Dick Smith Funds ABC Anti-Immigration Documentary

Dick Smith funds ABC anti-immigration documentary

By Caroline Overington
The Australian, August 6, 2010

Millionaire businessman Dick Smith has paid some of the cost of an anti-immigration documentary to be aired on the ABC next Thursday.

Mr Smith is a strong advocate for a cap on population growth, and the ABC's decision to accept a project that has his money in it has angered Friends of the ABC, who say businessmen should not be allowed to buy space on the public broadcaster to promote their political views, especially during an election campaign.

Glenys Stradijot, campaign manager for Friends of the ABC in Victoria, said: 'Let's be clear. It's wrong at any time. There is a high potential this will be seen as somebody giving money to the ABC so they can have their views put to air.

'It doesn't matter whether you agree (with Mr Smith's view) or not. It's wrong in principle.

'To use the excuse that without Dick Smith's money the program would not have been made does not legitimise this arrangement.'

The program, Dick Smith's Population Puzzle, stars Mr Smith, who argues for a cap on growth.

Immigration is a key issue at this election.

Mr Smith recently paid for advertising space in The Australian to mount the same argument, saying it was impossible to get news coverage for his views because Rupert Murdoch dominates the media in Australia.

The ABC head of documentaries, Stuart Menzies, said Population Puzzle was likely to receive less than 10 per cent of its funding from Mr Smith.

'We have put a line at the end to acknowledge that Dick Smith made a financial contribution,' Menzies said.

'We want to be open and transparent. We are utterly up for scrutiny on this. In the worst-case scenario, he will contribute less than 10 per cent.'

Director and producer Simon Nasht said: 'Dick offered to pay 100 per cent of the costs to save the taxpayers, but naturally enough the ABC could never accept such a plan.

'He argued what's the difference between the government paying and him? He may have a point, but someone else can grapple with that one on another project.'

Nasht said the film had funding from Screen Australia and Screen NSW, while Mr Smith had agreed to underwrite any loss.

'Dick's final contribution may, in fact, be significantly less than that (10 per cent) but final amounts will not be determined until we have the audit necessary to qualify for the government's tax rebate.

'If all goes as I hope, he may not end up contributing anything at all, but as it stands, he is prepared to cover a small shortfall in the funding.

'Why? This goes back to the difficulty of funding documentaries of any kind in Australia. The ABC does not pay what it costs to make them — usually around only 30 per cent of the budget.

'The rest comes from federal grants and 15 to 20 per cent from a tax rebate, but you have to guarantee you have all the funds, so Dick is prepared to make up the shortfall, once removed, through his foundation, the Documentary Australia Foundation.

'Of course I'd be happier if it wasn't so, but otherwise the film would never get made.'

Nasht said Mr Smith had no editorial control of any kind, and did not stand to gain financially from the documentary.

'Don't think for a minute that Dick is not a supporter of Australia's humanitarian refugee intake. His cheque book bleeds from the help he has given. And even with the bee in his bum about population, he is urging a doubling of our humanitarian intake. What he's less convinced about is Australia pinching 3500 doctors last year from developing countries.'

The documentary will be followed on Thursday night by an hour-long panel debate, hosted by the ABC's Tony Jones, featuring at least five panellists who also want caps on growth, plus the former federal president of the Liberal Party, John Elliott, and Nikki Williams, chief executive of the Minerals Council of NSW.

Menzies said the ABC had commissioned the project because they thought it was a 'really interesting' way of approaching the topic.

'It's something different,' he said. 'Dick Smith rattling the can on this, but because it was an opinion, his opinion, we thought let's have a panel discussion afterwards, so a range of views can be heard.'