Appointments to the board of the national broadcaster, the ABC, and the government-funded SBS, will be governed by new laws that will reinstate a staff-elected director to the ABC and creates an independent panel to advise the government on suitable appointments.
The National Broadcasting Legislation Amendment Bill 2010 passed the Senate late last night with the support of the Greens.
The Coalition was opposed to the bill, claiming Labor had drafted the legislation to appease the unions.
The laws reverse a 2006 Coalition government decision to abolish the staff-elected position on the ABC board as it was deemed at the time that it risked a conflict of interest.
Under the new process, recommendations for the appointment of ABC and SBS directors will be made by an independent panel who will provide a short list to the communications minister, currently Stephen Conroy, who will hand down the final decision.
An amendment by the Greens to ban current or former politicians and senior political staff failed.
The current selection process for the ABC chair will continue, with the decision made by the prime minister of the day after consultation with the opposition leader.
Australian Greens communications spokesman, Scott Ludlam, said the bill moved the process further away from the risk of political meddling and hailed the return of a staff representative to the body.
"The board must be independent so that the ABC can fearlessly report on, expose and explore all issues, even those that make the government of the day and other powerful vested interests uncomfortable,'' he said.
"Unbiased journalism is one very important pillar of what a healthy, functional democracy depends upon. No government should be allowed to appoint or influence who sits on the ABC board."
Senator Ludlam claimed that during the Howard years, the Coalition had done its best to stack the ABC board with ideological allies, ''a phenomenon that should never be repeated by any party in power''.
Liberal senator Simon Birmingham was unhappy with the legislation, arguing in the Senate that the bill was "purely politically motivated".
"It's the Labor party's need to appease the unions," he said.
He claimed that re-installing a staff-elected figure to the ABC board had the potential to ''compromise board meeting confidentiality''.
Staff members on the board would come under immense pressure and could face harassment via emails from colleagues, he said.
The changes to the rules governing the national broadcaster and the SBS comes as Labor looks to revisit media ownership laws. It also comes in the wake of an announcement of 1900 job losses at Fairfax Media, and a massive cost cutting regime revealed by News Ltd yesterday with both media companies to undergo a major restructure of their newspaper and digital operations.
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