Qantas – Fears for editorial independence

ABC journalists are seeking assurances from their management that a new deal with Qantas will not impinge on editorial independence, while the ABC seems reluctant to answer a list of questions on the subject

It follows the start, yesterday (4/7/2022), of a new deal between the airline and the ABC that will see two bespoke ABC News bulletins, fronted by anchor Jeremy Fernandez, broadcast every day on Qantas flights.

The ABC News Channel will also replace Sky News in the airline’s terminals and lounges.

ABC Friends understands that the journalists’ union house committee at the ABC headquarters in Sydney is seeking assurances that bulletins in Qantas flights will not be subjected to censorship.

It’s understood that the ABC has declined overtures by Qantas for decades because news managers refused to give the airline the final say over content included in news bulletins.

Qantas did not want stories about industrial strife or service cutbacks, plane crashes or other reports that might make the airline, or air travel, look bad.

Qantas was left to strike deals with the Network Nine, and more recently Sky News, where editorial control was less of an issue.

A former Nine News producer, who spoke on condition of anonymity said:

As a producer at TCN-9 in the 1990s I put together the bulletin provided for Qantas. There were certain stories we would not include: aviation incidents, grisly crime & state politics. The bulletins were usually about the major story of the day – federal politics – some nice colour yarns and some sport. The idea was the notion of informing while distracting.

This newsletter sent a series of questions about the concerns to the head of ABC public affairs, Nick Leys, and the ABC Editorial Director, Craig McMurtrie, but neither has responded.

There is also the question of whether ABC News might start to temper its approach to reporting Qantas stories, for fear of losing the lucrative contract.

Will journalists feel the need to self-censor so as to avoid workplace controversy?

And will satirists like Mark Humpheries, for instance, be allowed to continue producing content like the video below?

In a statement, the ABC Managing Director, David Anderson said the three-year agreement meant audiences could access ABC News content wherever they were travelling in the world.