The Guardian June 7, 2000


A thousand cuts for ABC's independence

by Peter Mac

Having failed to bring the ABC to its knees by way of financial cuts, the 
Howard government is attempting to achieve its objectives by stacking the 
ABC management with conservative business appointees who are wedded to the 
private enterprise system and have no concern for the genuine independence 
of the national broadcaster.

The recent appointment of the new managing director of the ABC, Jonathan 
Shier, is another step in that direction. He is not likely to bolster the 
organisation's independence.

Another such assault was the recent agreement entered into by ABC 
management with the Telstra Corporation to broadcast online news, providing 
that its content is approved by Telstra. Given that Telstra is already 
nearly half privatised and its Board of Directors and the Federal 
Government want to sell off the rest, the deal constitutes the effective 
loss of the ABC's editorial independence to private interests.

Last week one of the ABC's most experienced senior managers, Andrew Lloyd 
James was, in effect, summarily dismissed by the new Chief Executive. Lloyd 
James was known to be fiercely committed to non-commercial public 
broadcasting, and to the editorial independence of the ABC. He was also an 
ally of the former managing director, Brian Johns, who was openly critical 
of the Howard government's savage cuts to ABC funding in the most recent 
federal budget.

Angry resignation

The departure of Andrew James follows the angry resignation of top network 
scheduler Hugh McGowan. These resignations have left the ABC with a senior 
management dominated by favorites of the present coalition government, 
whose every major decision is a step towards the destruction of the 
independence of the ABC, turning it into a compliant replica of the 
commercial media.

Shier had been working for commercial television overseas for many years. 
He is known to be a close confidante of the conservative chairman of the 
ABC, Donald Macdonald. Macdonald recently described the Prime Minister as 
"a man of high courage, he has a transparent candour, he is a proud man 
possessed of a true humility ... quite without malice, he is unpracticed in 
derision ... he is an absolute gentleman, a true patriot, a great friend."

Shiers has now hired another individual of similar views, marketing expert 
Keith Bales, who until recently worked for the Disney corporation.

As Shakespeare said: "oh brave new world, that hath such people in it!" 

It's bad news for the ABC, and bad news for the people of Australia.

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