Flat White

Journalism is not a crime – but it’s not above the law, either

12 July 2019

12:38 PM

12 July 2019

12:38 PM

If any further evidence is required to demonstrate the complete lack of self-reflection and wayward moral compass of the ABC, then it arrived this week in the form of a letter from Managing Director, David Anderson to Home Affairs Minister, Peter Dutton. The letter, a thinly veiled demand that Dutton intervene in an independent legal process, commits the exact ethically questionable behaviour that was first falsely alleged against the Minister himself. In the immediate aftermath of the AFP raids on the ABC in early June of this year, one of the first sinister narratives to emanate from the hyperventilation that overran the ABC, was one of a political fix. The suggestion that quickly came to air was that somehow the raids were orchestrated and pre-conceived, or at a minimum directly sanctioned, by the Minister’s office, due to the AFP’s departmental overlord being that of Home Affairs.

Of course if true, this would have been an egregious abuse of power by the Dutton. However, it was quickly rebutted and no further evidence to the contrary has emerged. The separation of the administrative responsibilities the department has over the AFP to the day to day lawful conduct of the AFP exercising its legislated powers independently, within its domain, are an important structural safeguard in a democracy and only in the event of the government exercising special emergency powers should there be an exception. It appears that the complaint came to the AFP directly from the aggrieved party in the matter, the ADF, who had confidential material unlawfully leaked to the ABC – whom subsequently, unlawfully, published parts of that material.

Now we have the ABC shamelessly requesting that the Minister directly intervene in the ongoing legal matter against the two journalists involved in compiling the so-called “Afghan Files’. There is no clearer example of an attempt by a media organisation trying to influence a potential legal outcome, in which it has a direct interest, by coercing a minister to directly circumvent that very same legal process. Think about how many other organisations and individuals the ABC has hung out to dry on that premise alone over the decades. Once again, the hypocrisy is laughable. And what is the quid pro quo immersed in the subtext of this demand. If not fulfilled will we see the ongoing concerted agenda driven campaign by the ABC against the Minister and the government more generally ramped up another couple of notches?

If that is the implied threat here, then the government should hold its nerve and not blink on principle. Surely the last federal election demonstrated the ABC’ s waning political influence in a far more complex media landscape nowadays. Its’ coverage was partisan without exception across all its platforms and failed to influence the ultimate result of the election, much as it had ambitions to do so. So quintessentially representative of urban elites, and the loud, shouty, self-righteous so called ‘progressives’ – has the ABC become, that while it maintains its relatively steady audience share, its increasingly alienating many of them. Its relentless attacks on everyday Australians in favour of a fervent identity politics just doesn’t resonate with most people stuck in traffic jams just trying to make ends meet in life.

The hypocrisy doesn’t end there, however. We are reminded almost daily of the apparent titanic struggle at play here for the pillars of the fourth estate namely freedom of the press, public interest and right to know. Yet, how does the ABC an avowedly independent public broadcaster measure up in its willingness to abide by its own standards. Well it wasn’t so long ago the public broadcaster cried foul over government proposals that it make public the very significant salaries its flagship presenters are paid. Now by any measure, for a taxpayer funded organisation, this is not an unreasonable request in the name of freedom of the press, public interest and right to know. After all, politicians salaries (and interests and expenses) are readily available, as are the salaries most senior public servants. And a perusal of the ABC’s own online Freedom of Information page is rewarded by a litany of recent FOI requests which were satisfied by only partial disclosure and on occasion denied disclosure. In other words, material was withheld; on what basis, one wonders? Perhaps the ABC needs its own whistleblower for complete transparency from our national public broadcaster.

The nexus between a whistle blower and the media is complex. The agenda of the whistle blower needs to be well understood before the cause is championed uncritically. Of the alleged acts of brutality in Afghanistan by ADF personnel, which if any did David McBride personally witness? Notwithstanding the answer to this question, it may be that he is acting entirely in accordance with his own moral code and the belief in the truth of what he is doing. If so that is an extremely lonely and stressful path to take, and in that regard I empathise with McBride. However, the ultimate goal of most whistle blowers is to create a shit storm, for better or for worse, and in this respect McBride has succeeded.

The ABC, for its part, could have handled the confidential material in a completely different manner and if it had exercised patience may have been able to confirm or deny information arising from legal processes the ABC itself instigated. At this point for better of for worse they have simply abetted his cause and sought to do his bidding without the other parties involved in the allegations being availed the same rights and platforms to defend themselves. As Britain has just learnt, yet again, not every leak is well intentioned.

The ultimate righteousness or otherwise of the allegations contained within the Afghan Files aside, what is most alarming in this increasingly disreputable affair is the very transparent way it has revealed the obtuse double standards of the ABC that has now deluded itself that it has rightfully broken the shackles of Australian law and has the right to lobby a minister to interfere in an ongoing legal matter while simultaneously imposing its own moral dictum on the Australian people who fund their very existence. Now, in the wake of David Anderson’s crass attempt to influence a legal matter by directly lobbying a minister, it is clear – the emperor has no clothes.

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