The Morrison government’s federal Communications Minister Paul Fletcher has written to ABC chair Ita Buttrose to explain how a recent Four Corners was in the public interest.
In a letter, dated 30 November and shared on Twitter by Fletcher to his followers, the Communications Minister posed 15 questions to Buttrose as to how ‘Inside the Canberra Bubble’ complied with the ABC’s charter and its obligations to provide “accurate” and “impartial” journalism.
Today I have written to ABC Chair Ita Buttrose with questions concerning the Four Corners program “Inside the Canberra Bubble” that was broadcast on 9 November 2020. pic.twitter.com/7acqFpdAL4
— Paul Fletcher (@PaulFletcherMP) November 30, 2020
Among the questions is, “Why, in the judgement of the Board, are the personal lives of politicians newsworthy?”
The Four Corners episode, called Inside the Canberra Bubble, investigated allegations of affairs by Attorney-General Christian Porter and Minister for Population Alan Tudge with women ministerial staffers.
It revealed that Porter was warned by former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in 2017 after being spotted “kissing and cuddling” a young staffer at Canberra’s Public Bar. Turnbull told the program he was concerned the then-married minister could be at risk of compromise or blackmail.
It also alleged that Tudge had “angrily demanded” a journalist delete a photo of Porter and the woman. Tudge was, separately, engaged in an affair of his own with former staffer Rachelle Miller, while working as his media adviser, Four Corners reported.
Tudge later issued an apology, but Porter denied the allegations.
The letter to Buttrose posed the question of whether the ABC board considered it consistent with its “duty of accuracy and impartiality” the program failed to report that “the woman the subject of the alleged incident in the Public Bar and the subject of the alleged relationship with the Attorney General denied both these allegations to those preparing the program”.
ABC sources told The Sydney Morning Herald that Fletcher had decided to make his letter public during the broadcaster’s board meeting.
On Twitter, the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) called the letter another “unacceptable interference in the ABC’s editorial independence”.
“The government should not be dictating what the ABC should report on nor what is in the public interest,” the MEAA tweeted.
It’s worth noting that while Fletcher put the letter to the public by publishing it on Twitter, he has denied everyone the option to respond to it.
The news comes just a week after Buttrose warned against growing attempts of intimidation towards public broadcasters around the world, telling the Ramsay Centre For Western Civilisation via The Herald that countries with well-funded public sector media encounter less extremism and corruption.
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