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What a Tawdry Little Exercise

Image from theguardian.com

Image from theguardian.com

I love my ABC. It is the complete channel. It provides a news service that is far superior to anything delivered on the commercial channels. It provides access to art, music and theatre. It provides access to talk back radio without the fear of being cut off abruptly should one’s views differ from that of the host. It is reliable, constant and unable to be toyed with in a way commercial interests toy with their own outlets. It is not subject to takeovers, buy outs; nor does it reverse positions when it is convenient. Most importantly, it belongs to the people and answers to the people, not the government. Governments come and go and each brings its own peculiar philosophies and moral ideologies. But if any of them think they can persuade the ABC to adopt those philosophies and ideologies, they had better think again. That is not its charter.

Tony Abbott’s bizarre claim that the ABC should support “the home team” is utterly ludicrous and to hear this from a former journalist makes it, and him, even more astonishing. And who is the home team anyway? Australia or the government of the day? In any event, the public interest has precedence over “the home team” on any level. If the ABC were to join “the home team” that would deliver a coup for this government and compromise everything the ABC stands for and represents. That this present government thinks it has a right to a special relationship with the public broadcaster is petty, ignorant, arrogant and simply wrong. They need to be told that. They already have a compliant commercial media, some of which is rampantly so, others by omission. Without the ABC only citizen journalism would be left to challenge authority. Is that what this government is aiming for? Do they think that if they can silence the ABC, silencing citizen journalism would be relatively easy?

It should not surprise anyone that the Coalition would attempt to pressure the ABC to pull its head in. They think they fund it. They believe, therefore, that they own it. But the government is owned by the people and can be dismissed by the people. It is the people who own the ABC and fund it. Historically, governments of both persuasions have failed to show much respect for this fundamental fact. In any event, funding should not be the issue. The ABC’s annual budget is around $1.2 billion from total government revenue of around $400 billion. That is hardly a big ticket item. But successive governments have always tried to pressure it into seeing things their way. Gough Whitlam sacked the entire board in 1972. Bob Hawke had the odd run in during the first Iraq war; John Howard likewise, with his minister Richard Alston having issues about coverage of the second Iraq war. A cursory glance over the various board appointments for the past three decades demonstrates both sides of politics have tried to put their supporters into positions of authority and influence at the ABC. All have failed.

In 2008 the Rudd government moved to end political appointments at the ABC a practice that has been happening since 1932. In the end, nothing happened. And so the circus goes on. But through all of its political travels, the ABC has remained the one reliable, stable and trusted source of information for the public, delivering what has always been in the public interest.

Now another skirmish is playing out. In an interview with Ray Hadley on Sydney radio station 2GB.Tony Abbott said, “A lot of people feel at the moment that the ABC instinctively takes everyone’s side but Australia’s.” Such juvenile comments are akin to a child running to its mother and saying, “Mummy, mummy, all the kids are picking on me”. Why did he have to go on commercial radio to say that? Why could he not have said it on the ABC? Was he afraid to go into the Lion’s den? Is he afraid to face up to the hard questions? Did he feel he needed some moral support from a friendly host? It is times like this Abbott gives me the impression he possesses neither the thinking skills nor the verbal skills to present himself as a national leader.

And what is the purpose of this tawdry exercise? What have they got planned that they feel the need to run a smear campaign? Are they planning a funding cut? If so, they should look to history. Past funding cuts have never stopped public interest reporting on the ABC. Is the government not content with the compliant coverage from the Murdoch press? Do they feel they need more? What is it with politicians and criticism? Shouldn’t they welcome it as a means of doing their job better? Or do they so despise criticism from any quarter they would move to muffle it, particularly one they think they own?

The most sensible comments on the subject I have seen thus far have come from a member of the Coalition’s own team, MP Craig Laundy. His comments are taken straight from his Facebook page, “My advice to those who don’t like the job the ABC are doing, my colleagues included, is to do what those living a democracy have been doing since “Adam was a boy”….change the channel, the dial, or the website you visit. And before the howls of “but they’re funded by the taxpayer” breaks out – stop and think about how vast Australia is, and diverse it’s media needs are, as well as how commercially “unviable” the media markets are outside of our major cities …i.e. rural Australia.”

Well said, Craig. It is fitting that one of their own should put them back in their place. Their own secrecy on asylum seekers has been the catalyst for this poorly managed exercise.

