Where's ABC?

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   Apparently ‘non-political’ appointments will do nothing to
    resolve the ABC’s identity crisis, writes malcolm Colless.

               he Federal Government’s re-    would have brought more financial
               appointments to the board of   management grunt onto the board and
               the Australian Broadcasting    not (without taking away anything from
               Corporation put a political    Lynch or Schultz) an arts infusion.
  showpiece ahead of corporate common-              The selection process involved the
  sense. In an attempt to demonstrate that    appointment, by the head of the Prime
  it could go where no other government       Minister’s Department, of a seven-mem-
  had gone before—namely depoliticising       ber nomination panel to make merit-
  the ABC board—it turned its back on         based recommendations to fill the two
  the opportunity to instill some forensic    vacancies on the ABC board and two on
  accounting experience into the govern-      the board of SBS. This drawn out pro-
  ing body of a business with an annual       cess which left the ABC positions un-
  budget of more than $800m.                  filled for nearly a year cost the taxpayer
        This is despite what is believed to   more than $200,000 to prove a political
  have been strong representations along      point which, in the end, required the
  these lines from the ABC Chairman,          approval of Conroy, and then the Prime
  Maurice Newman, who has been under          Minister, Kevin Rudd. A close reading
  pressure to accept the reinstatement of     of the Government’s policy on this pro-
  the position of ‘ABC staff elected direc-   cedure shows that, if the Minister wants
  tor’ so that the Government can honour      to disregard the recommendations of the      cal representation on these boards only
  an election campaign commitment to          panel he simply needs the Prime Minis-       caters for the demands of political cor-
  the organisation’s unions.                  ter’s nod. So what’s new?                    rectness from the Left while creating an-
        The appointment of long-term arts           When it comes to appointing the        other costly bureaucratic structure.
  industry executive, Michael Lynch, a        next chairman of SBS (due at the end of            Meanwhile the ABC is wrestling
  former Australia Council chief executive,   the year) and the ABC in 2012, the ball      with a serious identity crisis as it cam-
  and academic and Griffith Review editor,    sits in the Prime Minister’s office and      paigns to convince anyone who will
  Julianne Schultz, followed a lengthy vet-   again he is under no obligation to accept    listen—but particularly the Prime Min-
  ting process set up by the Government       any recommendation from the nomina-          ister—that it is the only organisation
  in what it claimed was necessary to prove   tion panel.                                  equipped both technically and ethically
  transparency. The strength of this argu-          But there is no reason why the         to be Australia’s international broad-
  ment, pressed by Communications Min-        Prime Minister shouldn’t make these          caster.
  ister, Senator Stephen Conroy, is uncon-    appointments. The issue is about dem-           
Description: The Federal Government's reappointments to the board of the Australian Broadcasting Corp (ABC) put a political showpiece ahead of corporate common-sense. The ABC is wrestling with a serious identity crisis as it campaigns to convince anyone who will listen -- but particularly the Prime Minister -- that it is the only organization equipped both technically and ethically to be Australia's international broadcaster. The problem for the ABC is that much has changed since 2005. Australia Network had no coverage of this event because it relies totally on the ABC for editorial content and the ABC, along with the rest of the Australian media, were out in the cold on this one. In its discussion paper for the recent review of national broadcasting, the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy asked whether Australia's national broadcasters might be deployed to further Australia's cultural, commercial and social links in key Asian markets, particularly those crucial to the future trade and economic development.
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