New ABC chair inherits a battered and bruised broadcaster. Here are some ways to fix it

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The Australia Institute’s Democracy & Accountability Program welcomes Kim Williams as the new chair of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and hopes that his appointment cements the independence of the ABC Board appointment process.

With deep experience heading arts and media organisations, Mr Williams is highly qualified for the role.

The Albanese Government has used the arm’s length, merit-based nomination panel process for all new appointments to the ABC Board. However, there is no guarantee that future governments will do the same – unless the law is reformed to require it, as the Australia Institute recommended in a recent submission.

Mr Williams’ predecessors have a chequered history. Former ABC chair Justin Milne resigned amid an outcry at his attempts to have senior journalists sacked for offending the government of the day.

Departing chair and Morrison government “captain’s pick”, Ita Buttrose leaves amid concern about her willingness to acquiesce to a powerful lobby group and the role she played in having presenter Antoinette Lattouf taken off air.

“The chair needs to be a bulwark against external political pressure on the ABC, not a conduit for it,” said Stephen Long, Australia Institute senior fellow who was formerly one of the ABC’s most senior reporters.

“Staff need to know that they are backed to do their jobs.

“Years of culture war attacks on the ABC have had a corrosive effect on the organisation.

“It’s led to a situation where executives sometimes confuse the appearance of impartiality with genuine impartiality, which means following the facts where they lead and reporting without fear or favour.

“While the chair should always be arm’s length from editorial decisions, he can play an important role in creating and restoring a culture of genuine integrity and independence,” said Mr Long.

“Australians want an ABC that is free from political interference,” said Bill Browne, Director, Democracy & Accountability Program at the Australia Institute.

“Australia Institute polling research finds seven in 10 Australians would prefer the Communications Minister be limited to appointing candidates who have been shortlisted by an independent selection panel.

“Greater transparency and oversight of the board appointment process for the national broadcaster will help secure its independence.

“One of the new chair’s first tasks must be to reassure ABC staff and the public that there will be no undue board interference in editorial decisions.”

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