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Morrison rejects ABC chair's blast about political interference


Scott Morrison backs a Senate probe into how the ABC deals with complaints on the grounds the public broadcaster is a government agency not above scrutiny.

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Liberal senator Andrew Bragg is concerned the ABC isn’t taking complaints seriously, having raised extensive grievances himself, prompting an inquiry into the broadcaster’s processes and those of SBS.

The prime minister has endorsed the probe, insisting the ABC should not be above the scrutiny of the Senate.

“It’s a government agency. Yes, they have their independence and no one’s questioning that,” Mr Morrison told reporters in Sydney on Monday.

“But they’re not above the scrutiny for how they conduct themselves using taxpayers’ money.”

ABC chair Ita Buttrose, appointed in 2019, described the national broadcaster’s relationship with the government as strained.

“It’s a matter that concerns me very much,” she told ABC radio.

“It’s a fact that the ABC causes all governments, at some time or another, to complain about one of our stories or something that we’ve done.

“We do look at powerful people, we do investigate situations and sometimes there are situations where people wish we wouldn’t go.”

Buttrose wanted the Senate inquiry scrapped or at least put on hold until an ABC-commissioned independent review of its complaints process was completed.

“It would be much better if the government and the national broadcaster had a better relationship,” she said.

“We are not the enemy. We’re easily accessible. I’ve said to politicians many times, I’m approachable, please pick up the phone.”

Buttrose described Senator Bragg’s announcement as “an act of political interference designed to intimidate”.

Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young flagged she would move to stop the “witch hunt” and abuse of proper process from going ahead when parliament returns next week.

“It shouldn’t be at the dictation of any government or any politician as to what the ABC does or doesn’t report on,” she said.

Bragg said the committee responsible for communications oversight would take submissions and hold hearings in coming months ahead of its report due in February.

The media union lashed the inquiry as another example of the government’s attempt to interfere with the editorial independence of both national broadcasters.

“The ABC’s complaints handling processes are extremely rigorous and go far beyond those available at other media outlets,” Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance chief executive Paul Murphy said.

Labor senator Tim Ayres criticised the “obsession” some government backbenchers had with the ABC.

“But take a step back: the ABC is so important to Australia. It is so important, in particular, to country Australia,” he told 2NZ Inverell radio.

“People ought to respect the independence of the ABC and not try to interfere politically.”

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