The board of the ABC has appointed media executive and former Coalition adviser Fiona Cameron to the newly created role of ABC ombudsman.
The new role was recommended by an independent review that found the public broadcaster’s internal complaints unit was “efficient” but could benefit from the addition of someone to handle appeals and reviews.
The ABC commissioned the former commonwealth ombudsman John McMillan and the former SBS and Ten news chief Jim Carroll to conduct the review last year. This came after high-profile complaints about television programs Exposed: The Ghost Train Fire, Ms Represented, Inside the Canberra Bubble on Four Corners and Q+A’s Trauma and Truth Telling.
Cameron will head an expanded ABC editorial complaints unit and will have the power to review a complaint finding. The ombudsman will report to the board, not the managing director.
Cameron’s most recent role was as an authority member at the Australian Communications and Media Authority (Acma), and she was previously chief operating officer at Screen Australia for a decade.
She was previously chief of staff and media adviser to the former communications minister Richard Alston, a strong critic of the ABC.
Jonathan Holmes, a former ABC journalist, has warned that keeping the ombudsman separate from editorial management by having them report to the board and not the managing director is highly unusual.
Ita Buttrose, chair of the ABC, says the new ombudsman role will help strengthen the existing complaints handling processes.
“We already have the highest standards of complaints handling in place of any Australian media organization and Fiona’s appointment will assist us in maintaining those standards,” Buttrose said.
The ABC’s managing director, David Anderson, said Cameron’s appointment will help the broadcaster maintain the strong bond of trust and confidence with audiences.
“The ABC Ombudsman will be key to us maintaining the high standards Australians know and expect from the ABC,” Anderson said.
Cameron said: “This is an important and challenging role and strengthens the ABC’s commitment to its audience. I look forward to getting my feet under the desk and grappling with all the many and varied issues.”
The ombudsman role is in addition to the existing two-tier model of in-house complaints handling and external review by the media watchdog, the Acma.
The complaints review was commissioned by the ABC board in October 2021.
Shortly after the review was announced, the ABC’s five-person complaints unit was targeted by the Liberal senator Andrew Bragg, who attempted to establish a government-led inquiry. That move was labeled “political interference” by Buttrose, and was voted down by Labor and the Greens in the Senate.
“The ABC gets to mark its own homework and as an organization paid for by the taxpayer, I believe there should be extra scrutiny,” Bragg told Sky News last year.
Cameron will start in late September.