The ABC has defended its decision to give free advertising time to controversial Queensland politician Fraser Anning.
The extreme-right Conservative National Party leader, who has expressed anti-Muslim views and referenced Adolf Hitler’s ‘final solution’, will be allowed to air his material on ABC radio.
ABC Melbourne radio host Jon Faine on Tuesday said he was “appalled” at the decision during an on-air interview questioning the broadcaster’s managing director David Anderson.
“Are you aware that this afternoon our free radio ad is providing free air time on the ABC to Fraser Anning?
“How do you feel about that because I’m appalled.”
Mr Anderson said Senator Anning’s party fell within the ABC’s guidelines for political advertising during election time. They have been in place since 1932.
“We are being consistent with what we offer; we are being impartial in our decisions here,” said Mr Anderson to which Faine asked: “Are you entirely comfortable with the guidelines applied in that way?”
Mr Anderson said: “I am comfortable that we are applying the same rules to everybody and we will take a look at all political parties when it comes to content of what free airtime they are using.”
Faine questioned whether it was right for the ABC to provide Senator Anning with a platform for his party’s views even if he fell under the guidelines relating to the status of a political party.
“You have the discretion to say, ‘Well, even though it’s in the guidelines it’s not within the spirit of the guidelines’,” Faine said.
“He was elected with 19 votes. He’s been disgraced at every turn. His policies are abhorrent to the vast majority of the Australian public and we’re giving him free air time.”
Senator Anning was widely condemned for insensitive comments after the massacre of Muslims in Christchurch.
Interesting discussion on @abcmelbourne between Jon Faine and David Anderson about Aunty giving free TV ad time to Fraser Anning. The new boss seems OK with it. Faine’s certainly not.
— Chip Le Grand (@Melbchief) May 6, 2019
A spokesperson for Senator Anning said in a statement the political leader was entitled to express his views and was an “ardent supporter of free speech”.
“In a liberal democracy free speech is a fundamental tenet which allows for the open discussion of ideas,” the spokesman said.
“Mr Faine is entitled to express his views and though Senator Anning may disagree with them, he will continue to support Mr Faine’s right to express them.
“If Senator Anning isn’t allowed to speak freely, what hope do everyday Aussies have to speak their mind.”
ABC Friends national spokesman Ranald Macdonald told The New Daily he also supported the ABC’s commitment to giving all political parties free advertising during an election.
Mr Macdonald provided an independent report to prime minister John Gorton (1968-1971) during a review of the ABC’s political advertising policies and recommended the practice be continued.
“I completely agree that everyone should be given the air time and it should be paid for by the community,” Mr Macdonald said.
“I can understand Jon Faine’s viewpoint, but I believe in the resilience and importance of a robust democracy and everyone has the right of freedom of expression, whether it’s distasteful or not.
“The audience should be treated as adults and given the option of hearing everyone’s views and reaching their own conclusions and it should be paid for by taxpayers.”
An ABC spokesperson said in a statement that the national broadcaster had been facilitating the democratic process in this way since its inception.
“This grants them (political parties) the opportunity to explain directly to the electorate the policies for which they are seeking voters support,” the statement said.
“Such announcements must inform voters about election policy matters and must meet strict production guidelines.”
Under the guidelines a party is eligible if it is registered, standing candidates in at least 10 per cent of vacant seats in either house of Parliament and is standing those candidates in the majority of states and territories.
Additionally, a minor party is eligible if it has any one of the following:
- At least one member elected at the immediately preceding election
- Polling of at least 5 per cent of first preference votes at the immediately preceding election
- At least 5 per cent nationwide support in a recent, recognised and published independent poll.
“During the 2019 campaign the parties entitled to free broadcasts are the coalition, the ALP, the Australian Greens, Pauline Hanson’s One Nation, the Australian Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats, United Australia Party and Fraser Anning’s Conservative National Party,” the spokesperson said.
Senator Anning’s airtime was expected to be in coming days.
An independent candidate for the seat of Kooyong, Bill Chandler, contacted Faine’s radio show after hearing about the free political advertising but was told it did not apply to single candidates.