Friday, 17 October 2008

Pressure for ABC, SBS to merge

Merger? ... the ABC is being pressured to merge with SBS.

THE ABC and SBS face a possible merger and their boards are to be "de-politicised" in sweeping reforms announced by the Federal Government.

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy outlined the changes to end decades of political interference in the ABC and SBS by governments on both sides of politics.

Board vacancies will now be filled by public advertisements – beginning today. Former politicians and senior political staff will be ineligible for selection.

Senator Conroy yesterday also released a new discussion paper on the "digital future" of the two national public broadcasters, canvassing a range of ideas including that some aspects be shared.

Senator Conroy and ABC managing director Mark Scott said potential savings from pooling some functions should be examined.

"We think there are opportunities for efficiencies to be made whilst ensuring the independence and integrity of two great public broadcasters," Mr Scott said.

The Rudd Government wants public feedback on its discussion paper and has set aside the next two months for the discussion. And while any merger may be a way off, radical changes to the boards of both organisations apply immediately.

From today, vacancies will be filled by applicants responding to advertisements and being assessed against objective criteria.

This is a clear departure from the past practice of governments appointing like-minded people directly – a process that has mired the organisations in controversy and rancour from time to time.

Applicants will be assessed by an independent "nomination panel" run by the Secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

The ABC will also get a staff-elected director again after the Howard Government axed the position some years ago to reduce union influence in the organisation.

Senator Conroy said neither side was innocent of political board stacking but those days were now over.

"The Prime Minister (John Howard) went down his Christmas card list and when he finished, he went back to the beginning," he said.

Senator Conroy said the changes to the way board members were selected satisfied an election commitment.

Quote: Perhaps a little less of AIPAC - The America's Pro-Israel Lobby Working to strengthen the Australian-US-Israel relationship via SBS would make a difference to the ABC? After all AIPAC offers Middle East news, analysis and resources for policymakers, media, students and activists who are pro Israel and pro WAR. AIPAC was perhaps influenced by the John Howard government into these organisations. SBS has no pride in that department.

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