Senate inquiry into ABC suspended after Labor and Greens’ motion garners support from all benches | Australian Broadcasting Corporation
A government-led inquiry called “political interference” by ABC President Ita Buttrose was rejected by Labor and Greens in the Senate.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison last week backed a Senate inquiry into the public broadcaster’s handling of complaints after Buttrose’s extraordinary setback, and rejected suggestions that ABC had been singled out for special treatment.
It had been set up by the Liberal Chairman of the Committee on Environmental Legislation and Communications, Andrew Bragg, who announced a swift investigation into the handling of complaints by the ABC and SBS, to be delivered by February 28.
But the ABC board already had commissioned an independent review of the public broadcaster’s editorial self-regulation and complaints system, led by Professor John McMillan, former ombudsman for the Commonwealth and New South Wales, and Jim Carroll, former head of SBS and Ten News.
Last week, Greens media and communications spokesperson Sarah Hanson-Young said the investigation was a roundabout process to attack and undermine the independence of the CBA, and foreshadowed a decision by the suspend until an external CBA review is complete.
On Tuesday, a Green and Labor motion was supported by the Cross Benches and the investigation was suspended.
“This investigation was a partisan attempt to use the legislation committee to undermine the independence of the public broadcaster,” said Hanson-Young.
“It was another tactic in a long series of attacks by Liberals and Nationals who spent eight years trying to crush the CBA.
“An independent review of ABC’s complaints system is underway. A Senate investigation established outside of normal processes and conducted in parallel was inappropriate. It is nothing more than political interference from the Morrison government.
Bragg said he was disappointed and the motion was “a step backwards for our democracy”.
“The parliamentary privilege attached to Senate submissions means people can say whatever they want without the threat of costly and protracted legal action,” Bragg said.
“It sets a terrible precedent for the Senate to shut down public access, especially when more than a dozen submissions have already been received as evidence. “
Editorial complaints to the CBA are reviewed by five members of a complaints unit called Audience and Consumer Affairs.
ABC Editorial Director Craig McMurtrie, explained the unit is independent from the editorial division and reports regularly to the ABC Board of Directors.
“Content complaints are a fraction of all ABC’s releases, but each and every one of them is taken seriously,” McMurtrie said.
“When mistakes are made there are written apologies to complainants, on-air and online corrections, reviews of published content with explanatory notes from editors, staff are advised or other disciplinary action is taken. and additional training is provided. “
The ABC welcomed the Senate vote “to defend the independence of the ABC and suspend the investigation of the Communications Legislation Committee,” an ABC spokesperson said.
“The CBA will now continue the independent review of the complaints system commissioned by the Board of Directors in October.”
The CBA said a concept paper will be released shortly for public comment.
On Wednesday morning, the government backed down from a last-minute request from Liberal Senator Gerard Rennick to renew the vote.