News

Open Letter to Prime Minister Scott Morrison

ABC ALUMNI Limited

[ACN 628 088 371]

MEDIA RELEASE

DON’T APPOINT BIASED ABC CHAIR, URGE FORMER STAFF

The Federal Government must not rush to appoint a new ABC Chair, especially one who has displayed bias against the national broadcaster’s comprehensive role in Australian society.

ABC Alumni, representing more than 200 former ABC staff, appeals to the Federal Government to respect the independence of the ABC and not appoint a new Chair until after the Senate Inquiry into ‘allegations of political interference’ delivers its report in a few months’ time.

The current process of selecting and appointing board members is open to political influence and needs urgent reform.

The Communications Minister should not appoint ABC board members without complying with the current nomination process; nor should the Prime Minister make a “captain’s pick” for Chair.

The leadership of the ABC and the long-term future of the national broadcaster is too important for the Government to rush a decision to appoint a Chair.

The threshold public interest test must be whether a candidate has a strong track record of support for the ABC and the concept of public media generally.

Commercial media executives who lobbied to restrict the ABC’s online activities and confine it to areas regarded as uneconomic for commercial media should be disqualified from consideration.

ABC Alumni made a strong submission to the Competitive Neutrality inquiry and notes that the independent panel reported to the Federal Government that the ABC does not have a competitive advantage in the Australian media market and its current range of output should not be restricted.

ABC Alumni strongly believes that the new Chair must commit to maintain the ABC’s output in metropolitan, rural and regional Australia and to re-vitalise operations in Asia and the Pacific on all platforms – radio, television and online.

This Open Letter on the ABC Alumni website – https://www.abcalumni.net/news

– is endorsed by almost 100 former prominent ABC staff, including Kerry O’Brien, Jeff McMullen, David Hill, Penny Chapman, Peter Manning, Robin Hughes, Maxine McKew, Matt Peacock, Helen Grasswill, Shaun Hoyt, Jonathan Holmes, Vatsikopoulos, Tim Ritchie, Bob Debus, John Tulloh, Peter Marks, David Brill, Tony Bond, Sue Spencer, Jane Singleton, Richard Ackland, Tim Bowden, Ramona Koval, Jemima Garrett, Tony Walker, Peter Cave, John Cleary, Jane Jeffes, Karen Snowdon, Gillian Coote, Gillian Appleton, Anne Maria Nicholson, Andrew Fowler,Toni Hassan, Catherine Shirley, Ian Vaile, Ian MacIntosh, Wendy Page, Pepita Conlon, Tracey Ellison, Stephen Crittenden, John Millard, Janet Clayton, Louisa Wright, Vivien Altman, Denise Eriksen, Andrew Potter, Kathy Bowlen, Mike Donaldson, Kay Nankervis, Kate Hodges, Robert Garnsey, John Lander, Heather Forbes, Michael P. Ward, Bill Bunbury, Lynne Shaw, Bill Flemming, Sharon Carlton, Janine Burdeu, Anne Wynter, Mike Honey, Rupert Mazlin, Phil Cullen, Stuart Burchmore, Nick Franklin, David Adamson, Robin Sproule, Elaine D. Cooke, Tony Souter, Sue Tronser, Deb Nesbitt, Gethin Creagh, Fairlie Stanish, John Tingle, Lisa Schultz, Don Smith, Paul Collins, Margaret Murphy, Felicity Biggins, Margot Saville, Linda Boland, Michele McKenzie, Kate Miller, Patricia Kirkwood, Coral Saunders, Margot McLaughlin, Mark Hayes, David W. Bate

11 January 2019

For further information, please contact the Alumni office – 0418 164 349 / ABCAlumniAustralia@gmail.com

Canberra Times/Letters to the Editor/24 December 2018

Another wasted review

So the result is in. The inquiry into “competitive neutrality” has found the ABC and SBS have no case to answer. That is, they are not competing unfairly against the commercial media and are not breaching their charters.

What a surprise! And how much, I wonder, did this Pauline Hanson inspired attack against our public broadcasters cost the taxpayer? I wonder too if media shareholders will be told how much dividend they will be foregoing to pay for the wasted but no doubt costly preparation of the commercial “arguments” against the ABC and SBS .

Once again the ABC in particular has been vindicated, so when are the haters going to wake up to the fact that our public broadcasters just keep on rating highly in terms of respect and trust. Given other events, you’d think our parliamentarians would be directing all their efforts in trying to muster even a tiny comparison with those favourable levels.

