The Kenny Report
9 August 2022
Topic: The politicisation of the ABC
Chris Kenny: I notice you’ve been out celebrating the ABC’s 90th birthday. You went to Ultimo for the big dinner. The Prime Minister spoke, Ita Buttrose spoke, the managing director, David Anderson. They didn’t invite me, but it’s nice they invited you.
Sarah Henderson: Well, Chris, good afternoon. And indeed, yes, I was there on Friday night celebrating 90 years of the ABC. Probably not quite as good as the 60th celebration I went to when I was very young, of course. But it was great to get together and celebrate the ABC. We did hear some fairly one-sided speeches, including of course from the Prime Minister, who didn’t actually realise that the ABC still has a very strong voice in the Pacific courtesy of the funding that we have delivered. Some $3.3 billion over three years is the current funding package. But it was great to get out and celebrate a great Australian institution, although of course it does have some flaws.
Chris Kenny: The Prime Minister was very political though he was sort of saying it’s terrible form to attack the ABC because that’s a threat to its independence, when most of the attacks against the ABC have because it’s not being as objective as an independent as it should be. Shouldn’t the ABC be a little bit more robust, able to listen to criticism and respond to it? It shouldn’t be immune from it.
Sarah Henderson: Look, that’s absolutely right. I think the ABC has been highly sensitive when it has been properly criticised and it has made some very serious mistakes. It keeps on talking about the fact that it wants to be editorially independent, and of course, that’s the case. But it doesn’t mention that it has a statutory obligation to be impartial and accurate according to the objective standards of journalism. And so that’s a very fundamental legal obligation on the ABC. We don’t see the ABC accounting for it. We don’t see the ABC measuring that very important obligation. I think they could do much more in that regard to help to build trust in the ABC. But we did have some quite one-sided speeches without probably enough recognition of the many important things the Coalition did when we were in government, including of course delivering a very substantial package for regional journalists and of course the news media bargaining code, the deal between Facebook and Meta which dragged those big tech giants to the table and delivered a very substantial nest egg to the ABC and all the media organisations around the country.
Chris Kenny: That’s the biggest gift the Coalition has ever given. The ABC is dragging them into that and they’ll get money out of that in perpetuity. But you know, did they not ask you to speak of that would have been a good way to recognise the non-partisanship, to have the shadow communications minister there and speaking at the event as well?
Sarah Henderson: No, I wasn’t invited to speak. I was disappointed – there were many famous ABC faces who flew in from around the country … people like Kerry O’Brien was there.,Sarah Ferguson, the wonderful host of Hard Quiz, Tom, who I love … many great faces, they weren’t acknowledged. That was disappointing. People like Pip Courtney, Pip has done the most amazing job hosting Landline for so many years, such an incredible program for regional Australia. That probably didn’t get enough recognition; radio didn’t get enough recognition, but in any event they can always do better on their 100th anniversary birthday party.
Chris Kenny: Well, let me editorialise a little bit and just put up here something of Ita Buttrose, the speech where she was responding to attacks on ABC journalism. She said, what nonsense. And she said, just look at the work of reporters like Mark Willacy, Louise Milligan, mind you, Laura Tingle, Patricia Karvelas and Anne Connolly, fearless and tireless, resolutely independent. Louise Milligan I mean honestly that just gives the game away. They should be trying to deal with her journalism and apologise for it, and instead they hail her as one of their bastions of independent journalism. And while we ponder, also the ABC in their climate activism, flying everyone to their party from around the country, they obviously worry about their carbon footprint.
I need to move on because we’re nearly out of time. I want to ask you your thoughts about your Senate colleague, Jacinta Nampijinpa Price, and the way Peter Fitzsimmons in particular seems to think it’s his duty to tell her what to think about Indigenous affairs.
Sarah Henderson: I think Peter Fitzsimmons is absolutely out of order. His behaviour towards Jacinta has been appalling. I’ve seen the text messages, they were really offensive. They were threatening, very, very inappropriate. I am really, I mean, she’s incredible. She’s a warrior. She’s independent, she’s a great voice for Indigenous Australians, but she’s also not into virtue signalling. And you know, she’s made that very, very clear. And so I am very proud of her for standing up when she felt bullied and treated disrespectfully. And there is no doubt that she was treated badly. I think, Chris, that Peter Fitzsimmons should apologise and he should also release the tape of the interview so that all Australians can judge how he spoke to Jacinta.
Chris Kenny: Yes, spot on. I’m all for that transparency. Let’s hear the tape. That’d be great. Thanks for joining us, Senator.