Politicians tried to harass and intimidate the ABC, journalists say

The independence of Australia’s national public broadcaster continues to be under threat and must be protected, the union for Australian journalists says.

The Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance said in a statement released on Friday that it condemns “the extraordinary pressure applied by government staffers and Senators” before an ABC Four Corners investigation.

Called Inside the Canberra Bubble, the program investigated the behaviour and misconduct of federal parliamentarians and went to air last week.

Coalition Ministers’ staff were calling and emailing

Allegedly, Coalition Ministers’ staff were calling and emailing senior ABC directors and management, questioning whether the episode was in the public interest.

The pressure also included the questioning of senior ABC managers at Senate estimates hearings – once again, in advance of the screening of the program.

“Attempts to harass or shut down the program before it had even gone to air are clearly intimidatory,” said Adam Portelli, Acting Director of the Alliance.

An attempt to silence legitimate reporting by ABC

“It seeks to silence legitimate reporting. It was subsequently borne out that the Four Corners program was clearly in the national interest given the nationwide debate about issues raised in the program.”

Portelli said that, under the Australian Broadcasting Corporation Act, the ABC has legislated operational and editorial independence. However, the pressure exerted on senior ABC personnel aimed to avoid the prescribed channels for communicating with the broadcaster.

“This is not the only occasion in recent years when politicians have interfered in the ABC – on several occasions the government has chosen to override the legislated independent panel selection process for the appointment of ABC directors,” he noted. “

ABC journalists are willing to take a stand again

“Two years ago ABC journalists took a stand against political interference and are prepared to do so again.”

According to the Alliance, Australia’s public broadcaster has consistently rated as one of the country’s most trusted news sources, a trust enshrined in the ABC Charter that requires the ABC to act only in the interests of the Australian public.  

”That trust must not be eroded by political interference. Politicians must not seek to avoid legitimate scrutiny,” it said.