ABC chair Ita Buttrose accuses government of political interference

ABC chair Ita Buttrose has called for the Senate to “terminate or suspend” an inquiry into the way the ABC handles complaints, describing the probe as “an act of political interference designed to intimidate” the public broadcaster.

Senate Communication Committee chair Andrew Bragg announced the inquiry into the complaints handling systems of the ABC and SBS earlier this week.

Senator Bragg said the commissioning of the inquiry followed public concerns about the broadcasters’ current complaints system, with submissions and public hearings to be held in the coming months and a report due by February 2022.

“As a strong supporter of the ABC, I am worried that complaints are not being seriously addressed and this is undermining the organisation,” he said in a statement.

“If mistakes are made, Australians expect the national broadcaster to swiftly resolve them. Having made extensive complaints myself, I am concerned this is not the case.”

Ms Buttrose released a statement criticising the decision to go ahead with an inquiry while the ABC board’s independent review of the complaints system was already underway

She described it as “a blatant attempt to usurp the role of the ABC board and undermine the operational independence of the ABC”.

She said she would “leave it up to Senator Bragg to explain his motives” but said the impact of the inquiry on the political independence of the ABC was clear.

“Once again, an elected representative has chosen to threaten the ABC’s independence at the expense of the integrity of this irreplaceable public service,” she said.

“Any incursion of this kind into the ABC’s independence should be seen by Australians for what it is: an attempt to weaken the community’s trust in the public broadcaster.

“This is an act of political interference designed to intimidate the ABC and mute its role as this country’s most trusted source of public interest journalism.

“If politicians determine the operation of the national broadcaster’s complaints system, they can influence what is reported by the ABC.”

She said politicians were welcome to criticise the ABC but “they cannot be allowed to tell the ABC what it may or may not say”.

“When Parliament resumes later this month, I respectfully ask the Senate to act to defend the independence of the ABC, as Australia’s national broadcaster, by passing a motion to terminate or suspend this inquiry until the independent process commissioned by the ABC board has been completed,” she said.

A spokesperson for communications minister Paul Fletcher said it was “a matter for the Senate”.

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