Mitch Fi­field: leg­is­lat­ing fair­ness and bal­ance into ABC won’t change broad­caster

The Guardian Australia - - Front Page - Gareth Hutchens and agen­cies

The com­mu­ni­ca­tions min­is­ter, Mitch Fi­field, has de­fended his de­ci­sion to leg­is­late that the ABC must be “fair and bal­anced”, say­ing it will not change any­thing about the public broad­caster’s ex­ist­ing ed­i­to­rial poli­cies.

He has also re­jected the crit­i­cism that the Turn­bull gov­ern­ment let its ide­ol­ogy get in the way when it de­lib­er­ately de­signed a me­dia sup­port pack­age that could not be used by Guardian Aus­tralia, say­ing it didn’t ap­ply any “ide­o­log­i­cal tests” to the me­dia com­pa­nies that would ben­e­fit from its pack­age.

The gov­ern­ment’s pro­posed change to the ABC Act – yet to be brought to par­lia­ment – is part of a deal with One Na­tion in ex­change for

pass­ing its over­haul of me­dia laws.

Fi­field con­ceded on Sun­day there had been “a bit of up­roar” about the pro­posed changes to the ABC, but said the broad­caster’s ex­ist­ing poli­cies talked about the im­por­tance of fair treat­ment and fol­low­ing the weight of ev­i­dence on each is­sue, so the changes shouldn’t be con­tro­ver­sial.

“Th­ese are not new or strange jour­nal­is­tic con­cepts,” he said.

Ap­pear­ing on the ABC’s In­sid­ers pro­gram, Fi­field was asked what he thought “bal­ance” meant, given the push to in­clude the word in the ABC Act had come from One Na­tion, and One Na­tion has said bal­ance would in­clude giv­ing equal air time to cli­mate change sci­en­tists and scep­tics.

Fi­field again pointed to the ABC’s ed­i­to­rial poli­cies and sug­gested it would be a su­per­fi­cial change only.

“What I’m talk­ing about is ef­fec­tively en­shrin­ing in leg­is­la­tion that which is al­ready in the ABC’s own ed­i­to­rial pol­icy,” he said. “It will op­er­ate ex­actly as it does now and that is the ABC will make the judg­ments on th­ese mat­ters. The gov­ern­ment doesn’t have a role in ed­i­to­rial ar­range­ments at the ABC.”

Fi­field also de­nied his me­dia re­form pack­age had been struc­tured to ex­clude Guardian Aus­tralia.

That is de­spite the fact gov­ern­ment min­is­ters ad­mit­ted pri­vately dur­ing ne­go­ti­a­tions that the “for­eign par­ent com­pany” veto in the re­form pack­age was aimed at Guardian Aus­tralia.

“We haven’t ap­plied any ide­o­log­i­cal tests here,” Fi­field said. “But what we wanted to hap­pen was to see this sup­port fo­cused on Aus­tralian me­dia or­gan­i­sa­tions and those that had been dis­rupted, and that’s the way that we’ve struc­tured this $60m pack­age.”

When asked why the gov­ern­ment didn’t have a prob­lem hand­ing $30m to Fox Sports, which is half-owned by News Corp Aus­tralia (whose for­eign par­ent is Ru­pert Mur­doch’s News Corp), Fi­field ini­tially blamed Nick Xenophon.

“We have the pack­age with Nick Xenophon which is fo­cused on ru­ral and re­gional com­mu­ni­ca­tions,” he said.

But he then said com­mer­cial broad­cast­ers had re­cently won re­duc­tions in their li­cence fees, and this had made them more com­pet­i­tive with pay TV which didn’t pay li­cence fees.

As a con­se­quence, he said Fox Sports was wor­thy of $30m be­cause it had a good track record cov­er­ing women’s sport and the gov­ern­ment did not want to see that coverage di­min­ish.

Other el­e­ments of the deal with One Na­tion in­clude forc­ing the ABC and SBS to pub­lish the salaries of em­ploy­ees earn­ing more than $200,000, and have the na­tional broad­cast­ers face an in­quiry into “com­pet­i­tive neu­tral­ity”.

How­ever other par­ties in the Se­nate, in­clud­ing the Nick Xenophon Team, have in­di­cated they won’t back the changes to the ABC, mean­ing they may be doomed.

Aus­tralian Associated Press con­trib­uted to this re­port

Pauline Han­son with com­mu­ni­ca­tions min­is­ter Mitch Fi­field. The Coali­tion’s pro­posed changes to the ABC Act are part of a deal it made with One Na­tion in ex­change for pass­ing its over­haul of me­dia laws. Pho­to­graph: Mike Bow­ers for the Guardian

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.