ABC president Ita Buttrose has spearheaded ad campaigns for two major private corporations raising allegations that she is compromising the independence of the publicly-funded national broadcaster.
Ms Buttrose has been hired to promote Covid antiviral drugs for US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and is also involved in advertisements for the Priceline Pharmacy chain.
ABC’s editorial policies state that employees “should not enter into any advertising or sponsorship agreement if it is likely to undermine the independence and integrity of ABC or can reasonably be perceived to do so.”
NSW One Nation leader Mark Latham expressed surprise that Ms Buttrose was doing such publicity work while she was the corporate director and face of ABC.
“It’s kind of inappropriate to be involved in these ads and getting paid for it because obviously ABC journalists might be thinking ‘maybe I should go a little softer on Pfizer’ if they’ve done something wrong, or on Priceline.” said Mr. Latham.
ABC President Ita Buttrose appeared on a promotional website for Pfizer’s antiviral drugs.
‘Journalists may think that the president of ABC is their publicity face, better not bother her by exposing the true scope of this problem.
“I think it compromises all of ABC and the independence they need to report on these corporations fairly, fairly and accurately.”
As a former high-profile editor of women’s magazines in the 1970s, employed by then-media mogul Kerry Packer, and with many television appearances to her credit, Ms. Buttrose enjoys a level of fame that presidents previous ABC’s rarely had.
Mr Latham said this is certainly what made Buttrose a valuable business spokesperson, but questioned what led her to moonlighting.
“She has a nice stipend at ABC as president and supplementing it with ad revenue that commits the entire organization is just wrong,” he said.
“I would have assumed that she took on the ABC role just to be the president of ABC, not to carry on the corporate contracts and money.
Ms. Buttrose’s appearance may contravene the public broadcaster’s editorial guidelines which state that it should not be viewed as promoting a commercial product.
“As a general rule, I believe that the president of ABC should not have any advertising contract or any connection to a major corporation that ABC may report on.
“That is the proper ethical standard that she has violated.”
In Pfizer’s campaign for covid antiviral drugs, Ms Buttrose appears as the lead image on the promotional website and features heavily in a cleverly produced video.
In the video, Mrs Buttrose is shown, apparently at home, making a cup of tea as a pensive soundtrack plays.
“I felt a sense of loneliness and sadness because you don’t realize what you’re missing until you can’t have it,” says Ms Buttrose.
‘We have seen for ourselves the impact of Covid. Older people like me were considered to be at higher risk and we need to make sure they get the best possible medical care at all times.”
The video features testimonials from University of Sydney professor of child health Robert Booy and New South Wales hospital cardiologist Daniel Nour, who was the 2022 Young Australian of the Year before the final shot of Ms Buttrose . speaking reassuringly.
“Knowing about antivirals, knowing they are there, would greatly alleviate the anxiety older Australians have about contracting covid,” he says.
Don’t risk it. Covid can still have a terrible effect on a person who gets it.
‘We have to be vigilant. I think antiviral drugs are a big step forward.’
Covid antivirals must be prescribed by a GP to those who have tested positive for the virus and are eligible for treatments.
NSW One Nation leader Mark Latham (pictured front) has hit hard at Ms Buttrose appearing in commercial campaigns.
With the ABC chairman appearing alongside two prominent public health employees, Pfizer’s campaign resembles an ‘official’ government message, although there is a discreet Pfizer branding in the top left corner of the main website.
A Pfizer spokesman said the website was part of a “public health education initiative.”
“Pfizer’s activities, including sponsorship and payment arrangements, are reviewed to ensure full compliance with the Medicines Australia Code of Conduct, TGA laws and regulations and all other applicable regulatory obligations,” the spokesperson said.
‘The website does not include mention of any specific prescription product.’
For Priceline, Ms. Buttrose plays a supporting role as a celebrity endorser for TV and radio host Chrissie Swan.
In contrast to Pfizer’s campaign emphasizing the need for medical precaution, Ms Buttrose makes a spirited appearance in the Priceline video while sitting outside a coffee shop enjoying a coffee.
“I’m still taking chances,” he says into the camera.
In a cleverly produced video on the website, Ms Buttrose says that antiviral drugs “are a big step forward.”
Priceline’s head of marketing, Gabby Tully, told an advertising industry publication brief campaign the message being conveyed was about celebrating the older woman.
“We want people to feel empowered to be their best selves, to feel represented and appreciated for who they are, to celebrate their individuality and give space for their voices to be heard,” she said.
“This latest installment of our Festival of You positioning highlights women who feel invisible and celebrates aging in a positive way, together.”
An ABC spokesman said Buttrose’s involvement in outside ad campaigns was not an issue.
“ABC President Ita Buttrose is involved in a number of activities outside of her role at ABC, which is within ABC’s guidelines,” the spokesperson said.
“Since she is not involved in editorial decisions, there is no conflict of interest.”
US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer has produced a Covid antiviral drug, which is given to those eligible who test positive for the virus.
This response did not impress Mr. Latham.
That’s typical of ABC. In that world they do nothing wrong, they have never made a mistake,” he said.
“If it was some other organization where the president was compromising reporting independence, ABC and Mediawatch would be on them like a rash, but with ABC doing it, they get a pass every time.”
“I would rather see her (Ms. Buttrose) make ABC impartial, politically neutral and work hard to clean up political bias than run well-paid ad campaigns.
‘She should have a different set of priorities.’