ABC Veto of “Secular Voice” a Mockery of “Inclusion”
By Brian Morris
Let’s be forensically clear about this – ABC radio and television programming has a deep philosophical problem that needs to be fairly and openly discussed. ABC PR and publicity is fiercely and pretentiously strident on “diversity and inclusion”; and one assumes that should include an overt secular and A-theist perspective – to add at least a microscopic offset to faith-overload, within the religio-political agenda.
Tragically, however, over recent years, “Aunty” has become far more “inclusive of religion” and far less “diverse” with regard to secular and “A-theist” worldviews that often challenge theistic social policy. See Footnote.
So much so, that it’s been suggested the ABC rebrand itself as the Australian Bible Corporation.
Troublingly, the evidence for this spans many years – and incrementally so – much like the parable (to borrow a Biblical term) of that poor frog slowly boiling in a pot of water. Either the secular and A-theist “muted voice” is mere happenstance, an obscure programming directive, or perhaps a veto for specific programs?
Central to faith-based programming is the ABC’s Religion and Ethics Division (R&E), although “ethics” is invariably of the Christian variety. Now, it’s true to say that within the corporation’s charter there is a requirement to provide content for people of faith. No objection there! But that clause was included when Christianity was overwhelmingly supported!
No longer is that the case – even though Census 2021 incorrectly showed 43.9 per cent “identifying” as Christian (explained further, shortly). So with all the latest data confirming a huge decline in Christian faith, why does the ABC run 7 religious-related program, plus one for kids? See R&E (end section) for the whole list.
There is no claim that “all seven” ABC programs are wall to wall religion, but they all cover every aspect of faith to some degree – and at least three are focused exclusively on belief in a god. Notably, the publicity refers to religion 26 times, and to secularism (as in “Secular Ethics”), not once. And in the R&E promo blurb is this gem;
“In parallel, across our platforms, ABC news and current affairs programs shine a light on the organisations guiding and governing Australians’ belief.”
Most notable for the absence of panelists who are “overtly” secular or A-theist are The Drum and Q&A. Both run programs that regularly deal with socio-religious topics – and with monotonous regularity their guests identify as religious. When was the last time you heard either of these programs question the basic tenets of Christianity?
Case in Point – just ONE recent example. Q&A on 10th April ran the theme “Faith, Politics and Humanity”. Another all-Christian panel, including the host, Stan Grant. It was non-stop sermonising and a talkfest of Christian morals – and Islamic morals too, from ALP senator Fatima Payman. There was no voice to say ethics and morals are not exclusive to religion! Just watch the Q&A video link – is this “balance”, or religious proselytising?
Yet another opportunity lost – where the ABC could show integrity on topics that demanded a secular voice. Like so many programs, it is glaringly obvious to rationalists and freethinkers that ABC panels are blatantly one-sided.
And it just doesn’t wash when the ABC claims balance by inadvertently using a celebrity Australian atheist guest such as Jane Caro, Andrew Denton, or scores of others. On their rare appearances the topic is not about religion. Where are they when the issue requires a questioning voice to temper the ever-present Christian viewpoint?
So where does the problem lie?
Interestingly, while allegedly at arm’s length from operations, the ABC board has a duty of care with regard to bias. Its charter is clear on bringing “maximum benefit” and “integrity” to the public.
“The duty of the Board is to ensure that the functions of the Corporation are performed … with maximum benefit to the people of Australia, and to maintain independence and integrity.”
Where are these benefits, across the ABC network, on the hot topics where religion wields such power and influence: in politics, public schools, hospitals, health, aged care, tax breaks, taxpayer funding, abortion, private school discrimination, prayers in parliament, et al? All these are part of the long-established Secular Agenda.
The problem is more likely to rest within the “Leadership Team”.
While program directors, and producers down the line, have some controls on “who gets to be heard”, decisions on editorial and program policy lay with the Leadership Team. Principal among these are the Director of News and Investigations; the Managing Director David Anderson has a clear role, and a great deal of influence comes from the Editorial Director, Craig McMurtrie.
On 30th April 2019 the National Secular Lobby (NSL) met with ABC MD, David Anderson, and Editorial Director, Craig McMurtrie. NSL delivered a number of proposals based on gaining a “recognisable voice” for the secular majority. A prior independent national survey by accredited polling firm IPSOS showed 78 per cent of the public wanted religion to be separated from the business of government. Access to the ABC radio and TV network – to openly discuss this issue, and the full secular agenda – has been fraught with difficulty for many years.
Details of that meeting remain confidential but it’s fair comment that while all NSL’s proposals were rejected David Anderson did make a specific request. He asked NSL to provide a detailed list of people who were well-known and fully conversant with all issues across the whole gamut of social policy.
