Industry body calls on ABC board to resign

By Mariam Cheik-Hussein | 4 October 2018

The Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance's (MEAA) ABC House Committee is demanding greater transparency from the ABC board following the loss of two of its leaders in a damaging week for the public broadcaster.

The industry body says it understands that a level of confidentiality is required over the matter but argues that the public has a right to know what actions each member took once they were aware of alleged political interference.

ABC staff and their union representative became concerned with reports that the former chairperson Justin Milne asked the managing director Michelle Guthrie to remove two prominent ABC journalists because their reporting had angered the government.

“The past week has shown the damage political appointees can do when their personal interests and connections override their directors’ obligations,” an MEAA spokesperson said in an email to its members.

The industry body is now demanding that each board member disclose when they knew and provide an account of the actions they took once they knew.

“No more leaks, no more rumours, no more expensive spin doctors and crisis managers controlling the flow of information," an MEAA spokesperson said.

“Each interim board member needs to provide an account of their actions. As well, all relevant materials – emails, dossiers and other communications – should be made available to the inquiries into these matters.”

In a sign that the MEAA no longer thinks that the current board is able to act in the best interest of Australians, it began referring to them as the “interim” board and asked for them to step down.

It also recommends that changes be made to the way board members are appointed, suggesting that those with strong industry experience be selected and two staff-elected directors on the board.

“Industry experience is crucial for an institution like ours. So too is a commitment to, and understanding of, public broadcasting. We need to recruit directors who will uphold our independence and who value our public ownership," an MEAA spokesperson added.

"It is unacceptable that the ABC board has, over decades, become a landing pad for appointed political mates for whom it is just another seat on the corporate circuit.”

An ABC spokesperson told AdNews that the ABC board acts in accordance with its obligations under the ABC Act. 

"The process for appointments to the ABC Board is set out in the Act and is a matter for the Government," said the spokesperson.

Update: The ABC board has released a statement saying that it resolved to appoint an independent expert to investigate the issues raised by the former managing director.

“The board received a letter from the former managing director late on Friday 21 September 2018. In that letter, Ms Guthrie responded to several issues that the board raised with her. In addition, the former managing director raised other matters that she requested the board investigate on a confidential basis," the board said.  

"The board resolved on Sunday 23 September 2018 to appoint an external, independent expert advisor to investigate these matters. That investigation is underway, and it is not appropriate for the Board or the ABC to make any further comment pending its completion.”

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