The case at the Fair Work Commission between Antoinette Lattouf and the ABC has exposed problems that follow years of sustained attacks on the ABC’s funding and independence.

Image: Scott Lewis - The Fair Work Commission at Melbourne CC BY 2.0

There will be an opportunity to hear from the parties when the case is heard in March 2024. Nevertheless, ABC Friends believes that the case has raised broader issues that deserve consideration by ABC senior management and the incoming Chair.

We are concerned that some staff felt unsupported by ABC management when they came under attack while performing their jobs.

At a time of increasing polarisation, journalists and public figures too easily become targets of vilification and abuse. It is essential that ABC senior management take all possible steps to protect staff, afford them procedural fairness if they are the subject of complaints and be prepared to defend staff publicly against attacks.

The board should take steps to confront perceptions that its independence has been compromised by stating unequivocally that it does not and will not play a role in staff management or editorial decisions. Such matters are outside the board’s remit as set down under the ABC Act.

To guard against perceptions of bias or undue influence, ABC Friends believes there should be greater transparency about attempts by external parties to interfere in editorial decisions.

Complaints made directly to the Chair should be referred to the ABC’s standard complaints processes so the public can be satisfied that no individual or group is given special treatment. If this does not occur, trust in the ABC will weaken, and once lost it is difficult to regain.

The issues raised by this case have been years in the making. Between 2014 and 2022 the ABC was subjected to sustained funding cuts, political interference and outright hostility. It is no surprise that the relentless pressure has taken a toll.

The cuts resulted in repeated restructures, the loss of many highly valued staff and the termination of numerous programs. There is now a perception that the ABC has become risk averse in its reporting and programming.

It is time to vigorously defend the ABC. We call on the federal government to increase funding to enable the ABC to do its job properly; on the ABC board to commit to greater transparency and protections against external interference; and on ABC management to strongly support staff and make bold programming and editorial choices.

Cassandra Parkinson