By Annie Kinny and Matt Burgess, Director.
In the wake of Fairfax media announcing 1900 job cuts, the fabulous Gina Rinehart reporting her desire to be involved in editorial decision making and her push to take three board seats on Fairfax, the greens have pushed for legislation which would force media owners and boards to commit to editorial independence. However, neither political party will go that far. What the senate has done is pass The National Broadcasting Amendment Bill (2010), the bill will introduce new laws which will see appointments to the board of the national broadcaster, the ABC, and the government-funded SBS, to be governed by an independent panel. The panel will advise the government on suitable appointments and provide a short list to the communications minister, who will hand down the final decision. In addition, under the new laws, a staff elected director will be appointed to the ABC.
The move has the support of the greens yet not the liberal party. Liberal senator Simon Birmingham was unhappy with the legislation, claiming that re-installing a staff-elected figure to the ABC board had the potential to ”compromise board meeting confidentiality”.
So what does all this mean?
In 2006 the coalition decided to abolish the staff elected position to the board of the ABC, due to concerns that any ‘staff position’ held presented the risk of a conflict of interest. However, as both Fairfax Media and News Limited undergo major restructuring of their newspaper and digital operations, the government will revisit media ownership laws with implications for diversity and independence. The bill will move the decision making process further away from the risk of political meddling. Scott Ludlam (Australian Greens communications spokesman) stated that, “the board must be independent so that the ABC can fearlessly report on, expose and explore all issues, even those that make the government of the day and other powerful vested interests uncomfortable”.
The Australian public assume that the government funding provided to the ABC and the SBS is done so, to provide Australians with an independent and impartial view of the relevant news stories of the day. “Unbiased journalism is one very important pillar of what a healthy, functional democracy depends upon. No government should be allowed to appoint or influence who sits on the ABC board”. The Bill will ensure that the assumption held by the Australian public and the comfort that it provides to those consuming that media, will be entrenched in law.
This blog is for discussion purposes only. This must not be considered legal advice.
For legal advice on this topic and references to any information in this article, please contact
Matt Burgess, Director:
Phone: +61 405 722 739
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Image Credit: David Castillo Dominici
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