2 October 2018 | The Guardian | Sinddy Ealy | Originally published here
As the ABC was engulfed in scandal, plenty of wrongdoers emerged – from the childish self-interest of Michelle Guthrie and Justin Milne to the ideologues who predictably tried to push their anti-ABC agenda – but the biggest villain was clearly the Liberal party and the Morrison government.
Community and Public Sector Union members working at the ABC were as shocked as the rest of the country last Monday at the news that the managing director, Guthrie, had been unceremoniously sacked by the ABC board.
Guthrie had been a largely invisible boss. Many staff had never met her in her two-and-a-half years in the role, but it was clear she wasn’t going to go quietly. Leaks began to surface suggesting inappropriate editorial interference from the man who fired her, Milne.
The ABC chairman soon fell on his sword, stating that he was doing so to end the “firestorm” engulfing the ABC. The Morrison government has been similarly hoping this story will just go away, even though the Coalition’s fingerprints are all over this mess.
Here is what you need to know about how and why all this happened.
- The Coalition cuts the ABC’s budget to the tune of $546m over four years.
You could not make this up.
Combine this dog’s breakfast with the fact that since 2014, aided and abetted by the National party and One Nation, the Liberal party has never missed an opportunity to stick the boot into the ABC. The party’s council even voted to privatise the ABC at its national conference in July. Is it any surprise our national broadcaster is unravelling before our eyes?
It’s hardly a secret that sections of the Liberal party hate the ABC, despite the fact our national broadcaster is loved and respected by most of the rest of us. Ironically, Liberals have complained that standards have slipped at the ABC even as they’ve pushed through devastating budget cuts that could only have been designed to achieve exactly that outcome.
That is why it’s been so extraordinary to watch as Liberals from Scott Morrison down have rushed to insist that they respect the ABC and would never interfere in its day-to-day running. Malcolm Turnbull spoke up from New York to say he had never sought to have an ABC journalist sacked, which must come as cold comfort to Emma Alberici and Andrew Probyn, given the events of last week.
Milne looked to be seeking to please the Liberal party, whether at the direction of the government or by second-guessing which ABC reporters were causing the Liberal party the most unease.
Even if government ministers or staff have not directly sought to influence the way the ABC is run, recent events make it clear the Liberal party has tried to align the ABC’s leadership with its own interests. That is a dangerous path and one we must resist fiercely, beginning with an independent inquiry into this mess and then by ensuring that future board appointments are made in the national interest not the Liberal party’s interest.
Our union’s members working at the ABC to keep the wheels turning as chaos reigned at the top want you to know that there is plenty of good news on the horizon, and they want all Australians to remember that they also have a part to play in protecting our national broadcaster.
ABC staff are loyal, highly skilled and committed to the purpose of the ABC. They have suffered at the hands of their leadership, endured four incredibly destabilising years and their numbers have been depleted, but last week’s staff rallies across the country proved ABC staff would fight to save the ABC for all Australians.
At least 17 million of us read, watch and listen to ABC programs and content every week. Even those who don’t directly consume ABC content benefit from the critical role it plays in our political system and from the journalists and other workers who’ve taken the skills they’ve learned at the ABC to its commercial rivals.
That means we all have a stake in saving the ABC at the next federal election. There are many individuals and organisations working to secure the ABC’s future, including the CPSU. The ABC belongs to all of us and it’s worth fighting for. I love the ABC, and so should you.
• Sinddy Ealy is the elected ABC section secretary for the Community and Public Sector Union. She is also the campaign director of the ABC Proud to be Public campaign