RON Brunton, a former Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) Director, explains how deception, in particular the withholding of important information, is part and parcel of the organisation’s culture:
“Before I became a director, I had an experience that demonstrated how staff and management were quite prepared to deceive members of the Board if they thought it necessary to protect an individual or program unit. After I wrote a Courier Mail column about having been invited, and then suddenly disinvited, to appear in a television debate on Aboriginal issues, the Prime Minister’s Office contacted the ABC for an explanation. The incident itself was not particularly important, and the actual details are too involved to recount here. However, in the correspondence that followed, which came to involve the then Chairman, it was clear that Donald McDonald had been given information that I knew to be false.
“In my time on the Board, previously ‘unknown unknowns’ did surface on a number of occasions, and I encountered many instances where I had reason to believe that I and other directors were being deceived on important issues by one or more levels of management. In a small number of cases the deception eventually came out into the open, and involved extremely tense Boardroom episodes. In some others, I was given the relevant details privately by ABC staff. For present purposes it is unnecessary to consider whether the claims were accurate. If they were true, they indicated that the Board was being deceived, not necessarily through deliberate lying, but by the withholding of information that it needed to be apprised of in carrying out its duties. If they were false, then the person giving me the information was attempting to deceive a director or directors, presumably in pursuit of his or her own interests…”
And if you were wondering whether it is worth complaining about the complete lack of balance and total bias in much of the ABC reporting, Dr Brunton comments:
“[T]here is no appropriate bench mark as to the number of complaints that would indicate whether the Board is actually meeting its obligations. Furthermore, at least on anecdotal evidence, I suspect that all but the most persistent and committed individuals are discouraged from making and pursuing complaints by a belief that the steps required, and the consequences for offenders, simply do not justify the effort involved. I should add that, in spite of many attempts by myself and other directors to obtain clarification, I am still unclear about aspects of the process that is followed when individuals are found to have breached editorial policies. Despite assurances from management to the contrary, I am not confident that the supposed reprimand – or ‘counselling’ as it used to be called until senior managers seemingly got tired of our ridicule of this term – does not come with a wink and a nod to favoured staff, and as an excuse to demote dissidents and troublemakers, or to lever them out of the organisation.
“As to the third source which the Board might use to judge the ABC’s editorial performance, my attitude towards the program reviews carried out by editors and producers is similar to my attitude towards internal investigations by a police force – the reviews are being conducted by the very people who are responsible for the programs they are assessing. And having asked for and examined the minutes from some of these reviews, I have not seen any evidence that serious consideration is given to issues of balance or bias…”
Read the entire article “YES, DIRECTOR” – AN ANTHROPOLOGIST ON THE BOARD
OF THE ABC by Ron Brunton in The Sydney Institute Quarterly number 33, August 2008 available here: http://www.thesydneyinstitute.com.au/publications/the-sydney-institute-quarterly/
And the ABC’s Media Watch producer, Lin Buckfield, continues to justify her teams pathetic attempt at closing down debate on the federal government’s $10 billion plan for water reform. Read more here:
Murray Gate 3 The Response, the debate