time to resurrect an old idea?
At long last, the Government has appointed two new members for the ABC Board.
While we are still waiting for the big appointment – the successor to Ita Buttrose as ABC Chair – these new appointments are an important part of the ABC’s governance.
And, according to Alumni Board Member Alan Sunderland, the early signs are all good…
20 October 2023
There was great news this week with the announcement, at long last, of two new Board Members for the ABC – Nicolette Maury and Louise McElvogue.
The first thing to note is that both new board members were recommended by the Independent Nomination Panel. What a refreshing and long overdue change! Instead of a captain’s pick or a job for mates, the Minister has actually followed the recommendations of the independent panel set up to choose the best people on merit. If this is a sign of the future, then it marks a return to good governance. Let’s hope the appointment of the replacement for Ita Buttrose as ABC Chair follows a similar path.
The second thing to note is that one of the new appointments actually has strong relevant background and work experience in the media. While both of the new board members look like good choices with a range of useful skills and insights, it is worth noting that one of them, Louise McElvogue has a deep background in digital media both here and overseas. The current board has plenty of media management experience; but few of its members, probably, would claim expertise in digital media – which is what the ABC needs right now.
A glance at her work experience and her client list as a technology consultant throws up names like the BBC, Channel Four, The New York Times, The Guardian, Sky, Fairfax and News Corporation.
But for me, the most interesting part of Louise McElvogue’s background and experience was the work she did over a decade ago, as one of the three panel members responsible for the Convergence Review. For those who may not recall, the Convergence Review was set up in 2012 by the Labor Communications Minister at the time, Stephen Conroy. It was clear even then that our media was ‘converging’: the internet was bringing together print, video and audio in one place and our old rules and regulations were hopelessly out of date,
Ms McElvogue and her two fellow panel members made a range of recommendations in their review, and one of them in particular has been left on the shelf, ignored, for a decade. The panel called for the creation of a new, industry-led regulator to uphold consistent editorial standards across all publishers and broadcasters of news and commentary. Instead of ACMA looking after radio and television, and a poorly-funded and over-stretched voluntary Press Council looking after the newspapers, there would be one regulator and one consistent set of standards for all.
Importantly, the review did not take up the recommendation of the Finkelstein Report at the time: that there should be a Government appointed statutory regulator of the news media.
The review recommended that it be an independent, industry-controlled body (as the Press Council is now) but all publishers and broadcasters of news would be obliged to join it and help fund it. The Government would also help fund it in the public interest, but have no control over it or over its decisions. It would have strong powers of sanction, and even small news providers would be encouraged to join it.
Those of you who read the articles on this website regularly may remember that this model is similar to something I have been advocating for a while now. So too have a range of other journalists and writers, including most notably Peter Greste. There is a huge public benefit in having one clear and consistent set of editorial standards covering news in Australia, regardless of whether it appears on your phone, on your television or radio, on your computer or in the local or national newspaper that lands on your front lawn.
Imagine a world where the ABC, commercial radio, Sky, News Corp and Nine are all judged by the same rules, with an expectation that everyone will abide by the same standards of accuracy, fairness, diversity of perspectives and other journalistic norms, all overseen by a regulator made up of their peers in the news industry.
The recent voice debate has raised yet again, in an urgent and insistent way, important questions about how well our media is serving the public – separating facts from lies, combating misinformation and delivering insights and analysis on important issues. Surely the time has come to look again at how we set standards in this area and enforce them, how we encourage a disillusioned and suspicious public to hold journalism to these standards and start to rebuild public trust.
We now have, in the ABC boardroom, a new Board member who uniquely understands and has researched these issues. Perhaps it is time to dust them off, and put them out for debate and discussion again. Perhaps it is even time for the ABC to get behind them and champion the cause for a better-regulated news media for all Australians.
Alan Sunderland began his ABC career as a cadet in the Melbourne newsroom, and spent nine years as a radio and television reporter before moving to SBS in 1988. He returned to the ABC from 2005 to 2019, undertaking a range of senior management roles at ABC News in Sydney before becoming Head of Editorial Policies and, later, Editorial Director under Mark Scott, Michelle Guthrie and, briefly, David Anderson.
He was responsible for overseeing editorial standards, editorial training and complaints handling for all program areas. Since leaving the ABC, he has retained a strong interest in editorial standards, journalism and media ethics through a range of roles with the Walkley Foundation, the Organization of News Ombudsmen and the Australian Press Council. He has written several children’s novels and a book about journalism.