ABC boss in unchartered waters

Reporters continue to refer to the managing director of the ABC, David Anderson, as the “editor-in-chief”. There is no such office in the ABC.

In the wake of questioning by a Senate Estimates Committee, over a proposed Four Corners story, the program’s former executive producer, Peter Manning argues the ABC boss was wrong to claim editorial decisions rest with him.

11 June 2021 | Peter Manning (Image: ABC)

David Anderson has a vast number of areas in the ABC to keep him busy but news and current affairs is only one. He has no expertise in this area and leaves it to the news director Gaven Morris and in some areas to the head of investigations, John Lyons. Both Morris and Lyons have strong backgrounds in journalism. The “buck” stops with them.

The notion off the managing director being “editor-in chief” was invented by former managing director David Hill in the middle of a controversy within the ABC where I was head of TV News and Current Affairs in the ABC in the early 1990s and he and I were at odds about coverage of the Iraq War.

Until then, no such title existed formally or informally. The independence of the senior editorial executive being below the level of MD is crucial and reflected the structure then existing in the Fairfax newspapers The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald.

In the current case over “Four Corners” and the Prime Minister’s alleged relationship to a QAnon conspiracy theorist, the program should have stayed at the senior editorial level and not been “upwardly referred” for editorial judgment.

Anderson has no such expertise to judge it. It enters the realm of “the public’s right to know”. Censorship has won the day and the lawyers of the ABC who gave it the go-ahead have wasted their expensive time. It’s time to uphold the best traditions of “Four Corners” and tell it like it is.

Dr Peter Manning is Adjunct Professor of Journalism at UTS, Sydney, a former Executive Producer of “Four Corners” and head of News and Current Affairs at ABC TV and Channel 7 and the author of “Representing Palestine”. This article was first published by Pearls & Irritations.