Indisputably, the list was to provide secular-savvy panelists for programs like The Drum, Q&A, and a host of ABC Radio programs across the nation. The request was issued personally by David Anderson but it came as no surprise that – after numerous follow-ups with Head Office – absolutely nothing resulted from the project.
Four years on there is still no recognisable secular “voice” to question the religious social agenda.
Numerous suggestions have called for surveys of key TV and radio programs to gauge “secular content” but that task is simply impossible. ABC content managers and producers would bar access to necessary information – and even with data to conclusively prove religious bias, ABC management will dismiss it. As they’ve done before.
A comprehensive survey of The Drum 2 years ago – by credible online publication John Menadue – showed there was a substantial and measurable right-wing bias. ABC ignored the evidence. Clear and established links between conservatism and religion are well known, and new survey data would merely confirm a religious bias.
Christian deference seems also to afflict the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). Stated earlier in the article was the 2021 Census figure of 43.9 per cent nominating as Christian. That is incorrect. ABS has rejected professional advice (over many years) that asking, “What is the person’s religion?” is simply a loaded question. Scores of polls show Christianity to be far lower than the ABS figure. Doubters need to read “Religiosity in Australia”. All of it!
But here’s an ABC challenge. The 4th May will be National Day of Reason, which is an annual event of secular celebration for the public majority who regard themselves as humanists, atheists, secularists, and freethinkers.
A fair question for the ABC is simply this: How many programs or segments will actually identify what that day means? To explain what “reason” and “rationalism” really is – and how markedly it differs from “religious belief”?
But having put the ABC under a critical spotlight it must be said that Australia does need a strong and vibrant public broadcaster – to be adequately funded after years of erosion inflicted by successive Liberal governments.
However, the ABC is a long way from finding a renewed sense of secular integrity and diversity, or the courage to deal openly with the secular agenda. To finally push back against the overwhelming influence of corporate religion, on a raft of social policy. But is the ABC’s arrogance and ineptitude simply a tragic myopic blind-spot – or something worse – a corporate culture indifferent to public opinion, where complains are ideologically ignored?
If that is the case nothing will change with the ABC’s religious modus operandi – certainly until the Christian-centric hierarchy of the corporation are gradually replaced with managers who share the contemporary secular worldview of rationalists, humanists, and non-theists.
Footnote: A-theism is used to simply emphasise being non-theist, rather than the religious pejorative of “satanic atheism” that lacks morality. No, there is no evidence for a supernatural deity, so we are “Good Without God”.
Brian Morris is a former Journalist and Public Relations professional and the author of Sacred to Secular, a critically acclaimed analysis of Christianity, its origins and the harm that it does. You can read more about him here.
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I also expect nine years of Scummo and pals loading the boards with his religious nutjob happy clapper mates to fight the evils of the supposed left wing bias of the ABC hasn’t helped either.
So true, and It’s not only religion, check out the ABC’s 5 night’s a week current affair’s show, The Drum.
Almost every night, at least one panel guest is a member of the Liberal Party and another is from a business organisation representative organisation and the rest usually from professional ranks
Labor Party members are as rare as hen’s teeth, and Greens, rarer. Trade Unionist’s and non-professional workers, shop assistants, grader drivers etc, never. Anglican Vicars who cater to the Sydney Eastern Suburbs set and religious talk show hosts who are also connected to the Liberal Party also are regulars.
To the staff who produce and chair The Drum, it seems a Liberal Party Membership ticket gives one extraordinary knowledge and wisdom, indeed makes members experts on every topic to be discussed.
Brian Morris has nailed it. The ABC needs to included more non-religious views.
A democracy should have separation of church and state.
This precisely the reason why I hardly listen to ABC RN anymore. Every time I tune in it is religion. For 30 years it was my go to station, not any more. Enough is enough
“Dog Forbid” with unctuous James Carlton is the creepiest, rebadging oppressive Abrahamic myths as a mock-trendy quiz show.
But there’s nothing that can be done. On LibLab orders, ABC increasingly spews out damaging and misleading religious propaganda. You just have to value the worthwhile bits of Radio National where you can still find them.
The irony is, if you scanned the original ABC radio schedules of 1932, you wouldn’t find such a religious deluge.
I don’t always agree with Stan Grant but his criticism of the ABC, his employer, is not out of place.
Grant has unleashed on his own employer, revealing he felt ‘betrayed’ by the public broadcaster when the Queen died and staff were forced to wear black to mourn the monarch.
In an interview with Radio National last week he said he felt outraged at the ABC’s ‘obsequious’ response to Elizabeth II’s passing.
