ABC Managing Director Michelle Guthrie and SBS Managing Director Michael Ebeid faced Senate hearings yesterday with a grilling in Canberra.
Pauline Hanson took aim at ABC editorial balance, which she said was being “talked about constantly on talk back radio”, accusing ABC programs of “targeting” One Nation.
Michelle Guthrie rejected claims the ABC was biased, pointing to independent studies which found 80% of Australians trusted it as a news source, while director of editorial policies, Alan Sunderland, said he would look at any complaints Senator Hanson put forward, but stood by “the accuracy, the impartiality and the quality of all the coverage we have done on One Nation.”
Senator Hanson also demanded the salary of ABC presenter Tony Jones be made public. Her colleague, Malcolm Roberts, later expanded on the topic, asking for the details of all staff earning more than $250,000, all production and presenter staff earning more than $200,000, the amount of time they spent on air, and how many investigative journalists the ABC employed, what they were paid, as well as a breakdown in the costs of radio, television and digital platforms.
All were taken on notice.
There were questions over the idea that the ABC was sending out job alerts for Indigenous people, asking whether people applying “just tick a box”.
Hanson: Just following on on Senator Williams’ question about Aboriginality and you know, your 3% [target] there. Can you define what is a person of Aboriginality applying for the job, what is the definition?
Guthrie: Uh, Senator Hanson, we, we have guidelines around how our employees identify themselves as from Aboriginaility or Torres Strait Islander descent, um so we don’t have guidelines to say-
Hanson: Do they tick a box, saying they’re aboriginal?
Heard off camera: You don’t tick a box.
Hanson: You do, on a lot of forms. There are people listening to this who might want to apply for this, a job working at the ABC, so how do you define that person as Aboriginal?
Guthrie: Senator, I don’t … I’m not entirely sure what the question is.
Greens senator Scott Ludlam was concerned about the large amount of British content on the ABC, pointing specifically at the Antiques Roadshow program.
Meanwhile Senator Abetz had requested all communications between SBS boss Michael Ebeid, his office and Australian Marriage Equality, over a decision to support a corporate campaign for marriage equality.
SBS rejected the request on the grounds the emails were sent in a personal capacity. But Abetz demanded to know whether any of the emails bore Ebeid’s professional SBS email signature.
“Just because I’m employed by SBS doesn’t mean I have a lobotomy of my personal views,” Ebeid told him.
“I’m still allowed, and I thought you as a senator that advocated for free speech would have certainly understood that in my personal capacity I’m more than entitled to have a personal view.”
Communications Minister Mitch Fifield agreed he would not be concerned by the occasional use of work email for personal purposes by his own staff. “I’d take a common sense approach,” he said.
Pauline Hanson questioned his $663,000 salary, which is set by an independent tribunal, and asked whether he thought his $92,000 in bonuses were justified.
“I think I’m probably worth a lot more senator,” he replied.
He described a 2015 article published in The Australian which outlined his bonuses and travel as “the biggest load of horse manure I’ve read in a lot time”.
Senator Hanson, who admitted to not having much time to watch TV, asked whether SBS offers shows to help migrants learn English.
Senator Eric Abetz also spent the majority of his time talking about the deleted seven-word Facebook post from ABC presenter Yassmin Abdel-Magied.