Liberal interference in ABC Board continues
by Peter Mac Having just begun to recover from the activities of its infamous and highly destructive managing director, Jonathan Shier, the ABC now faces blatant political interference in its editorial policy, and in the choice of Shier's successor. The Howard Government, in an attempt to force the ABC to reflect its ultra- conservative viewpoint, has appointed former Liberal Party parliamentarian Michael Kroger to the board. Mr Kroger then lobbied successfully for the appointment of Shier as managing director. Shier's period in office saw the loss of many of the most talented members of the ABC staff, and the installation of a very expensive and largely redundant layer of management "yes men". His interference with ABC programming, and his attempts to force radically right-wing changes to editorial policy, resulted in huge public protests and industrial action by ABC staff. This in turn eventually led to his downfall. Kroger backed Shier's ultra-reactionary policies to the hilt. He declared that ABC TV had a "pro-asylum seeker" agenda, an "institutionalised bias against John Howard", and a "left of Labor" editorial policy, as expressed in programs such as the 7.30 Report and Four Corners. At one stage he attempted to dissuade the ABC board from defending a huge legal action against it by media magnate Kerry Packer Kroger is not one to accept defeat gracefully, and after Shier's departure he attempted to directly influence the preparation of a recent Four Corners program on rabidly conservative talk-back radio host Allan Jones. He repeatedly phoned the producer, Chris Masters, and blatantly insisted that the program should be "overwhelmingly positive" regarding Jones. Declining an offer to peruse the producer's file on the program's subject, he declared that Jones had "risen to the top in five different professions" and was "a figure like Don Bradman"! Kroger also launched an attack on the ABC, for broadcasting another Four Corners program on Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's role in the 1982 massacre at the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila. This was meticulously exposed and rebutted on the ABC's Mediawatch program. However, this did not deter Howard's man on the board. Kroger's latest initiative has been an attempt to dictate the appointment of a new ABC general manager, and in particular to aggressively oppose the candidature of ABC news head, Max Euchritz, one of Shier's leading opponents. Kroger has allies on the board, which is dominated by conservatives. He has, for example, been publicly supported by another board member, Maurice Newman, who is also chairman of the Sydney Stock Exchange. As a result, Euchritz has now formally withdrawn his application, although it is understood that he recently accepted an interview for the position. Although Shier was decisively beaten, it looks as though the forces of reaction on the ABC board will try to replace him with an ideological clone. One of the candidates favoured by them is said to be Trevor Kennedy, former director of Kerry Packer's magazine operations, while another is former Channel 9 executive, David Leckie. Kroger, whose term on the board ends in February, has so far contemptuously brushed aside calls for his resignation. Chris Masters has described Kroger as "living proof of the strongest argument yet for constraining politicisation of the ABC board". Although such critism is valid, it would be more accurate to speak of the "party-politicisation" of the board. After all, critical and fearless examination in the public interest of highly influential figures or organisations will inevitably constitute a highly political act in itself. And to maintain adherence to such a policy is the great challenge that the national broadcaster now faces.