Grant said he refused to ‘put on a black suit’ and mourn ‘the White Queen’.
Presumably the ABC’s insistence on black only applied to television presenters and I would imagine that the employees in question would have received a clothing allowance. Still you would have thought that an arm band would have been an adequate recognition of her passing.
The ABC are becoming very PC !
Very very well put.
I note reference to the ABS’ 43.9% Christians, of those, only 20% are Roman Catholic, equating to 8% of the population. Regardless, at Easter, the ANC bombarded us with almost incessant and boring lengthy ‘live crosses’ and videos of the Pope’s speeches and Vatican ceremonies. A display of absolute ignorance and bias.
If nothing else, what about Ramadan, and Passover. The entire ABC regime is now a disgrace of white-supremacist corruption and invasion of the Board, and hire-ins from NewsCorpes.
But even though I have an interest of the cultural and historic aspects of all religions, such blatant bias and proselytizing should be completely removed from the ABC, and only significant ‘religious affairs’ of international import should be allowed on news programmes only.
Next thing is the invasion of neo-political fascists from the American evangelist movement will increase its invasion of our shores.
If religious sects wish to promulgate via media, it should be done only on their own stations, paid for by their own means.
A great read, Brian.
The ABC radio, in darwin, consistently since the 60s, showed any ‘left’ was missing from the presenters.
When TV came in 71 it was by microwave link from Qld and jo’s chooks were in charge.
The ABC was never embued with Gough’s ‘it’s time’ and made rupert’s NTNews read like PRAVDA.
Perhaps the cruelest and most obvious change was when the rabbott got rid of the ‘fairness’ of O’Brien which left us leftless.
My sadness is the universal acceptance that the english word for anything impressive shown on the box is ‘he’. The autocue journalisys gush ‘isn’t he clever about a puppy who is obviously not ‘he’.
This premise is my first question on the bible based religions. God created man, then took a living part off his creation to make a woman. Thus deliberately robbing women of the first human reproduction. Then god gave the task of reproduction to women using a process that rendered a woman 25% physically and mentally affected. ie 75% of men? The Cherokee lauded menstruation as a strength but most societies think of ‘unclean’, ‘incapable’.and irrational
Pingback: Opinion - ABC's Historical Veto of “Secular Voice” - Plain Reason
From the article — ” There was no voice to say ethics and morals are not exclusive to religion!”
That is a serious oversight. Kropotkin showed a century ago that ethical behaviours can be seen in animals.
From the footnote — “…there is no evidence for a supernatural deity, so we are “Good Without God”.
There most likely cannot be scientific evidence for a supernatural deity, by definition. A supernatural deity is “above nature”, so conclusions as to the existence of such is purely personal. It follows that there is no rational or moral excuse for criticism of those who might hold such a belief. It also follows that nothing is gained from arguing this question.
I see the sign at the top of the article as an attack on those holding that belief, or at best it is a cheap criticism.
I understand and agree with the concern of those who have legitimate grievances against office-holders of organised religions, but innocent people who hold a differing view of life and death should not be the target for retaliation.
In regard to “We are Good without God”, that is certainly possible, just as “we are good with God” is possible.
As with all contentious issues, it’s helpful to always look for the bigger picture.
Whoa, hold up there Steve Davis . . .
You said: “I see the sign at the top of the article as an attack on those holding that belief, or at best it is a cheap criticism.“ That came from the UK’s National Secular Society, and it’s their right to free speech.
And I DID say: “…there is no evidence for a supernatural deity, so we are “Good Without God”. Too true!
And we’re talking here about a “Christian God” — and that emanates from the highly questionable story of a “divine Jesus” (see quote below).
The public majority of secular, rationalist and atheist citizens are quite rightly free to question that entire Christian narrative — although it’s extremely difficult to gain access to the media any longer (including the ABC). Over recent years there seems to be a veto, favouring religion — despite the rapid decline of Christianity here. Read the link I gave in the article — to Religiosity in Australia. Read all of it.
There are literally scores of religious scholars and historians who question the Jesus myth. Here’s just one:
“In the entire first Christian century Jesus is not mentioned by a single Greek or Roman historian, religious scholar, politician, philosopher or poet. His name never occurs in a single inscription, and it is never found in a single piece of private correspondence. Zero! Zip references!.” Dr Bart Ehrman, Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina.
Whoa, hold up there Brian Morris.
You say the sign at the top of the article “came from the UK’s National Secular Society, and it’s their right to free speech.”
But I did not question their right to free speech. What I questioned was a public attack on innocent people for having beliefs with which you disagree.
