The Australian Press Council has appointed the deputy chair of the activist group GetUp! as a public member – a move that could be viewed as at odds with its stated commitment to “independent scrutiny”.
The appointment of Torres Strait Islander Carla McGrath is part of the Press Council’s devotion to diversity, as it attempts to develop a body that it believes better reflects the community it serves.
A key point of contention with the appointment is Ms McGrath’s role as deputy chair on the board of the left-wing activist group. GetUp! recently ran an aggressive campaign against the $16.5 billion Adani coal mine in the Galilee Basin and has crowdsourced funds to attempt to topple Immigration Minister from his marginal federal seat of Dickson.
Ms McGrath said her roles on the Press Council and GetUp! would complement each other, rather than create conflict.
“We don’t know how that relationship will play out until I attend my first meeting, but certainly GetUp! has an important role in the public accountability structure for the media and I don’t feel those two roles are in conflict,” she said.
“The genuine intent of both organisations is to have a press that performs their role as effectively as possible in informing the public, as is their right of information, that is relevant to them but that is done in the most responsible way possible,” she said.
Along with her affiliation with GetUp!, Ms McGrath also works with BlakDance, Shared Path Corporation, the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, the NSW Reconciliation Council, AIME and the Australian Youth Affairs Coalition.
Australian Press Council chairman Professor David Weisbrot, said this vast experience made Ms McGrath ideal for the role, despite her need to declare conflict of interest in some cases.
“She is remarkably experienced for someone her age in corporate governance,” he said.
“By definition, if you are choosing 10 or 11 really distinguished and experienced people from the community, they’ve done stuff. They have held jobs, they have been members of organisations, they have been awarded by some bodies, so we regularly have situations within council [where people declare conflict of interest].”
Ms McGrath is the third Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander person to sit on the council. The press council recently launched its Reconciliation Plan Action Plan, developed to aid representation with Indigenous peoples. Her first sitting date will be in mid-August unless she is called for an earlier adjudication panel.
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