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39 comments

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  1. joy cooper

    Very well said, John. Could not agree more although I must say there are some in the ABC, especially on ABC24 who are overtly pro-Coalition. We see their tweets in Twitter. Yes, his whinge, to the complicit Ray Hadley, was rather like a child running to its mummy saying “everyone is being mean to me”. Poor diddums, except his whine has a more sinister rationale.

    Still, as you say, Abbott won’t be happy until he has wall-to-wall complaisance, & censorship, from all sectors of the media for him & his government. A very dangerous attitude indeed. Of course his mentors & backers from IPA want the ABC & SBS privatised.

  2. John Kelly

    Reblogged this on THE VIEW FROM MY GARDEN and commented:

    It is times like this Abbott gives me the impression he possesses neither the thinking skills nor the verbal skills to present himself as a national leader.

  3. Terry2

    In a vigorous democracy those sniping at our national broadcaster (and the Australia Network) would make themselves available to debate and air their concerns in a public forum so that these alleged deficiencies can be properly evaluated and, where appropriate, addressed.

    Q&A would seem to be an appropriate national forum for Abbott,Turnbull and Bishop rather than AM radio stations who have an obvious bias against public broadcasting and have no national profile.

    Question is, do we have a vigorous democracy in this country..

  4. CMMC

    Tones is trying to “dogwhistle” the claim that the ABC is being unpatriotic.

    Because we are “at war” with the heathen reffo Asiatics.

  5. Hotspringer

    To Terry2, I call it a vigorous plutocracy.

  6. Vicki

    I thought the reasons behind this latest attack were obvious – Rupert wants it my lovely- and Tony is doing his best to deliver.

  7. revolutionarycitizen

    What lay at the heart of the current less than friendly views by government towards the ABC? Simple, they Royal Australian Navy has more friends than they do. When the National Broadcaster resorts to gleefully reporting an unsubstantiated rumour as fact in a bizarre “gotcha” against the government and smears the RAN in the process you can expect some in certain quarters may have seen that as a step too far. What was on show was not just a glimpse at the political bent the ABC harbours but a complete breakdown in journalistic standards, deliberate or other-wise.

    As for “taking the side of the home team” that is a relevant narrative, for a long time the ABC has taken some delight in painting certain sections of Australia in less than flattering colours, some may view this as a deliberate attempt to challenge an opposing political ethos rather than an objective portrayal of the country.

    Then, there was the ABC sitting on a story that would have damaged the previous government for 6 months, releasing it only after the election. Raising questions of interference and wether the story would have been run at all had their chosen candidate won.

    Everyone is entitled to question the integrity of the ABC, of late they’ve been their own worst enemy, and it may pay them well to remember that at a stroke of a pen they could all be unemployed and the monies spent on their organisation go elsewhere. They must know come May they’re in for a reasonable sized hair-cut, and they brought it on themselves.

  8. Rhona Eastment

    I remember seeing this article from the IPA last year. It seems to me that the Abbott Government is quickly working their way through the list the IPA has compiled, for their view of “good governance’. ABC cutting is there, climate change mitigation removal, etc etc. My heart bleeds for what we are about to become. For my ABC, for our environment, for our international reputation, for our health and well being.

    http://ipa.org.au/publications/2080/be-like-gough-75-radical-ideas-to-transform-australia

  9. John Fraser

    <

    A sad state of affairs when the Prime Minister of Australia starts crying because 10% of the media will not follow the Murdoch line.

    The ABC is the most regulated media in Australia.

    The bully Abbott is just a sookie.

  10. leighton8

    I also like and depend on the ABC as it is. And it would seem the national broadcaster has been irritating the government of the day at least as early as the government of Robert Menzies in the 1950s. And since then has been irking the government of the day (whether a Liberal/National government or a Labour one) consistently. So it would seem to be doing its mandated job.

    As regards the recent claims by the asylum seekers in Indonesia, it would seem to be news to report such claims … especially if they are being picked up by Indonesian news outlets. For the ABC to have ignored them would have led to yet more questions.

  11. Fed up

  12. John Kelly

    RevolutionaryCitizen: There are any number of examples where one can make a subjective assessment about bias at the ABC. Some of it may even be true. But, given the extraordinary bias of the commercial media today in favour of the conservative side of politics, if such bias is present at the ABC it is simply balancing the ledger. I am more than happy to pay my 8 cents a day for that. Interestingly, inflation hasn’t contributed much to that cost over the years. Back in the 1960’s it was 7 cents a day. Compare the ABC then, to what it provides today, and make a similar comparison with any commercial media outlet then, and now, and you would conclude there’s not much to complain about in terms of cost.

