Communist Party of Australia

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Issue #1578      January 23, 2013

Independence is at stake if ABC salaries are published

The Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) is concerned that a push to reveal the salaries of ABC presenters could create a conflict between the need for transparency in major media organisations and editorial independence at the Corporation.

The union, which represents ABC workers, fears that the Freedom of Information request by the publisher, Herald & Weekly Times, and a recent decision by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, could open the floodgates for personal information about staff to enter the public domain.

Because of the breadth of the HWT’s FOI request the personal records of any staff from on-air presenters through to production staff could be disclosed. This could mean the disclosure of a staff member’s superannuation tally and personal loading through to their mobile phone, car parking and taxi receipts.

The CPSU is studying the AAT decision carefully and will liaise with its counterpart, the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance, as to what steps it can take next. This includes seeking legal advice on how its members might be affected in the event the FOI request is successful.

CPSU national president Michael Tull said: “The ABC is a very transparent organisation and we applaud the fact that it does disclose top manager’s salaries but this request goes well beyond that and raises some very important issues and concerns.”

Mr Tull said the interpretation of the FOI request is so wide that it could sweep up all manner of personal details in its net. “You could end up with someone’s group certificate being disclosed or even their performance review.

“The material that HWT is seeking could possibly even take into account the ways in which a journalist gathers material for his or her story, which goes to the very heart of the independence and confidentiality of ABC’s newsgathering. These are details that should not end up in the public domain.

“You have to ask yourself who is that going to benefit? We view it as nothing more than an intrusion of someone’s privacy.”

The CPSU also warns that the publication of salary details of some of its top presenters could put the ABC at a disadvantage when it comes to negotiations with presenters and their agents. The Corporation could find that its top presenters are picked off by commercial networks which have deeper pockets.

Mr Tull also said the disclosure of such details, which could be used to undertake a snap audit of the cost of a particular program, could provide ammunition to those forces that would seek to undermine the ABC.

“The ABC is under attack from many different quarters and as it enters the final stages of its triennial funding discussions with the government, the disclosure of such details would only serve to arm its attackers.”  

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