There were seven were yes/no questions, with an opportunity to elaborate at the end.

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1. Will you commit to ensuring that the ABC remains as a public broadcaster; that it will not be sold off? YES
2. Will you commit to reversing the $84 million funding cuts to the ABC in the last federal budget? NO
3. Do you support restoration of ABC funding to the level it received in 2013 (before the Abbott government cuts of $254m in 2014)? NO
4. Will you commit to maintaining the independence of the ABC Board and Management, as outlined within the ABC Act (1983) and ABC Charter? YES
5. Will you commit to ensuring the ABC receives sufficient funds to allow it to provide comprehensive services to rural and regional Australia? YES
6. Will you commit to ensuring the ABC receives sufficient funds to allow it to resume its important role as Australia’s voice into Asia and the Pacific through its broadcast to the Indo-Pacific area? YES
7. Will you commit to ensuring the ABC receives sufficient funds to allow it to resume its important role as Australia’s voice into Asia and the Pacific through its broadcast to the Indo-Pacific area? YES
8. Do you commit to ensuring that the governance of the ABC remains independent of political or external interference? YES
9. Do you agree that the ABC must set the gold standard for quality, ethical, specialist and inclusive broadcasting nationally so as to inform, entertain and stimulate our robust Australian democratic way of life? YES

Further comments:

Strengthening the ABC's independence is vital. Australia's national public broadcaster is one of our most trusted institutions and it must not be open to any suspicion of undue interference, government or otherwise. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation Act (1983) should be reviewed to ensure that the ABC's funding model and organisational structure provide independence from government.

Regarding funding, the ABC must of course be sufficiently funded to carry out its many important services, including the ones listed above, but I prefer not to commit to any particular dollar amount.

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A copy of the survey with my answers included can be downloaded here.

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