  13. mark delmege

    ‘the ABC has remained the one reliable, stable and trusted source of information for the public, delivering what has always been in the public interest.’

    You should get out more.

    We have the most controlled media in the world – ABC included.

  14. june hartman

    Well written, echoes what fans of ABC/SBS are thinking. Q&A requested Tony Abbott to appear on the program for over 12 months. He refused. I would be most surprised if he will make an appearance in 2014.

  15. bjkelly1958

    To suggest that the ABC has a left leaning bias is a testament to how used to leaning too far to the right the rest of the media has become. Sadly, a great number of people in this country now accept that being way out to the right is the norm. It’s not, it lacks balance.

    Abbott’s claim that the ABC should give the RAN and its members “the benefit of the doubt” is ludicrous. If the allegations are made, and they were, to not air them, if for no other reason than to get a public response from the Government and/or the Navy, is hardly in the public interest. Where does one draw the line? Should the ABC not report on a cricket match if Australia loses?

    Yes, there have been political appointments to the ABC board since the get-go and generally they have had little effect, but Howard did manage to send Kerry O”Brien to Coventry pretty much during his last term as P.M. History shows that the National Broadcaster has always put forward stories, in the public interest, that did not suit the government of the day. So it should, and long may they continue to do so.

  16. gina Ryan

    Agree with all of the above. I do believe Abbott and his cronies arranged for certain adverse stories the abc was fed. This built the picture for him and turnbull to do the dirty on the abc. Abbot the cry baby always on 2GB never at the credible ABC. Shows what a ego stoical thug he is.

  17. Stephen Tardrew

    Freedom of the Press? What part of freedom do our politicians not understand. Oh dear! The part that is critical of them. You know the freedom part. Big scary truths should be buried under a mountain of deceit and obfuscation. My dictatorship is your freedom dummy.

  18. revolutionarycitizen

    John, indeed the commercial media is biased, always has been and always will be, but it does offer a range of bias as it were, in Australia, Fairfax (plus a few others) on the left and Murdoch on the right, but what has been happening at the ABC isn’t really bias in that context. It is has become a means by which some credibility can be gained by those seeking to push an agenda, and that is what a lot of people find objectionable.

    The RAN accusations were a prime example of this, the story was aired only because it was anti-government and pro-asylum seeker, it wasn’t political bias it was agenda pushing at its worst. Even a newsroom intern would have known not to run that story because it was never back-grounded or fact-checked. The Snowdon fiasco was political bias, the story was withheld because it would damage the ALP, primarily it would damage the then sitting PM Kevin Rudd, who was at that time pushing a favourable agenda line for some of those within the ABC.

    In the end it doesn’t matter that the ABC is biased, most people are going to pick that up for themselves after watching it for more than 15 minutes. The problem is that it is destroying the plurality of leftist views in the commercial media. The Globe failed because it couldn’t compete with the ABC online, ABC online and news broadcasting is cannibalising Fairfax and will see that institution close its doors soon enough.

    The end result will be a straight fight between the ABC and the Murdoch press, and even with the government on their side the ABC will be on the losing end of that.

  19. John Fraser

    <

    @revo

    All of it could be confirmed if the government was open and accountable.

    Snowden showed the world what is happening in our name and people don't like it.

    Most people don't know that they are being manipulated by Murdoch because he hires the best spin that money can buy.

    Really saddened that you would be sitting down in the gutter beside Abbott crying your eyes out.

    Get a … firm … grip.

  20. Quint

    @revolutionarycitizen

    While some may find your opinions misguided, I find myself seeking you out for a good chuckle.

    Keep up the good work champ!

  21. John Kelly

    REVO: By what measure do we determine what is left of centre and what is right? One could argue that the ABC is centre and the Murdoch press is extreme right, or that Murdoch is centre and the ABC is extreme left. It’s a subjective call based on one’s own position. But the debate must always be about the positive and the negative. If the ABC is pushing an agenda, perhaps it is to maintain a balance between the two. If so, that is a good thing. That also keeps Fairfax in check. Based on a story in the Murdoch Australian today, it seems there was some background and gravitas to the RAN story which suggests it was in the public interest. I’d give you the link but it is behind a paywall. As you so rightly say, most people will pick up any bias (left or right) without any help from you or me. As for future online competition of the news, don’t discount the power of citizen journalism.