Eric Hunter, Cook

ABC ALUMNI NEWSLETTER #4 2 December 2018

Dear Alumni and Associates,

The Senate inquiry into the sacking of Michelle Guthrie, resignation of Justin Milne and allegations of political interference into the ABC began taking evidence on Friday. You can follow the proceedings here:

https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Environment_and_Communications/ABCInterferenceAllegations

ABC Alumni has lodged a submission to the inquiry calling for changes to ensure properly qualified, independent directors and chair. We are also working on a supplementary submission to ensure more reliable, adequate funding arrangements for the ABC – if you have suggestions or would like to be involved, please contact us!

Other recent news:

* ABC Alumni has been granted registered charity status, and we are hopeful that soon donations to our scholarship fund will become tax deductible.

* In Melbourne, a meeting of Alumni and supporters will be held tomorrow – Tuesday 4 December at 5pm at the Blondie Bar, 31 Sturt Street, Southbank, opposite the ABC and NGV. It’s hoped from this that plans will be developed for an official Melbourne launch in the new year. If you can attend or help please contact Alison Caldwell on 0408 495 637 alisoncaldwell88@gmail.com.

* Sydney pre-Christmas drinks will be held at 5.30-7.30pm on Wednesday 12 December in the Heritage Room on the Ground Floor of the Teachers Federation, 23-33 Mary St, Surry Hills (two blocks from Central and close to ABC Ultimo). Please email Helen Grasswill at the Alumni email – ABCAlumniAustralia@gmail.com– if you can come.

STOP THE STACK! SIGN OUR OPEN LETTER

We are increasingly concerned that the Government might make an inappropriate appointment as ABC Chair in the next few weeks, under the cover of the Christmas holiday.

In particular, there are suggestions that some candidates under consideration are those who drove the commercial media lobbying campaign to restrict the ABC to a ‘market failure’ broadcaster, as seen in submissions to the recent Competitive Neutrality inquiry (for which the final report has yet to be released). You can read their submissions urging drastic restrictions on ABC activities here:

https://www.communications.gov.au/have-your-say/inquiry-competitive-neutrality-national-broadcasters

We believe any such appointment would be inappropriate given their public stance to restrict the ABC.

Already we have urged the Government to refrain from appointing any new directors or Chair until the Senate Inquiry into ABC independence has concluded.

We plan to circulate the attached Alumni Open Letter to other organisations in the hope that it can achieve widespread coverage. Such a campaign would be designed to deter the Government from making any appointments to the Chair or board before the Senate Inquiry reports.

PLEASE CLICK TO AUTHORISE YOUR NAME TO BE INCLUDED IN THE OPEN LETTER BELOW.

Regards,

Matt Peacock

Helen Grasswill

Greg Wilesmith

Twitter: @ABC Alumni

Facebook (closed group): https://www.facebook.com/groups/946563992195811/

OPEN LETTER TO THE PRIME MINISTER SCOTT MORRISON

DON’T APPOINT BIASED ABC CHAIRMAN, URGE FORMER STAFF

The Federal Government must not rush to appoint a new ABC Chair, especially one who has displayed bias against the national broadcaster’s comprehensive role in Australian society.

The ABC Alumni, representing more than 200 former ABC staff, has appealed to the Federal Government to respect the independence of the ABC and not appoint a new Chair until after the Senate Inquiry into ‘allegations of political interference’ delivers its report in 2019.

The current process of selecting and appointing board members is open to political influence and needs urgent reform.

The Communications Minister should not appoint ABC board members without complying with the current nomination process; nor should the Prime Minister make a “captain’s pick” for Chair.

The leadership of the ABC and the long-term future of the national broadcaster is too important for the Government to rush a decision to appoint a Chair.

The threshold public interest test must be whether a candidate has a strong track record of support for the ABC and the concept of public media generally.

Commercial media leaders who have recently lobbied to restrict the ABC’s online activities and confine it to areas regarded as uneconomic for commercial media should be disqualified from consideration.

(See, for example, their recent submissions to the Government’s Competitive Neutrality inquiry https://www.communications.gov.au/have-your-say/inquiry-competitive-neutrality-national-broadcasters.)

ABC Alumni strongly believes that the new Chair must be committed to uphold the ABC output in metropolitan, rural, remote and regional Australia, through all platforms – radio, television and online.

ABC ALUMNI NEWSLETTER #3 25 November 2018


Dear Alumni and Associates,

A big thank you to all who turned out for the highly successful Alumni launch at the ABC in Ultimo, Sydney, on Wednesday. We hope to follow it soon with launches in Melbourne and other centres around the country.

The launch dispelled any doubts that the ABC Alumni has quickly become a force to be reckoned with as an advocate for independent, free, fearless and quality public media in Australia.

