Australia: Public broadcaster faces intimidation and manipulation

Australian national public broadcaster ABC faced pressure from government ministers and senators prior to the airing of an investigative program exposing misconduct and toxic behaviour in federal parliament on November 9. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and its affiliate the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) condemn the extraordinary coercion and political interference in the legitimate reporting of the ABC.

Credit: Four Corners

The Four Corners investigation, titled ‘Inside the Canberra Bubble’, revealed a history of sexism and inappropriate behaviour by senior members of staff in the Coalition. Attorney General Christian Porter and minister Alan Tudge were both indicted for their conduct with young female staffers, contributing to the prohibition of staff relationships by former Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull in his infamous ‘bonk ban’.

In advance of the broadcast, staff of government ministers reportedly contacted the ABC, questioning if the program was in the ‘public interest’. Several senior ABC managers were also questioned at Senate estimates. Sally Neighbor, executive producer of Four Corners, claimed “extreme and unrelenting” political pressure had been applied from multiple representatives of the government to ABC management. ABC has legislated editorial independence, under the Australian Broadcasting Corporation Act of 1983.

ABC managing director David Anderson defended the program, stating he did not believe there was a threat in communications with government offices. "It goes to conduct of ministers, ministers of the Crown, to be held to the highest standard in society. That's the nature of the story," he added.

The MEAA acting director Adam Portelli said:Attempts to harass or shut down the program before it had even gone to air is clearly intimidatory. It seeks to silence legitimate reporting… Australia’s public broadcaster is consistently rated as one of the country’s most trusted news sources. This trust is enshrined in the ABC Charter that requires the ABC to act only in the interests of the Australian public – its independence is paramount. That trust must not be eroded by political interference. Politicians must not seek to avoid legitimate scrutiny.”

The IFJ said: “The immense political pressure applied by government ministers to the ABC is a blatant attempt to silence legitimate reporting and restrict press freedom. The IFJ condemns the intimidation and interference of political authorities in Australian broadcasting, and urges journalists to continue their independent and impartial coverage of political issues.”

For further information contact IFJ Asia - Pacific on ifj@ifj-asia.org

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 140 countries

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