  22. Tracie

    Yesterday I spoke to someone who lived through Nazi Germany. He told me that someone he knew was speaking to some workers on a field who were Jews. It was a normal conversation he had – not anything discriminatory – yet he was prosecuted just for speaking to them. The person I knew did not believe the prosecution should have occurred.

    Nazism started with manipulation of the media. Then it went further, by discrimination. After that, were the killings – all accepted by the majority.

    Is this what we have to look forward to? Will we be manipulated and controlled by the media, to such an extent that all asylum seekers can then be killed? Already I see on social media people calling for the asylum seekers to drown. How far will our community go, before they find this attitude as unacceptable? Will people in favour of humanity be then killed, as those sympathetic to the Jews were? Or to those sympathetic to Shia Muslims over in Pakistan are killed at present by the Taliban?

    This means that the ABC and SBS are now needed more than ever, if only to show the humanity of the asylum seeker issue.

  23. KateS

    The hypocrisy of the creatures of Abbott knows no bounds! They supposedly champion freedom of the press and then criticise the press when they exercise that freedom.

    As for ABC bias, I agree with bjkelly1958 that the media is (and has always been, in my opinion) on the side of the right. When newspapers are funded by their advertisers, and those advertisers are largely big business, they have to toe a pro business line. The ABC and Fairfax(??!!??) are accused of left wing bias because they present a (slightly) more balanced view. But bias in the lead up to elections is always closely monitored on the ABC and the time given to each political party is measured to the second.

    What I’ve noticed of late, however, is a change in the routine the ABC practised before the election.
    Prior to the election, the pattern went thus:
    1. a govt policy is announced
    2. we hear it on morning radio or evening news – often the journo’s interpretation of a press release, but sometimes the relevant minister outlines the issue.
    3. immediately a member of the opposition is interviewed to give their counter opinion (accompanied by whatever diatribe they’re promoting, or 3 word slogan, or insulting epithet)

    Since the election, we hear from the opposition about one in ten times and when the govt or relevant minister is asked to speak, he is invariably ‘indisposed’ (not available for comment, declined to comment, failed to reply etc) That just leaves the journo to outline the issue – unless, of course the relevant minister WANTS to promote his cause – then he’s given free rein (or reign in the case of the LNP) to say what he likes and go largely unchallenged by the interviewer/journo.

    How is this left-wing bias?

    As for the issue that we all pay for the National Broadcaster and so we (ie the Govt) should be able to tell it what to report, who do they think pays for all the other media outlets in this country?? Whether you watch commercial TV, or buy Murdoch papers, or not, you are still paying for them indirectly with everything you buy – at the supermarket, in the department store, in shops or through online advertisers etc. We have very little choice in this country about where we shop and, short of living ‘off the grid’ in some quiet backwater, we are all on the money-go-round. So IPA “individualism” is a complete furphy because very few of us could survive without the rest to support us.

    Isn’t it about time Tim Wilson HR Commissioner and free speech advocate said his piece on this issue?

  24. cartoonmick

    A democracy has an “editorial free” ABC or similar. For the Govt. to cull or control the ABC is how we become a dictatorship.

    If they “feel” they must do something about Australia’s media, they should “feel” free to come down heavy on rabid shock jocks. That would be a go place to start, I “feel”.

    They need to keep their hands off the ABC and provide realistic funding for their budget.

    If they’re have a problem in justifying funding, they should just pretend it’s a chocolate factory or a private school. No probs.

    Public funding is always available for situations which “feel” right.

    A cartoon on topic . . . . . .

    Editorial / Political

    Cheers
    Mick

  25. Terry2

    Kaye Lee

    So with Murdoch acquiring TEN we get our own version of FOX News

    Fair & Balanced !

  26. scotchmistery

    Azz haz been said before, vee vill do as vee are told by Herr Moredick, our heffenly guide. Also the instructionz vich come from Mizz Kretlin vill be obeyed to zee letter.

