IF you defamed someone, would your boss pay the legal bill? That’s exactly what’s happened when the ABC paid the legal bills of journalist Louise Milligan who defamed someone on her social media accounts.
If it had been any other government agency that forked out $79,000 in damages and $50,000 in costs — paid for by the taxpayer — for the same crime, the ABC would go feral.
The ABC answering questions on notice recently told the Senate there was a distinction between official ABC social media accounts and ABC staff using their social media.
“In the former case, the ABC accepts editorial responsibility for content provided on official ABC social media accounts and editorial policies apply,” it said.
“In the latter case, the ABC does not accept editorial responsibility and editorial policies do not apply.”
So why did they pay Louise Milligan’s legal bills?
“Particular and exceptional circumstances,” we are told.
A private media company would have to explain to its shareholders if they covered the legal costs from an employee’s personal social media account. But the ABC is not a private media company.
Its shareholders are the Australian taxpayer who can’t attend an annual AGM. Since 2015, the ABC has had to pay court-ordered damages, costs, or settlements 18 times for defamation cases, and we don’t know the price.
We have a right to know this because we own and pay for this organisation whose operating budget is the price of two rural training hospitals, or $880.56 million a year.
As other media businesses struggle, the ABC has had the taxpayer-funded benefits of increasing them by 120.
When the ABC was asked on notice during Senate Estimates, who was handed an eye-watering bonus of more than $50,000, about the annual wage of a regional reporter that would make a few Cartier watches seem cheap, the ABC made a Public Interest Immunity Claim: “The ABC believes that disclosure of this information could result in an unreasonable invasion of privacy for the individual, resulting in undue public attention and speculation.”
An immunity never afforded Australia Post boss Christine Holgate — she of Cartier watch-gate — by the ABC.
And when asked about publishing unsubstantiated rape claims against Christian Porter and Bill Shorten from the 80s? “… that does not prevent in certain circumstances allegations of criminal conduct being reported”.
So no undue public speculation there? When Extinction Rebellion protest against something, the headline generally reads: “Grandparents fighting for the future of their grandchildren.”
But when backbencher George Christensen appeared at an anti-lockdown rally in Mackay, according to the ABC he “posed just metres from QAnon supporters”.
When Extinction Rebellion protests, they are carers; when George does, he is a terrorist.
When the ABC wants a dissenting voice from the Liberal Party, they go straight to Malcolm Turnbull.
But they never give Mark Latham the royal treatment, despite him being a former Labor leader.
What triggers the bush is when they don’t use regional reporters in their prestige programs.
A Four Corners hit job on Murray Darling Basin water was orchestrated from inner-city Ultimo instead of by the well-regarded ABC Shepparton correspondent Warwick Long.
Why have a city reporter do a rural story?
Ultimo urbane’s apparent assumption is their city kids are more discerning, while us rural types are sitting backwards on a horse eating a banana — a generalisation about some eight million Australians.
If they only talk to half of Australia, they only need half the budget, and we should give the other half to another view.
We could have The Drum with Julia Baird followed by The Drum with Peta Credlin.
We could have Late-Night Live with Philip Adams followed by Catherine Macgregor Live.
We could have Q&A with Virginia Trioli followed by Q&A with Alan Jones. Would Ultimo pay for Sky News? Of course not.
So why should the bush pay for someone else’s ABC?
The ABC buys the Akubra and claims to support the bush whenever they are under attack, so what new regional offices have opened?
Sydney ABC commentariat keeps calling for greater lockdowns — if they are the greatest advocate for staying at home, some Ultimo reporters should find a new home in Dubbo. When Senator Ben Small asked where ABC content makers lived by postcode, he was told that was “confidential” and that question remains unanswered and is overdue months after they took it on notice.
From Ultimo, they can see Glebe, Chippendale, Annandale, Pyrmont, and Surry Hills.
Moore Park is the bush. Parramatta is the outback.
As they say in the genuine regional areas, it’s cattle for the country; you buy the appropriate beast for the country you live.
The ABC’s country is the inner city, and this is the type of beast it is.
If the trotted out guilt trip is funding cuts would hurt the regions, then move your legal budget to the west of the Great Dividing Range, and bring your management too.