ABC needs a little help from its friends

An ABC spokesperson said the deal would be signed "on the basis that the ABC's editorial policies and guidelines have overarching authority over the whole contract".

However, Penelope Toltz, president of lobby group Friends of the ABC (NSW), said, if finalised, the deal would present a threat to the editorial integrity of the public broadcaster. She predicted the broadcaster would be obliged to alter its existing non-advertorial policy under pressure from Telstra.

"Brian Johns [ABC's managing director] has said there won't be any [online] advertising . . . but he can't speak for future boards of Telstra, who can come out at any time and say, 'We're not making enough money. We need everybody to take advertising,'" she said.

Johns' five-year term as managing director will terminate on March 17. Jonathon Shier will succeed the position.

The ABC spokesperson said that, according to the Telstra contract, the broadcaster would never be required to alter any of its non-advertorial policies.

But Toltz wasn't convinced. "The really worrying thing is that he [Jonathon Shier] has a commercial background only. He's never worked for a public broadcaster. He has already mentioned selling advertising on the Net."

Toltz said an unnamed ABC source had revealed that the broadcasting company would be contractually required to implement an online news bureau for Telstra. "That will come out of the $13.5 million a year, which takes the price down somewhat." She said it would cost the ABC up to $6 million a year to implement and maintain the news bureau.

"Doesn't that $13 million then suddenly look like seven or eight?" she asked.

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Byron Kaye

PC World

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