ABC Chair Ita Buttrose has fronted advertising campaigns for two major private corporations raising accusations she is compromising the independence of the publicly-funded national broadcaster.
Ms Buttrose has been recruited to promote Covid antiviral medicines for US drug giant Pfizer and also takes part in ads for the Priceline Pharmacy chain of chemists.
ABC editorial policies state employees must ‘not enter into any advertising or sponsorship arrangement if it would be likely to undermine the ABC’s independence and integrity or could be reasonably perceived to do so’.
NSW One Nation Leader Mark Latham expressed surprise that Ms Buttrose was doing such advertising work while being the corporate head and face of the ABC.
‘It’s an inappropriate thing to be involved in these ads and be paid for it because obviously journalists at the ABC might be thinking ‘maybe I need to go a bit softer on Pfizer’ if they’ve done the wrong thing, or Priceline,’ Mr Latham said.
ABC Chair Ita Buttrose has appeared on a promotional website for Pfizer’s antiviral medicines
‘Journalists might think the chair of the ABC is their advertising face, I better not upset her by exposing the true extent of this problem.
‘I think it compromises the entire ABC and the independence they need to report on these corporations impartially and 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 TV appearances under her belt Ms Buttrose enjoys a level of fame previous ABC chairs rarely did.
Mr Latham said this is undoubtedly what made Ms Buttrose a valued commercial spokesperson but questioned what prompted her to moonlight.
‘She’s on a good stipend at the ABC as the chair and to top it up with advertising revenue that compromises the entire organisation is plain wrong,’ he said.
‘I would have assumed she went into the ABC role just to be the ABC chair, not to continue with corporate contracts and money.
Ms Buttrose’s appearance may contravene the public broadcaster’s editorial guidelines that state it should not be seen to endorse a commercial product
‘As a rule of thumb I think the chair of the ABC shouldn’t have any advertising contracts or any connection to a major corporation that could be reported on by the ABC.
‘That’s the proper ethical standard she has breached.’
In the Pfizer campaign for Covid antiviral medicines, Ms Buttrose appears as the main image on the promotional website and features heavily in a slickly produced video.
In the video Ms Buttrose is shown, apparently at home, making a cup of tea while a pensive soundtrack plays.
‘I felt a sense of loneliness and sadness because you don’t realise what you are missing until you can’t have it,’ Ms Buttrose narrates.
‘We’ve seen for ourselves the impact of Covid. Older people like me were considered most at risk and we need to make sure they do get the best possible health care all the time.’
The video cuts to testimonies by Sydney University Child Health Professor Robert Booy and NSW hospital cardiologist Daniel Nour, who was the 2022 Young Australian of the Year before the final shot of Ms Buttrose talking in a reassuring manner.
‘Knowing about antivirals, knowing they are there, would relieve a lot of the anxiety that older Australians have about getting Covid,’ she says.
‘Don’t take chances. Covid can still have a terrible effect on a person who gets it.
‘We have to be vigilant. I think antiviral medications are a great step forward.’
Covid antivirals must be prescribed by a GP to those who have tested positive for the virus and are eligible for the treatments.
NSW One Nation leader Mark Latham (pictured front) has hit out strongly at Ms Buttrose appearing in commercial campaigns
With the ABC chair appearing alongside two prominent publicly employed people in the health sector Pfizer’s campaign resembles ‘official’ government messaging, even though there is discreet Pfizer branding at the top left corner of the main website.
A spokesperson for Pfizer said the website was part of a ‘public health education initiative’.
‘Pfizer’s activities, including sponsorship and payment arrangements, are reviewed to ensure compliance to full observance of 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 second fiddle as celebrity endorser to radio and TV presenter Chrissie Swan.
In contrast to the Pfizer campaign emphasing the need for medical caution, Ms Buttrose makes a feisty appearance in the Priceline video as she enjoys a coffee seated outside a cafe.
‘I’m still taking risks,’ she says to camera.
In a slickly produced video on the website Ms Buttrose says the antiviral medicines ‘are a great step forward’
Priceline’s head of marketing Gabby Tully told advertising industry publication Campaign Brief the message being conveyed was about celebrating 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 in our Festival of You positioning spotlights women who feel invisible and celebrates ageing positively, together.’
A spokesperson for the ABC said Ms Buttrose’s participation in outside advertising campaigns was not an issue.
‘ABC Chair Ita Buttrose is engaged in a number of activities outside of her role at the ABC, which is within ABC guidelines,’ the spokesperson said.
‘Given she is not involved in editorial decisions, there is no conflict of interest.’
US drug giant Pfizer has produced a Covid antiviral medicine, which is given to those eligible who test positive for the virus
This response did not impress Mr Latham.
‘That’s typical of the ABC. In there world they do nothing wrong they’ve never made a mistake,’ he said.
‘If this was some other organisation where the chair was compromising the independence of reporting then the ABC and Mediawatch would be all over them like a rash but with the ABC doing it they give themselves a pass all the time.’
‘I’d much prefer she (Ms Buttrose) made the ABC impartial, politically neutral and work hard on cleaning up the political bias than fronting up for well paid advertising campaigns.
‘She should have a different set priorities.’