FABC Letter to ABC Managing Director 24 Aug 2000

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Friends of the ABC National Office GPO Box 4065MM Melbourne 3001 August 24, 2000

Mr Jonathan Shier Managing Director Australian Broadcasting Corporation GPO Box 9994 Sydney, NSW, 2001

Dear Mr Shier,

Thank you for finding the time to meet us in Adelaide on June 29, and for your letter of 3 July.

Since then there have been a number of positive developments.

The news that the ABC will have some access to multi channelling for educational and information programs, announced on the day we met you, was welcome - although the question of funding for such output remains an issue.

The provision of additional funds for Radio Australia was more good news. We understand that the ABC Board played a critical role in the campaign to repair the damage to Radio Australia's reach in Asia. We also like to think that our own lobbying on this matter, including the delegation from Friends of the ABC that met with the Foreign Minister, was also a factor.

We were also pleased to see the ABC categorically deny that Phillip Adams was to be dismissed. We trust that this denial was not a carefully worded statement the real meaning of which was 'not now, but probably later'. A decision to replace Adams, or his program, over the summer holiday season, when it is presumed that listeners minds are on other things, would be widely viewed as both cynical and dishonest.

It was good to read, in a recent issue of ABC Exchange, that the five city reach for ABC radio is at record levels. Too often, the ABC's critics claim that only a minority of Australians use the ABC, is left unanswered. We would be grateful if you could let us have the figures for the five city reach, so that we can inform our members and the public.

Issues that still concern us relate to the ABC's independence from the government, and from commercial interests.

It has been widely reported that the Prime Minister does not like Kerry O'Brien or the 7.30 Report. It has also been suggested that the government would be happier if the ABC had fewer and less vigorous current affairs programs. In this context rumours that ABC current affairs is to be downgraded are worrying. We look forward to receiving your reply to our earlier correspondence on the future of current affairs.

Friends of the ABC try to avoid the temptation to comment on individual program changes. However the dropping of the regular discussion segment from Lateline worries us because it tends to confirm speculation that ABC current affairs is to be downgraded. We would like your assurance that Kerry O'Brien will be retained and that rigorous and independent current affairs will remain on the ABC at accessible time slots.

Our other concern is commercial pressure on the ABC. Several months ago you were quoted as being opposed to advertising on ABC radio and television, but having an open mind about advertising on ABC Online. Today the Australian, reporting the resignation of Clare Byrnes from ABC Online, says that on ABC Online "commerce will be given an equal weighting to content."

The Internet is already an important medium for information, discussion and debate. In the future it may overtake radio and television, or merge with them into another communication medium. The reasons for keeping advertising off ABC Online are exactly the same as those for keeping advertising off radio and television. We have addressed this issue in more details in our submissions to the Senate Inquiry into ABC Online.

We understand that it is still the ABC Board's policy that ABC Online will not carry advertisements. Can you confirm this?

Yours sincerely

Darce Cassidy National Spokesperson

-- Anonymous, August 24, 2000

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