You said “there is no evidence for a supernatural deity,…”
So what? What is your point? Two hundred years ago we had no evidence for radio waves, yet all the while we were being bombarded by radio waves coming from elsewhere in the cosmos. That argument is without merit.
You said — “…so we are Good Without God. Too true!” — But it’s not true. It’s only possibly true, just as “We are Good With God” is possibly true. Neither atheism or theism confer goodness.
You said “The public majority of secular, rationalist and atheist citizens are quite rightly free to question that entire Christian narrative…There are literally scores of religious scholars and historians who question the Jesus myth. ”
To what end? What does that achieve exactly? Does that advance your argument? Your point in the article that “There was no voice to say ethics and morals are not exclusive to religion” was a powerful one, and legitimate, but now I get the feeling that you would be just as happy to see heated arguments on the historicity of Jesus.
You imply bias in ABC progamming with “is this balance, or religious proselytising?” Yet you defend a sign that displays bias, in that there is no way to determine the probability of God yet probability is asserted. That assertion cannot be made without evidence against the existence of God, but you gave none. The message on the sign that “There’s probably no God” is no more than a personal opinion.
You got a little closer to balance with “there is no evidence for a supernatural deity” but still not good enough. The sentence, to be free of bias, should have read “As yet there is no science-based evidence for the existence of a supernatural deity.”
Your entire article was an argument pointing out an excessive coverage by the ABC of religious themes, and a lack of secular content that might be at odds with some of those themes. You argued the case very well. But you let yourself down by allowing a worthwhile argument to be overshadowed by your own lack of balance. You gilded the lily.
Dismount and stable your horse, Steve Davis.
(1) The sign heading my op-ed was selected by AIMN, not me, so you need to take that up with the editor.
(2) My “point” in saying “there IS no evidence for god”, is simple to avoid a “pointless” discussion — which you seem intent to pursue.
(3) “The point” of my op-ed is the media veto (including the ABC) on even discussing the questionable origins of a “divine Jesus” — the very foundation of Christianity. That is blatant intellectual censorship, by any measure!
(4) In my op-ed I clearly state there is “no objection” to the ABC airing religious programs! Plainly, that means there is no issue with citizens who have a “personal and private” faith. You missed that.
(5) So, our objection is simply the media-wide proselytising of Christianity (ABC included), without any right of reply. The dubious message is spruiked exclusively on the basis of a “divine Jesus” — coming from the Centre for Public Christianity, Australian Christian Lobby, and all the rest! So many Christian organisations, all with so few rank and file members.
The big problem, therefore, is that rational and secular citizens (a public majority) have scant opportunity to publicly raise questions. It’s a veto. It’s NOT a conspiracy, it actually happens. It’s called Censorship!
Christians like yourself can feel self-satisfied and sneering of any voice raised in a questioning form. But what is staggering is the amount of Christian anger we now see — and their bizarre claims of being “persecuted”. What? Here? Really? How much more Christian media coverage do you want?
So, unless you have something meaningful to say — to contradict religious scholar, Prof. Bart Ehrman, and his “zero” evidence for a divine Jesus — then I do feel you should stable your horse. Unless, of course, you wish to focus more on me, with another ad hominem volley. Which I’ll probably choose to ignore.
Useful exchange taking place within this thread, apologies if this has been posted before but I’ve found George Carlin’s take on the God question to be like a breath of fresh air in a stale room, invigorating & stimulating.
Energetic carry-on by George Carlin there, even if somewhat predictable – after all, numerous other comedians, like Ricky Gervais, relentlessly chip away at the very same groove, as do the four horsemen of atheism, except without even the pretense of being funny.
From a non-denominational Christian anarchist point of view, three issues draw attention immediately: first, little distinction is made between a) religious institutions; b) religion; and c) faith.
Second, the indefatigable efforts by atheists to discredit (faith in) God by connecting Him with, and holding Him responsible for what is known as the Problem of Evil does not actually make this problem go away. Dissing God merely requires a convincing secular/humanist resolution of this problem – and do not know of any.
Third, none of those who advocate the resolute and uncompromising replacement of faith with reason seem to have given serious thought to the limits of reason. Relevant key words here are hermeneutical cycle and Munchausen Trilemma.
One problem that I see with the lacking presence of atheist viewpoints in contemporary media is that atheists , merely by being atheists, do not seem to have many useful contributions to make to public debate, other than challenging (often enough through unrelenting ridiculing) religious faith altogether. All that atheism amounts to is (over-confident) statements about what isn’t: a God or gods; or what ought not be: faith in such God or gods.
