People seem to think I do not like the ABC. I can understand why some people hold this view. It is probably because I am on the committee that makes recommendations on appointments to the boards of the ABC and the SBS. As I was appointed by the government, everyone assumes I was appointed by Tony Abbott, which I was not. But as our opinion-forming media elite does not seem to like him, (and the more credit to him for that), they have made one of their colossal, illogical back-flips and concluded that, therefore, they do not like me and that anything I say about the ABC must be part of a dark Abbott plot to neuter this fine organisation. It is also an article of faith in refined circles that because you make some mild criticism of an institution, you must be completely opposed to the institution itself. The reality is the opposite; I actually like the ABC and watch and listen to it continuously. I think it performs an important function and I also hold the quaint view that constructive criticism might make it better. Take the issue that has recently surfaced in the context of the strange and unproductive method of interviewing now regularly adopted by senior ABC interviewers. You would think that one of the objectives of a broadcaster would be to ask political leaders what their policies were and to justify them. I would like this to be done vigorously and by precise questioning designed to get as much information out of the victim as possible. But I listen to political interviews on the ABC and come away without the faintest idea of what the interviewee has been saying, but with a clear understanding of what the interviewer thinks of the issue. This is simply because the interviewee is not allowed to speak. They can scarcely get two words out before they are subjected to a diatribe of abuse and lecturing by interviewers. The post-budget interview of Bill Shorten on 7.30 is a case in point. The poor man has enough trouble as it is in putting a coherent sentence together and seems incapable of saying ‘the cat sat on the mat.’ But in this case he was not even allowed to answer a question about any of his curious policies before being sat on and told he was a fool, which in any case was painfully obvious. Someone in authority at the ABC has to ask: why do we no longer have interviews where we actually learn something; except what ABC interviewers think about contentious issues? Above all, somebody should be asking: are politicians now getting away with things they should be forced to explain by the only means we know how, namely by asking them questions. Not only is this the polite way of conducting an interview; it is the best way of extracting information. It should now be compulsory for all ABC interviewers to watch how John Freeman in his famous 1960s series of political interviews, Face to Face, got the most startling admissions from his subjects by being self effacing, dangling a seemingly harmless question in front of them and waiting for the answer. Is that old fashioned? Probably; but it gets results. It was a pity Mr Shorten was not given the chance to elaborate on his budget speech; it certainly contained some gems that need elaboration and an explanation of some of his clichés. With laser-like precision he was able to identify that Australia needs ‘skills in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.’ How perceptive. We also need ‘researchers and programmers… technicians, electricians, plumbers and machine mechanics.’ Get away with you. We should also teach science and technology in our schools. Now that’s a bright idea. I thought he was about to say ‘The young people of today are the citizens of tomorrow.’ And because our entrepreneurs are apparently pretty dumb, Mr Shorten wants a Smart Investment Fund set up to pay for other peoples’ bright ideas and another honey pot called StartUp Finance to dole out money to ‘guarantee’ your success. Oh for a few real questions from an ABC interviewer so that Shorten can tell us where the money is coming from, why he wants to sap the personal incentive of the individual with a new tax on retirement incomes and why he would want to re-impose the burden on industry with a return of the carbon tax.
When the history of the Abbott government is written, one of its notable achievements will be the decision of the Arts Minister, Senator Brandis, to take away from the Australia Council some its power to make funding decisions on arts projects and to leave them to the normal processes of government. This is one of those rare events that takes power away from self -appointed clubs and cliques, the members of which regard their main role in life as looking after each other. This particular racket has been bubbling away for years, with arts grants being made on the basis of who you know in the club, while decisions about who gets the loot this year seem to be made on the basis that it’s Buggins’ turn. It is also one of the reasons why the handout sector in the arts continues to produce such mediocre work, incomprehensible ‘art installations’ and unwatchable films. The arts club, of course, is rebelling against Brandis’s move, as all clubs do when under siege, and has found a new cause with which to beat the government over the head; get ready for lots of celebrity endorsements. But at least this one area of life will be less rigged and will be run in the interests of the people and not the club.
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