I wrote about the contract for the Australia Network in Quadrant in March, 2013, noting that the Commonwealth auditor-general and even the ABC Lateline program found the deal “shonky”. I would say in addition: The ABC’s $233 million contract from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to make overseas broadcasts through the Australia Network should be reviewed following the organisation’s decision to publicise details of Australian secret intelligence surveillance in Indonesia.…
I was on the ABC board when it prepared the submission for the Australia Network contract. As I understood it, and as the managing director Mark Scott confirmed on several occasions, the main theme of the ABC submission was that its news broadcasts would further the process of Australian “soft diplomacy” in the Asia Pacific region being advocated by the Labor government at the time. However, by publicising illegally obtained information that patently works against Australian interests in the region, the ABC appears to have abrogated its claim to be acting in the spirit of its original submission.If the ABC did not have the Australia Network contract, then it could have treated the Snowden leaks like any independent news organisation and publicised them, whether or not this was in Australia’s national interests or the public interest.
However, its role in publicising the Snowden leaks demonstrate that the ABC cannot play the dual role of, on the one hand, acting as an independent news source that breaks stories like any other, while on the other hand, pretending its news broadcasts are a source of soft diplomacy that foster the national interest.
There should be a thorough-going review of the Australia Network contract by an independent body to determine whether the ABC is fulfilling its contractual obligations. — Keith Windschuttle