Let me rise in defence not of the ABC itself, nor ABC management, nor the ABC board, nor Emma Alberici in particular, but of a fundamental principle. This is the editorial independence of the national broadcaster.
If those in authority – supported by their allies in the media – are encouraged to believe ABC management will fold at the first rustling of official disapproval then we would quickly lose confidence in the organisation’s ability to hold politicians to account.
Under pressure, the ABC’s hasty return to the government of two filing cabinets of classified documents that fell into its lap is a case in point.
In an environment in which there has scarcely been a greater premium on reliable information – untainted by political prejudice – the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s independence becomes paramount.
This does not mean it should be beyond criticism. Indeed, given its importance in an era of fake news, a tsunami of disintermediated social media, the rise of the radio and television ''shock jocks'' purveying their own brands of snake oil, the ABC must be prepared to withstand relentless scrutiny to ensure it meets the standards laid out in section 8 of the ABC Act.
Section 8 requires the ABC board to “ensure the gathering and presentation of news and information is accurate and impartial according to the recognised standards of objective journalism’’.
Now, anyone in the news, analysis and commentary business knows that the phrase “objective journalism’’ is as imprecise as the practice of journalism itself.
However, in the ABC’s case, for the obvious reason it is publicly funded, there is an elevated responsibility to ensure it strives to meet the “accuracy and impartiality’’ standard laid down in section 8 of the ABC Act.
This brings us to the Emma Alberici matter, in which the ABC’s chief economics correspondent waded into a politically sensitive debate about whether corporate tax cuts – a centrepiece of the Turnbull government’s economic strategy – would deliver ''trickle-down'' benefits in the form of jobs and wages growth.
Space does not permit discussion about the merits of an argument among practitioners of the dismal science. This debate has ''trickled down'' since the Reagan era.
What is the case is the Alberici contribution in its original drafting came down fairly unequivocally on the side of those who are sceptical about the benefits of ''trickle down'' economics born of the Laffer Curve and other such theories emanating from a Friedmanite Chicago school.
In light of this, ABC editors took down the item from the organisation’s website, arguing it “did not meet editorial standards’’.
If you lay side-by-side the first version of the Alberici article, published on February 15, and a revised contribution on February 21, you will note a significant shift in tone, leaving aside whether conclusions are similar.
In the original, the reader is subjected to a dose of editorialising. In the latter the witness, namely the reader, is led rather than directed.
Needless to say, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Communications Minister Mitch Fifield and their media allies leapt onto the Alberici case like ravening wolves.
All this invites discussion about the ABC’s editorial processes. These were deficient in this case by the organisation’s own admission. In other words, the Alberici commentary was not subjected to scrutiny consistent with the “accuracy and impartiality’’ obligations of the act.
What has been exposed once again is a flaw in the ABC structure whereby its managing director Michelle Guthrie is nominally its editor-in-chief.
Guthrie, who appears to be out of her depth more broadly as head of sprawling billion-dollar-a-year broadcasting empire, is not a journalist. She could not be expected to exercise the sort of editorial judgement under pressure that might be expected of an ''editor-in-chief'' - even if she was examining copy before publication, which I very much doubt.
The ABC board should correct this anomaly forthwith by anointing an ''editor-in-chief'' separate from the managing director with responsibility for all editorial content across the broadcaster’s various platforms.
The organisation has taken a half step in this direction. It needs to go further.
One other consequence of the Alberici matter good or bad, depending on your point of view, is the opportunity provided to the ABC’s legions of critics to beat the ''conservative-free-zone-in-a-sea-of-progressives'' drum.
It’s long been a mystery why the organisation has difficulty accommodating conservative viewpoints - except sparingly - in its various opinion programmes where such participation would be appropriate.
We are not talking about putting the Institute of Public Affairs in charge of the climate change desk, by the way.
Finally, if it’s any consolation to an organisation under siege it has been ever thus. Re-reading the late Ken Inglis’ history of the ABC’s first half century – This Is The ABC - is to be reminded of the organisation’s travails in every conservative era.
Even Malcolm Fraser, the lion of liberalism and friend of ABC ''progressives'' in his later years, squeezed the organisation while in office. Inglis refers to this period as “Hard Times’’.
He might have called his Fraser chapter: Hard Times in defence of editorial independence.