ABC managing director David Anderson has committed to personally review how the Darwin newsroom has managed a conflict of interest concerning Chief Minister Michael Gunner’s wife Kristy O’Brien, following questions by CLP Senator Sam McMahon at Senate Estimates in Canberra.
Ms O’Brien’s conflict of interest was recently raised again after the Chief Minister’s office helped facilitate a speaking engagement for the ABC reporter at a local shopping centre last month that heavily promoted her husband in advertising for the event.
At Senate Estimates hearings on Monday evening, Ms McMahon questioned Mr Anderson over the ABC’s processes for managing conflicts of interest.
“Can you tell me who gave her permission to actively campaign in her husband’s re-election bid this year?” Ms McMahon asked.
Mr Anderson said he “will immediately not agree with the characterisation of that before I actually know the facts around it.
“If that’s something you would like me to look into Senator, I will.”
“And do you think that it’s okay for a reporter to campaign … for a politician and two months later be engaged back into the newsroom to report on current affairs?” Ms McMahon asked.
Mr Anderson said that while he wasn’t aware of the specifics of the O’Brien/Gunner situation, “it would need to be managed carefully”.
“I don’t know of any instance where somebody’s journalism has been influenced by somebody outside of the ABC,” he said.
However, a handful of stories Ms O’Brien has written for the ABC over the last two years were flagged last week as potentially promoting Mr Gunner’s political interests, with others written with apparent inside information that coincided with Mr Gunner’s political announcements.
Ms O’Brien’s relationship to Mr Gunner was not disclosed in any of the online articles.
The ABC has strict policies to prevent and manage conflicts of interest with its staff to maintain the integrity and independence of the public broadcaster. The policy references “political relationships” of its employees, stating that “there should be no conflict between the private interests of ABC staff and their official duties”.
An ABC spokeswoman said last week that the taxpayer-funded broadcaster had brought in “additional oversight” at the Darwin newsroom as a result of the issues being raised, but did not provide details.
Mr Anderson told the Senate Estimates hearing that he “thinks” he was aware of the relationship, but that he was not aware that some senior staff at the Darwin office had raised concerns about the conflict of interest not being effectively managed.
“Senator, I know that has not been raised with me,” he said. “I think I’d remember that. That has not been raised.
“I think that if there was an issue, that we would deal with it through the processes we have when it comes to our code of conduct.”
Mr Anderson said he would take Ms McMahon’s numerous questions on notice, which will give him two weeks to get back to her with responses.