Flat White

What’s Left to like at the ABC?

12 March 2018

10:55 AM

12 March 2018

10:55 AM

I was doing some research on an article for what I actually like at the ABC—I think it might have been my wife’s suggestion—when I came across a statement by John Anderson, the former deputy PM. In response to the question about what he still liked about our national broadcaster he said:

Precious little…emergency warnings? Sometimes the rural reports? The rest is now so stiflingly progressive that it’s nausea inducing.

Clearly Anderson, along with many others, are convinced that the ABC is constantly engaging in “journalistic advocacy”, pushing a decidedly Left leaning, political propaganda, rather than responsibly engaging in objective reporting. What’s more, even Michelle Guthrie, the ABC’s managing director, has acknowledged to the Senate Estimates Committee that their editorial processes are in a complete shamble. As Gurthrie explained:

As our teams were moving into the new structure, we made mistakes…Stories were published which hadn’t received the editorial scrutiny they needed, and weren’t up to our standards.

Stephen Brook, writing in The Australian goes even further. Since Alberici’s articles were published on February 14, Brook has started referring to it as, “the ABC’s St Valentine’s Day massacre.” In his assessment:

The recent Senate Estimates hearing into the ABC, where managing director Michelle Guthrie and others were left floundering, unable to answer basic questions about what everyone knew would be the central topic — chief economics correspondent Emma Alberici’s contested articles about tax policy — will go down as the worst performance by ABC management in recent times.

But just when you thought things couldn’t get any messier, along comes Kristina Keneally, more than ably picking up where her predecessor, Sam Dastyari, left off. “Dasher” may well have done his dash in the Australian Parliament but, for some inextricable reason, Keneally seems to have a deeper knowledge behind the Alberici story than even the ABC’s managing director. As Brook explains:

In contrast, new Labor Senator Kristina Keneally, at her first estimates appearance, delivered a belter. Keneally just happens to be the best informed former Sky News presenter in history about ABC editorial processes, even knowing extraordinary detail about the original submitted versions of Alberici’s articles.

To his credit, Brook did also say:

To be fair, there is no evidence that Alberici gave any politician any information either directly or through an intermediary about the ABC’s inadequate editorial procedures, which Aunty has been forced to revise. Keneally, when contacted, remarked on the irony of a journalist ringing up to demand the identity of sources.

Let’s be honest. They don’t even have to hint at bringing back Frontline. This is the best new real life political drama that the ABC has produced in years!

But back to my original idea for an article. What’s still to like at the ABC?

Well, the children’s programming on ABC 2 is excellent. In fact, according to The Guardian, even the commercial networks are saying that this is what the ABC should focus on. (Although, since the redefinition of marriage, this has also become increasingly taken over by the LGBTIQ juggernaut).

What’s more, a mate of mine reckons that Gardening Australia on Friday night is ‘unmissable’.  Also, Grand Designs, Australian Story as well as a couple of other mini-series like Poldark and Call the Midwife, as well some of the older Aussie classics such as SeaChange, Fallen Angels, Police Rescue and Wildside. Although, in a perceptive piece for The Guardian, Lauren Carroll Harris writes:

Since diving into the ABC’s drama offerings for 2018, I’ve thought often of the words of Sandra Levy, the former ABC director of television, more than 10 years ago: “I think the future for ABC television is very bleak.”

But in my opinion, the best show on the ABC is Media Watch, especially with the current host, Paul Barry. Just take his coverage of the sad and sorry saga involving Emma Alberci which, even he described as “the latest ABC stuff up”.

As Barry, himself acknowledged, “if you’ve been watching Media Watch you’d know it’s been pretty tough at the ABC of late.” You can say that again. Senate Estimates Committee anyone? But my level of interest was truly piqued when Barry led with this sound bite from Alan Sunderland, the ABC’s editorial director:

ALAN SUNDERLAND: There are plenty of suggestions floating around at the moment that the ABC is bowing to government pressure and failing to do its job … that we self-censor to make sure we don’t annoy the government and that we’re cowering in the face of threats of budget cuts …

I want to talk about how our journalism might have to change in response to all this pressure. So here goes.

— An Independent ABC, 2 March, 2018

I thought to myself, “Well, this sure is going to be interesting…I wonder what’s he going to say?” A national apology perhaps like we had when Kevin Rudd was Prime Minister? A promise on behalf of the ABC to return to their journalistic core values maybe? Or what about a commitment to represent all Australians who together fork out approximately $1 billion per year to keep the whole thing afloat? But alas, there was going to be no such thing. Instead, Sunderland doubled-down and stated brazenly:

ALAN SUNDERLAND: This is what needs to change about our editorial approach during these risky and sensitive times. Nothing.

Now, that may be a little high-level, broad-brush summary, so let me break it down for you in a little more detail. Absolutely nothing.

— An Independent ABC, 2 March, 2018

Wow. Sunderland just doesn’t get it! I thought that the problem might have just been the editorial processes involved with reviewing the ‘research’ of a couple of their star journalists. But after reading this, I can’t help but think that the problem is far more serious and goes all the way to the top. As Barry himself stated:

Yes, it’s feisty stuff. And we get the idea. But given that the ABC has said it will strengthen its editorial processes, was the do nothing line really so wise?

How is it that the host of a weekly fifteen-minute review of media understands what’s at stake, but the editorial director doesn’t? No wonder the former deputy PM, John Anderson, was so scathing in his assessment…

There’s an incident in John’s Gospel where Nathanael says to Philip: “Nazareth! Can anything good from there?” (See John 1:45-46) What I’ve noticed is that more and more people are starting to ask a similar question in regards to the ABC. Because whereas some see it as a kind of “media Messiah”, others view it as the equivalent of a cultural false prophet that can do nothing ‘right’ (or should that be Right?).

Ultimately, what is lost if the ABC were defunded and sold off? Is there anything left—or right—that is worth saving?

Join the online poll: “Should the ABC be defunded?

Mark Powell is the Associate Pastor of Cornerstone Presbyterian Church, Strathfield.

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