Richard Alston was minister for communications for around half the life of the Howard government. In that portfolio, he made a number of interesting discoveries, primarily about the national broadcaster — ones that in 2020 we are not only realising the realities of but seemingly have no means of rectification.
‘The ABC’ he wrote, ‘seems to think its job is to bring governments down, always looking for a political barb, instead of analysing policy critically (in the purest sense) sometimes even agreeing or at least conceding the complexity of an issue.’
Whenever the subject of ABC bias arises, everyone defaults to the charter. But the charter is so vague and open-ended as to be virtually meaningless. The ABC seems to take its cue from what Humpty Dumpty famously said to Alice: ‘when I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean –- neither more nor less.
The ABC Broadcasting Act is quite explicit, stating the national broadcaster has the statutory duty to gather and present news and information that is accurate ‘according to the recognised standards of objective journalism.
So, define ‘objective’. And thus it is that ABC reporters interpret news according to their own partialities and biases, leading to, it seems to many listeners and viewers, a view of the world that does not sit well with the majority of Australians, whatever their beliefs or judgments.
Alston, in his memoir, ‘More to Life Than Politics? published by Connor Court last December, emphasises the partisan bent of many high ranking ABC commentators, naming Q&A as a ’hotbed of the narrow leftist thinking of inner-city elites, usually led by a compere who proudly wears his disposition on his sleeve and never lets a perceived right-wing view go uncontested.’ Heavens, he wasn’t referring to the saintly Tony Jones, whose travel to Beijing, where his wife (whoops, that should be ‘partner’), Sarah Ferguson, has been delayed due to the outbreak of the Wuhan virus?
Which brings us to another matter, what might quaintly be called the “family” nature of the ABC, the number of couples or parents and children within the organisation.
Norman Swan, he of the reassuring Scottish brogue, admitted coyly when he recently spoke with one Jonathan Swan, a young Australian journalist who has made a big splash in the United States, that “half his genomes are mine”. Swan also added, “It’s the only way you can speak to kids these days.”
Swan fils does not work for the ABC. But the Corporation is less open about the relationships within its walls.
All the individuals involved are most likely talented and deeply committed to public broadcasting. Their commitments to values outside the ABC’s, however, is a different matter.
And it’s not just these issues. Sometimes the ABC slips, as it did when it named your correspondent as a mine worker’s wife defending union concerns. It seemed to me to be somewhat unlikely there were two women with a public profile called Christina Faulk, one in Canberra, the other somewhere in the Hunter. I asked the ABC for an explanation, at the same time asking a very senior retired member of the ACT Legislative Assembly for guidance. His reply was unequivocal. “I wouldn’t hold my breath,’ he said. “They won’t reply. They never do.” And they never did.
But here’s the thing. Australians, even in rural and remote communities, aren’t stupid.
So when the ABC screams ‘scandal’ and ‘rorts’ well, perhaps, it should scrutinise its own practices, its own ranks.
Caesar’s wife, after all.
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