    Remember – if you haff not Fox you have facts. Yes Fox – No Facts

    Heil Tony

  27. revolutionarycitizen

    JF, wether or not Snowden did a good thing or not wasn’t the point, it was the ABC sitting on the story (or allegations there-of) that was the point. And that has formed a part of the sharp criticism of the ABC these days, that it isn’t just reporting the news, it is taking a position on the news. (As demonstrated by the Snowden case)

    I don’t much care for the media, their demise is of their own doing, by providing news to “their” side they’ve ensured that their market isn’t enough to keep their business going. From Fairfax on the left to Murdoch on the right, they’ve made rods for their own back.

    Quint,, chuckle all you want, history has and will prove me right again.

    JK, Left v Right is subjective true, so we should leave that to the individuals. As for the RAN story, it turns out the original claims didn’t come from the “victims” but were the subject of “chatter”. The ABC ran the story, then had to admit later that it was likely bogus. Had those in the ABC stuck to journalism 101 they would have saved themselves the embarrassment and we probably wouldn’t be talking about it. It isn’t the ABC’s job to balance Murdoch, that is what Fairfax is for, and if the ABC wasn’t destroying their customer base Fairfax wouldn’t be in such bad shape. But in the end, yes, smaller pointed news outlets will replace the two titans of Australian news.

  28. Brian

    I’m tempted to regard Abbott as a brain dead fool. What gives here? I don’t like the ABC because they say things I don’t like? Destroy the ABC and remove any voices that contradict the Murdoch line?
    There are people on both sides of the political divide who believe the ABC is biased toward the opposite side. Seems to suggest a balance does exist.
    Contrary to Abbott’s dictum, the joint does not exist to write feel good bullshit to satisfy the yobbo bogans who wrap themselves in the flag and want to be told they are of a superior breed.
    Abbott is playing with fire here just as that fool Jones did during the Cronulla riots. Racism is very much alive and kicking in this country and to pump oxygen into it as he is definitely doing can only lead to a great rending of our society. Multiculturalism has served this nation well but it is self evident that a mixed society like ours can, with the right pressures applied, be torn to shreds. Is this the agenda? I can only admit to being puzzled at what they’re up to here.
    They appear to be utterly bereft of a positive plan to move the country forward and display nothing but ideologically driven bastardry. Either that or they’re as cunning as shithouse rats and the plan is so cleverly disguised none but a fellow rodent could understand it.
    I suspect it’s the former because this bloke ( Abbott ), well, he says stupid things, he sounds stupid, he looks stupid and shit he even walks stupid. As Forrest said, “stupid is as stupid does”. Pity.

  29. John Fraser

    <

    @Revo

    Well it would appear you and Barny only think that.

    The ABC in partnership with The Guardian (Aust) had the story and reported it.

    Later on Murdoch's "Australian" had an exclusive adjunct to the same story and published that.

    And that's how the media works in a democracy.

    If you would like to talk about how the ABC may have overstepped the mark on the refugees burns article you might be on safer ground …. but it looks like we will never know because the Abbott gang will not release the video.

  30. Trevor Vivian

    Revolutionary citizen thinks he’s the suppository of all knowledge. I said before Put some facts to your motherhood rhetoric and then you’ll have a skerrick of credibilityto cover your infantile offerings. As it is you are just a silly boy masquerading as a blowhard. Man up or remain a fuktard revolutionary idiot.

  31. Leo Keegan

    Just seen ‘the book thief’ and reflected ‘if only people had reacted in a more organised and passionate way at the FIRST sign of the government trying to make everyone think like them; who knows where it might have ended’. What history labels as evil probably starts with people in power trying to get everyone to think like them.

  32. Tracie

    Exactly. Nazism started like that, as well as the Taliban. And now Tony Abbott appears to be going the same way.

    Compassion has started to go out the door. It needs to come back.

  33. kyeho

    Really? Only times “like these”? You are lucky … I have to turn the sound on the tv off, ignore all newspapers and turn the sound off on the radio. This government in the main is the epitome of everything shallow … a lot of wordspeak hoping that will somehow fill the vacuum!

  34. Buff McMenis

    Well said, John Kelly .. I agree with you completely. I’m just a bit sick that they can give any air-time whatsoever to the PM as a serious interviewee, especially when the interview is done by 7.30 Report!! It’s a bad look when Leigh Sales giggles at something he says! 🙁

  35. Terry2

    Calling for the ABC to apologize to the navy is bizarre because we don’t actually have the facts of what happened onboard the vessel in question. The reason we don’t have those facts is because Scott Morrison won’t release the video or logs.

    Hellooooo !!!

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