Flat White

The Arrogant Broadcasting Corporation

21 May 2018

7:56 AM

21 May 2018

7:56 AM

It seems that Emma Alberici, the ABC’s chief economic correspondent, has just been schooled. According to The Australian, Alberici proceeded to publish her ‘bungled’ story—which it has humorously referred to as, ‘emmanomics’—on company tax despite having already ‘received a two-hour briefing by Australian Taxation Office Deputy Commissioner Jeremy Hirschhorn.’

However, it gets even worse. It has also been revealed that the office of the treasurer, Scott Morrison, wrote to Gaven Morris, the ABC news director, stating: ‘I understand Mr Hirschhorn sought to educate Ms Alberici on the basics of tax avoidance and company tax obligations after she expressed limited understanding.’

So, let’s just get this straight. Alberici spent two hours with the Deputy Commissioner of the ATO before submitting her piece, in which time there would have been ample opportunity to identify and fix its numerous errors, and yet she still proceeded to publish? What’s more, how on earth did all this get past the editor? The article in The Australian went on to note:

A senior adviser to Mr Morrison wrote to the ABC on February 14, the day Alberici’s news article was published, outlining a long list of concerns in a diatribe that reads as a 1600-word economics lesson.

Alberici’s story — which confused company revenue with profits, on which taxes are paid — was “riddled with inaccuracies, betrays a lack of understanding of corporate taxation, and basic economic and commercial principles”, the email said.

And yet, in a recent video to employees Alan Sunderland, the Editorial Director of the ABC, has emphatically stated that ‘Nothing … Absolutely nothing’ needs to change with the way they do things.

What is especially galling about this, is the ‘culture of entitlement’ and indeed, arrogance, that has seeped into the very heart of the ABC. I wonder, did the finance editor, or even Alberici herself, receive a share in the reported $2.6 million in financial bonuses? I’m almost certain Mr Sunderland would have.

Time and time again we have seen political advocacy hidden under the guise of journalistic reporting. And yet, the ABC proudly promotes its reporting as being ‘without bias or agenda’. As their editorial policy states:

The ABC gather and present news and information with impartiality and presents a diversity of perspectives so that, over time, no significant strand of thought or belief within the community is knowingly excluded or disproportionately represented. The broadcaster is expected to take no editorial stance other than a commitment to fundamental democratic principles.

What are we to make then of the ABC’s new political reporter, Andrew Probyn? According to Media Watch, during the 7.00pm news on October 10, 2017, Probyn made this ‘non-bipartisan’ comment about former prime minister, Tony Abbott:

Tony Abbott, already the most destructive politician of his generation now intends waging war on what he calls environmental theology. If this tells us anything, it’s that Malcolm Turnbull can’t do anything to appease Tony Abbott on climate action.

Having been successful in toppling not one, but two, sitting prime ministers, I would have thought the leader of the opposition, Bill Shorten, owned the crown of being the most destructive Australian politician. At least in recent political history. So, the caustic jibe falls flat on even a factual level. However, Probyn’s comment rightly prompted an anonymous complaint to be lodged with the ACMA. And at the beginning of May 2018 they handed down the ruling that the journalist’s statement was ‘judgmental, not in language considered as analysis, and one that the ordinary reasonable viewer would have understood as a pejorative descriptor.’

According to Media Watch, Mr Abbott’s measured response on Sydney radio station 2GB was:

Given the chronic bias in the ABC, given the incorrigible left liberal cultural position that the ABC adopts … the very least they would do when such a finding is being made against them in respect of a conservative politician, is apologise.

And yet even Barry had the journalistic integrity (and courage!) to critique his employer as follows:

But not much chance of that [i.e. an apology]. Because the ABC hasn’t even bothered to report the ACMA finding. Which it really should have done.

This really does get to the very heart of the growing dissatisfaction that many Australians have about our national broadcaster. Not only does it continually engage in political advocacy—which is completely against its stated charter—but when it is found out it seems to be completely unwilling to acknowledge it.

The Managing Director of the ABC, Michelle Guthrie, has already warned that the government is in for some “payback” for the recent $84 million in budget cuts at the next election, telling Fairfax Media:

In the coming year Australians will head to the polls for the next federal election. More than 80 per cent of Australians value the ABC, a point that should not be lost on anyone seeking government. 

But doesn’t this simply underscore the problem? Threats like this illustrate that the leadership at ABC operates out of what Liberal Senator Eric Abetz described as a sense of ‘privilege’, and a ‘culture of entitlement’. And in particular, that the government is there to serve the public broadcaster, rather than the other way around. As Abetz told The Daily Telegraph:

The intemperate threats from the ABC highlights the partisan nature of the ABC and the attitude it will take to the budget and the next election which is hardly that of an independent taxpayer funded national broadcaster.

Ultimately though, it’s the board of the ABC who really need to be held accountable. After all, they are responsible for the governance of the organisation as well as being guardians of its mission. And yet, it was recently revealed by Liberal Senator Eric Abetz at the Senate Estimates committee that only 374 of the 4,954 complaints (that’s approximately seven per cent) were investigated. A figure which the ABC editorial director Alan Sunderland ($178,145 p.a., as of 2013) knew nothing about.

There’s an ancient Jewish proverb which says, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall”. The current ABC management would do well to heed the wisdom of that particular spiritual truth. For our national broadcaster is in ‘mission drift’ away from its own charter, and it’s time for it to return.

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

Illustration: ABC Television/YouTube.

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