More than 150 people attended the Sydney event, including a string of prominent Alumni and supporters like newly-elected independent MP for Wentworth, Kerryn Phelps, former NSW Premier and Senator, Bob Carr, as well as the former Liberal Opposition Leaders Peter Collins (NSW) and John Hewson (Federal), the Federal Shadow Regional Communications Stephen Jones and many others (see the attendance list on our website). Unions, Friends of the ABC, ABC management, the Australia Institute, GetUp and other organisations also attended.

Some travelled long distances to be there, many apologised and sent best wishes.

A video of the event can be seen on our website or on YouTube. Please repost the link and spread the word to your friends.

We’ve so far had about half a dozen media articles about the launch and a number of other articles mentioning the Alumni. A list of these is on the launch event page below the photos.

We need to publicise the work of the Alumni to other ex-ABC staff across the country. So far, it’s been done through our own personal email networks, but if everyone recruited just three new people we would be 500-strong and in a better position to make a real difference.

Now comes the hard part...

Our current focus is very much on the issues of Board appointments and particularly the appointment of a new Chair, which appears imminent. Given the extraordinary upheaval that we have seen in the past two months, if the Government is determined to move quickly on this, it is essential that whomever is appointed has a strong track record of support for the ABC. Some names publicly touted, such as ex-Fairfax CEO Greg Hywood, in our opinion would be quite unsuitable, given their public lobbying efforts to weaken the organisation. The Alumni is considering combining with ABC Friends and other organisations in a publicity campaign to highlight the dangers in our view of any such appointment. So please keep an eye out for a straw poll about the Chair appointment.

As the Senate Inquiry into the recent sacking of Michelle Guthrie and resignation of Justin Milne commences this week, the Alumni will continue to push for a suitable selection process for a truly independent ABC Board and Chair.

We are also developing a supplementary submission to put to the Senate Inquiry on a policy to ensure sufficient, secure and sustainable funding for the ABC in the digital age. People interested in contributing to this process and to campaign for it, please contact Helen Grasswill on the Alumni email – ABCAlumniAustralia@gmail.com.

Inside the ABC, increasingly stressed staff continue to work in difficult circumstances. We are now ready to launch our training, mentoring and editorial initiatives with ABC News in 2019 and hope soon to expand them to other departments. Those who have indicated an interest in this area will be contacted in the early new year.

Finally, we are cementing our links with other organisations who lobby for a strong public media sector so that we can formulate a strategy to make this a key issue in the forthcoming Federal election. We hope to encourage politicians of all persuasions to support our campaign to ensure that a strong, free and fearless ABC continues to service all Australians and continues its vital contribution to Australian culture. We would like as many of you as possible to assist with this and it will be one of the earliest items on our 2019 agenda.

Regards,


Matt Peacock

Helen Grasswill

Greg Wilesmith

Co-convenors

13 November 2018

ABC Alumni Limited represents a community of former staff and supporters of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. We campaign for properly funded, high quality, independent, ethical, and free public media in Australia. We promote excellence across all platforms through education, mentoring, public forums and scholarships.

The selection of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Board and Managing Director must be free of political favouritism. Funding for the ABC must be guaranteed.

We welcome this inquiry into ‘allegations of political interference in the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC)’. It is vitally important that the Senate committee establishes the detail; the who, what, where and, most importantly, why of Managing Director Michelle Guthrie’s dismissal and Board Chair Justin Milne’s subsequent resignation.

We are alarmed by the widely publicised allegations made by Ms Guthrie about the conduct of Mr Milne (and any possible complicity by Board directors; for example, was there a failure to act on the allegations when presented with them?). Ms Guthrie’s allegations if true, in whole or in part, clearly indicate that the current legislation and Chair/Board appointment processes fail to protect the ABC from overt and covert political interference. This makes the corporation vulnerable to punitive funding cuts that affect its ability to continue to provide the range and quality of fearless, independent broadcasting and online publishing for which it is known.

These issues are fundamental to the important contribution the ABC makes to Australian society.

In our view there is a need for amendments to the ABC Act and for changes to existing processes for the appointment of the Chair and Board directors. We urge senators to put political prejudices aside and recommend changes to legislation governing the ABC to ensure that the corporation is, and is seen to be, free from political harassment and interference.

The owners of the ABC are the taxpayers of Australia, not the government. They pay for it and according to all research are happy to do so. They need to have confidence that governments respect the statutory independence of the ABC.

The full submission is here.

Media releases

Halt ABC Appointments!

26-Oct-2018

High profile former ABC staff are making a public plea to the Morrison minority government not to rush through key appointments to the ABC. This possibility has been highlighted by reports that headhunters Korn Ferry have been hired, and advertising and interviews planned, for an appointment to the Chair.

