Much has been said about the freedom of the press in recent weeks.
There have been several important confabs about media freedom, addressed by important industry and legal figures both from within and without Australia (North American accents predominated).
Heads were shaken at seeming attempts to intimidate journalists including raids on the ABC offices and Annika Smethurst’s lingerie but no one, not one Eminent Media Person addressed the issue of self-censorship, particularly in ‘our’ ABC.
Self-censorship? What’s that exactly? Well, most Australian journalists will say, possibly with hands on hearts, ‘Oh, that’s something that only happens in Asian countries, third world countries, authoritarian dictatorship’ and will truly believe their own words.
Self-censorship is the act of omitting or curtailing or repressing certain items or parts of items, of news, giving it a different meaning, ‘spin’ to the story, or simply leaving out parts of the story that do not fit the journalist, or the producer’s, particular take on things.
It is, of course, entirely correct to say that self-censorship is rife is countries outside Australia, countries where governments would keep close attention to what is being broadcast in its name; in Soviet Russia, citizens joked ‘There’s no truth in Pravda and no news in Izvestia’ they joked, about Pravda (‘Truth’), the official news outlet of the Communist Party and Izvestia (‘News”) . Social media put paid to official broadcasts from above. Except in the ABC, where news can still be filtered, details omitted, truth blurred to suit.
The most recent example of this kind of ABC news filtering related to the criminal case of Mohammad Hassan Al Bayati jailed for four-and-a-half years after being found guilty of taking the toddler from the DFO Homebush playground and down a fire exit a week before Christmas in 2016. Iraqi-born Al Bayati, who denied his crimes, was granted a permanent protection visa under the then-Labor government, after seeking asylum in 2011.
The earliest ABC Radio National news report stated the man’s protection visa status; this fact was omitted in the next, later news bulletin. OK, so it may have been a time constraint. Radio is the medium where seconds can make a difference to an interviewer being cut off mid-sentence but Al-Bayati’s immigration history was integral to the story, leading to the Prime Minister’s assertion that the perpetrator would be deported when he had finished his sentence. So why did the ABC feel it necessary to water it down?
Selective news reporting occurs on ABC TV news programs as well.
Fran Kelly, chairing ABC Insiders last weekend, chose to focus almost entirely on chastisement and criticism of the government, ignoring altogether the storm and tumult taking place at the WA Labor conference, when union delegates walked out during the Welcome to Country ceremony and refused to stand for Labor leader Anthony Albanese.
When the million-dollar-donation-in-an Aldi-bag story surfaced the ABC was forced to report the details– hard to go past former Senator Sam Dastyari arriving at the ICAC hearing on a share-bike to reveal he told his former ‘close friend NSW assistant-Labor Kaila Murnain to “cover your arse” in the matter of the million-dollar takeaway from the Chinese friends of Labor, aka a certain Mr Huang Xianmo. The ABC didn’t, of course, quote Mr Dastyari’s words. That wouldn’t have been ABC style. Too…er, uncultivated ?
Something needs to be done about the culture and objectives of ‘our’ taxpayer-funded ABC, because ‘press freedom’ does not include the right to withhold pertinent facts.
Ita Buttrose, we’re looking at you.
Illustration: ABC TV screengrab.
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