The Australian newspaper has today published this story written by Christian Kerr
ABC put on notice over foreign TV
FOREIGN Minister Julie Bishop has expressed concerns that the ABC is not meeting the terms of its $223 million Australia Network contract, after receiving negative feedback from its target audience.
Ms Bishop's comments come as one of her most senior bureaucrats has admitted the department was "closely monitoring" the ABC's management of the overseas network.
Justin Brown, the first assistant secretary in charge of public diplomacy at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, has told Sydney broadcaster Michael Smith in a letter obtained by The Australian that there is "ongoing contact" between DFAT and the ABC to "identify what is needed to ensure the integrated Australia Network-Radio Australia service becomes a more effective vehicle for advancing Australia's broad and enduring interests in the Asian region".
A tender process for the 10-year soft-diplomacy broadcaster was scrapped in controversial circumstances in 2011 and responsibility for the service handed to the ABC. The Gillard government had received two recommendations that the contract go to rival bidder Sky News Australia, part-owned by News Corp Australia, publisher of The Australian .
The Gillard government decision was later lashed in a scathing report by the Auditor-General.
Submissions have been made to the government's National Commission of Audit calling for the tender to be reopened.
Ms Bishop said the way the previous Labor government "corrupted the tender process ... and prevented a competitive process from occurring has resulted in ongoing concerns about the contract that was awarded to the ABC". She said she was aware of concerns within her department about whether the terms of the contract were being met but also expressed wider worries of her own. "I also have concerns about the quality of the programming and whether it is meeting the goal of promoting Australia's interests overseas," she said.
"It is meant to be a tool of public diplomacy and I am concerned by the level of negative feedback I receive from overseas."
The Australian understands other ministers have expressed concerns over Australia Network content.
ABC chairman Jim Spigelman admitted last month that the Australia Network contract process had been "flawed".
"It could have been better handled from a number of different points of view," Mr Spigelman told the National Press Club.
Smith said he contacted DFAT at the height of the row over the ABC's decision in November to partner The Guardian Australia to report claims Australian intelligence had intercepted the phones of Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, his wife and senior officials.