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Chairperson addresses the ABC's arrangement with Australian Information Media and states that the ABC does not intend to commercialise

ELLEN FANNING: It appears ABC television and radio will have one big thing in common with the ABC's pay television offshoot - a great deal of shared information. The Australian newspaper is claiming today that the contract with the pay TV operator, Australian Information Media, shows the so-called 'Chinese Wall' promise between the ABC's free-to-air services and its commercial pay-TV offshoot, will not exist. Well, this directly contradicts strong assurances given by both the ABC Chairman, Professor Mark Armstrong, and the former Managing Director, Mr David Hill. Professor Mark Armstrong joins me on the line now.

Professor, you were one of those who promised that there would be this 'Chinese Wall' arrangement - is that now not going to happen?

MARK ARMSTRONG: I'll tell you what the principle is, Ellen, and that's something very clear - there'll be no detriment to ABC free-to-air services. Our editorial independence, our editorial integrity, are not negotiable and never have been.

ELLEN FANNING: Well, if there're going to be pay-TV people sitting in newsrooms and journalists from the free-to-air side asked to work for pay-TV, how exactly are you separating the two?

MARK ARMSTRONG: Well, the first point is: we're talking about an outlet for ABC news in this new medium so there's no doubt about the fact that we've been looking at arrangements to ensure that there's an outlet for our material. As for the detailed contractual provisions and day-to-day working arrangements, I am well aware that there are some concerns among our editorial and journalistic staff; so therefore they are being discussed.

ELLEN FANNING: Let's work through those concerns. One, if a news reporter or a 7.30 reporter completes an item early in the day, will that be able to be screened on pay television before free-to-air viewers see it - yes or no?

MARK ARMSTRONG: Look, I am the chair of the Board and I've explained the principles that are very public and very clear.

ELLEN FANNING: But what we're dealing with here is the detail, the detailed arrangements for the interaction between the two, so could that ever happen? - broadcast on pay before free-to-air.

MARK ARMSTRONG: What I am saying is, our management are looking at those practical arrangements and they are looking at them in the light of the principles that are very clear and they are aware and sensitive to the concerns of the journalists.

ELLEN FANNING: But as it stands, it is currently possible that that situation could arise?

MARK ARMSTRONG: Are you saying because of some particular detailed provisions of contracts?

ELLEN FANNING: Because of the contract as it stands.

MARK ARMSTRONG: Well, I've said what the principles are ....

ELLEN FANNING: But is it a possibility, I am saying, under the contract as it currently stands?

MARK ARMSTRONG: I think it would be sensible to keep explaining the principle - that's the principle that is to govern the operation of any contract. If it's a problem for our editorial integrity, that will be addressed and resolved.

ELLEN FANNING: So that contract can be changed?

MARK ARMSTRONG: One doesn't publicly discuss the operation of contracts or their precise terms. For example, you're responding to a few words from a context that have been quoted in the newspaper. Even on their face they could be interpreted in different ways.

ELLEN FANNING: But Professor, isn't that exactly what we're discussing right now on air, with a million people listening?

MARK ARMSTRONG: I've left no doubt about the principle. It's a management and editorial question to make sure that principle is translated into actuality and I am telling you, very publicly and this is not new, it will be translated. We won't have a compromise of our editorial independence and we've never suggested to anybody that we will.

ELLEN FANNING: Can I quote you from the media commentator, Errol Simper in today's Australian newspaper. He says, 'The arrangement the ABC has signed with the subscription offshoot AIM - Australian Information Media - is an immense victory for those who want the corporation out of its tax-funded, independent niche and into the commercial arena.'

MARK ARMSTRONG: There's no question of the ABC going commercial. I've repeatedly made it clear we're not going commercial. What we're talking about here is an outlet for ABC programming into another form of program delivery by another organisation. And of course, we intend there'll be good cooperation, but that's nothing remotely approaching commercialising the ABC. We have no intention of being more commercial. Our intention is to focus on our charter and from any practical viewpoint everybody wins by keeping that non-commercial focus [...] to the public.

ELLEN FANNING: Would you accept then, that if a journalist in the free-to-air section ever did any work specifically for the pay section, that that would compromise that independence?

MARK ARMSTRONG: I don't think it would. If any of our journalists ever made a contribution to another medium - I mean that happens with newspapers and with journalist contracts - they have other arrangements but they are always subject to the governing principle of editorial integrity and ABC independence.

ELLEN FANNING: Professor Mark Armstrong, thank you for your time this morning.