Alas, for alternatives, atheists as such have nothing to offer. Any actual alternative requires argument and conviction over and above mere atheism: humanism, say, or Stoicism, or hedonism, or any other philosophical outlook you care to think of. And once you reference such philosophies, you face the same onus of proof of the validity of the basic assumptions that underpin it, as any religion.
In other words, you expect people to expend enormous cognitive effort to disentangle themselves from their inherited beliefs, and to then develop new beliefs which, in the final analysis are no better supported than faith in God.
Also: I am one of those Christians – and I know quite a few others – who are absolutely in favour of the strictest possible separation of religion/faith and politics. Even if I am far more concerned with the corruption of the Christian faith by politics, rather than the other way round. You know: you want to dine with the devil, you want to bring a long spoon!
Brian, the sign might have been chosen by AIMN, but you chose to defend it.
You said “My “point” in saying “there IS no evidence for god”, is simply to avoid a “pointless” discussion — which you seem intent to pursue.”
Your statement that there is no evidence for God does not avoid a pointless discussion — it provokes a pointless discussion.
You said “I clearly state there is “no objection” to the ABC airing religious programs!” But then you put conditions on your “no objection” — You continued “But that clause was included when Christianity was overwhelmingly supported! No longer is that the case.” A reasonable reader would assume from that, that now you do object.
You said ““The point” of my op-ed is the media veto (including the ABC) on even discussing the questionable origins of a “divine Jesus” — the very foundation of Christianity. That is blatant intellectual censorship, by any measure!”
The questionable origins of a divine Jesus ? Now that would be the epitome of a pointless discussion. Furthermore, it reveals your true motivation.
You are not after equal time as the article implies, as in “where the ABC could show integrity on topics that demanded a secular voice” such as “in politics, public schools, hospitals, health, aged care, tax breaks, taxpayer funding, abortion, private school discrimination, prayers in parliament, et al?” All worthwhile topics, I hasten to add, but they do not appear to be your top priority. It appears that you are about the destruction of Christianity.
It is a legitimate exercise to expose church actions or attitudes that are harmful to the community, but it is not legitimate to seek the destruction of a group that despite terrible misdeeds, also does much good. Misdeeds and corruption are a feature, a given, wherever there is bureaucracy.
You said “Christians like yourself …” Sorry to disappoint you, but I do not identify as Christian.
You accused me of an “ad hominem volley”, but as I recall I did not attack you, I attacked the lack of balance you displayed in complaining of lack of balance.
Go to it boys . . . I’ve said all I need to say. Just this PS:
You all seem to be hung up with “atheism”.
Wrong, Steve Davis, the MAIN issue (per my op-ed) is gaining a “secular” voice to challenge the pro-Christian worldview on some very important issues of SOCIAL POLICY in Australia today.
Namely: overt religious influence in — federal and state politics, public schools, hospitals, health, aged care, church tax breaks, taxpayer funding of religious businesses, abortion, private school discrimination and funding, anachronistic prayers in parliament, and another dozen issues listed on the National Secular Lobby website. Secular Lobby? Yes indeed, apart from the Rationalist Society who else is there to question predatory Christianity on these key social topics that affect the entire population?
Has Gerard Henderson entered the debate using a nom de plume?
Brian, you said ““The point” of my op-ed is the media veto on even discussing the questionable origins of a “divine Jesus”.
Then you said “the MAIN issue (per my op-ed) is gaining a “secular” voice to challenge the pro-Christian worldview on some very important issues of SOCIAL POLICY in Australia today.”
When you put “The point” in inverted commas it becomes the main point. So which one is it?
Steve, it’s really very simple. Please don’t obfuscate.
(1) ABC (and other mainstream media) make “secular comment” almost impossible. Reason for the ‘veto’ op-ed.
(2) “Secular comment” is about questioning the influence of religion on that long list of “secular topics”.
Both are relevant. In the process of arguing (2) it is sometimes necessary to question the fundamentals and ethics of Christianity, or, the Christian organisation that is making some outrageous claim on a particular social policy.
That’s all there is to say. Thank you.
Brian, thank you for simplifying the discussion points.
In regard to your first point, I understand and agree with your position.
In regard to your second point, I agree with some qualifications.
In regard to your statement that it is sometimes necessary to question the fundamentals and ethics of Christianity, in general I do not agree, although there could be some instances in which that is the case. For example, a religious position based on some of the more primitive teachings of the old testament. But that does not include your persistence in repeatedly raising the question as to the alleged divinity of Jesus, if that was the intent of your reference to the fundamentals of Christianity.
In short, a secular position on matters of great social significance, such as the ones outlined previously, are not of much worth if they cannot stand on their own merits.