The recently formed group, ABC Alumni Limited, has written to Federal MPs seeking their support.

Speaking for the Alumni, co-founder Matt Peacock said that the overwhelming public response to the recent removal of the ABC’s Managing Director and the resignation of its Chair showed that Australians have become keenly aware of deficiencies in the existing processes for appointing Board members and the Managing Director.

“The ABC is facing great uncertainty about its structure, operations and future,” Mr Peacock said. “The period leading up to the Federal election offers the Government an opportunity for serious reflection on the calibre of people that the ABC needs to maintain its independence and lead it into the rapidly evolving communications future. It’s vital that no appointments are made during this period.

“The ABC Board is responsible above all to the people of Australia for ensuring the independence of the ABC and the quality and integrity of its services. The appointment of a new Chair will influence any Managing Director appointment and should be undertaken only after exhaustive consideration of the requisite qualities needed to restore public confidence in the ABC.”

From time to time amendments to the ABC Act have attempted - with limited success - to avert the possibility of blatantly political appointments.

Appointments to the Board are for a minimum of five years and are renewable. Long-term politically-motivated appointments, combined with ongoing major cuts to ABC funding and the threat of privatisation, could reduce the ABC to a mere shadow of its former role and identity.

All these issues are the subject of an inquiry by the Senate's Standing Committee on Environment and Communications, which is due to report by the end of March 2019. ABC Alumni call on all Members of Parliament to resist attempts by the government to appoint a new Chair or to fill any other vacancies on the ABC Board until that inquiry has reported and its report has been tabled.

“There is no need for undue haste or ‘captain’s picks’,” Mr Peacock said.

Released by Gil Appleton, Jonathan Holmes, Matt Peacock, Helen Grasswill, Peter Manning and Greg Wilesmith on behalf of ABC Alumni Limited

26 October 2018

For more information on the Alumni position on this issue:

CONTACTS:

Matt Peacock 0408 168 479

Gil Appleton 0414 656 861 Jonathan Holmes 0417 280 038

Newsletters

#2, 25/10/18

Dear Alumni & Associates,

What a frantic month!

We knew there was a need for the ABC Alumni, but we never anticipated the extraordinary events of the last few weeks.

Our apologies for not emailing sooner – it’s been very busy!

Briefly:

  • We now have 116 Alumni and Associates and it’s steadily growing, with a wide geographic spread, but the bulk live in Sydney (something we would like to change). Please spread the word!
  • The acting ABC MD, David Anderson, has agreed to host our formal launch in the ABC foyer at Ultimo at midday, Wednesday 21 November, which will be addressed by Kerry O’Brien and other speakers, to be confirmed. If you have ideas or can help please contact us here. All Alumni and Associates are invited to attend and an invitation will be sent closer to the date.
  • A Senate inquiry will take place into Michelle Guthrie’s sacking and Justin Milne’s subsequent resignation. The Alumni has been active lobbying Senators to ensure the inquiry investigates allegations of political interference into the ABC and explores ways to ensure Board independence and knowledge of public broadcasting, as well as adequate and secure ABC funding. This will be an ongoing campaign to ensure the Senate recommends lasting reforms to secure ABC independence. If you would like to help please contact the Alumni at ABCAlumniAustralia@gmail.com and place “Senate Inquiry” in the subject line.
  • The Government has already begun to look for a new ABC Chair, retaining headhunters Korn Ferry to seek candidates. It’s essential a qualified, independent candidate is chosen and that it’s not a political appointment. There is a poll we’d like you to vote on about this. This requires urgent action!
  • Alumni were active with ABC Friends and MEAA in promoting the ABC as an issue for voters in the recent Wentworth by-election. Kerryn Phelps (the successful independent candidate) has made restoration of ABC funding one of her top election priorities.
  • An inaugural meeting of Alumni was held at the Teachers Federation (which donated use of a room for our cause) in Surry Hills, near ABC Ultimo. Goals and strategies were workshopped and people volunteered to coordinate priority activities. A summary of the meeting is here, with contact details. Meetings are being planned for Melbourne and other capital cities.
  • We are meeting with ABC News management again next week to obtain details of its training needs where Alumni might assist and will notify you of the outcome.

We are still sorting through our list of Alumni to harness your assistance in the areas that you have specified and expect to roll this out within the next two weeks. As we develop we will get speedier at communications. Please don’t hesitate to contact us with your feedback and offers of assistance.

Regards,

Matt Peacock, Helen Grasswill, Greg Wilesmith- Co-convenors