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Shadow Minister wants ABA to review 'Landscape' program and David Flint to step aside from any complaints about political broadcasts; Prime TV denies program is party political.

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Tuesday 4 May 2004

Shadow Minister wants ABA to review 'Landscape' program and David Flint to step aside from any complaints about political broadcasts; Prime TV denies pro gram is party political


MARK COLVIN: The Federal Opposition is keeping up the pressure on the embattled head of the ABA, the Australian Broadcasting Authority, Professor David Flint, demanding that he step aside from any complaints about political broadca sts in the run-up to an election this year. 


The attack has come from Labor's leader in the upper house, Senator John Faulkner. 


He's written to the ABA today asking it to revisit a decision it made about a regular Prime Television broadcast called Landscape . That's a two and a half minute spot every month in which the Prime Minister speaks about issues touching the Government.  


Senator Faulkner says the broadcast is blatantly political, but that Professor Flint can't act impartially on his complaint. 


David Hardaker prepared this report. 


(audio excerpt from Landscape program) 


JOHN HOWARD: Good evening.  


The fact that unemployment remains at 5.8 per cent is welcome news, because this is the first time in thirteen-and-a-half years that the jobless rate has been below six per cent for two months in a row. 


(end audio excerpt from Landscape program) 


DAVID HARDAKER: That's the Prime Minister, John Howard, speaking on the Landscape program, which is broadcast to parts of regional Australia. 


It's gone to air every month for the last three years, but now, Labor Senator John Faulkner wants the Australian Broadcasting Authority to look at it. 


JOHN FAULKNER: Well we have a situation where there’s a program regularly on Prime TV - a platform for the Prime Minister to push political issues - and I’ve complained about this before to the ABA. We’re concerned about the lack of authorisation in these Landscape programs from Mr Howard, and of course the lack of right of reply for the leader of the Opposition. 


DAVID HARDAKER: Landscape is broadcast on Prime Television, which is associated with businessman Paul Ramsay, who also has interests in Ramsay Healthcare. It has a number of stations in regional New South Wales, Victoria and West Australia, as well as the ACT. 


ALAN BUTORAC: Look from our point of view the issue was investigated thoroughly by the ABA in 2001, and it was ruled then to comply with all of the broadcasting regulations. 


DAVID HARDAKER: Alan Butorac is Prime Television's Director of Broadcasting. The ABA cleared the Landscape program on the grounds that Prime had requested and produced the program. Mr Butorac rejects Senator Faulkner's claim that the broadcast is party political.  


ALAN BUTORAC: It’s a program generated by Prime, and the view was it’s an opportunity afforded to the Prime Minister of the day to address the people of regional Australia on current national issues that might affect our viewers. And as such there’s only one prime minister, so I guess you can only ever have one person presenting the program. 


DAVID HARDAKER: Well, there’s only one opposition leader. Couldn’t he have a right of reply? 


ALAN BUTORAC: Our view is that it’s the prime minister of the day talking to the people of regional Australia, and were the prime minister to change, then the prime minister of the day would be afforded the same opportunity. 


DAVID HARDAKER: Mr Butorac says that any change in the way the program now goes around the network is technical only. 


But the one thing that has changed is the position of the head of the ABA, Professor David Flint. 


He's already been forced to stand aside from an ABA inquiry into claims of bias against the ABC, and he's squarely in the ALP's political sights now. 


JOHN FAULKNER: He ought to stand down from this inquiry if he’s not willing to resign as Chairman of the ABA. He certainly shouldn’t hear this inquiry, and in the view of the Opposition, he shouldn’t deal with any matter relating to complaints or issues raised by political parties in... any political party in the election context, either in the lead-up to the campaign or during the campaign. 


DAVID HARDAKER: But the ABA isn’t only Professor Flint. It’s a Board of seven members. They’ve expressed confidence in the functioning of that Board - that it has checks and balances which will cater to whatever Professor Flint’s views may be. Isn’t that good enough for you? 


JOHN FAULKNER: No, it’s certainly not good enough, and it… of course there is an ABA board. But what I’m requesting here, and insisting on here, is that we don’t have Professor Flint in any way involved in handling this complaint. 


DAVID HARDAKER: Senator Faulkner's case against Professor Flint includes that the Professor is a member of the Liberal Party and was involved in a Liberal pre-selection in the federal seat of Wentworth earlier this year. Then there's the question of Professor Flint's attitude to Labor's leader. 


JOHN FAULKNER: We also know that he has been severely critical of Mr Latham, the leader of the Opposition. In articles and letters he’s said some, in my view, quite outrageous things. 


DAVID HARDAKER: So what's Prime Television's position on Professor Flint adjudicating on the complaint? 


ALAN BUTORAC: I don’t really have a view. That’s not for me to make comment on. 


MARK COLVIN: Prime Television’s Alan Butorac, ending that report from David Hardaker.  


A spokesman for the ABA said that Professor Flint had yet to examine the claims and would decide on whether or not he should step aside from considering Senator Faulkner's complaint.