One-eyed ABC loses sight of wider, more diverse picture of Australia

One-eyed ABC loses sight of wider, more diverse picture of Australia, by Richard Alston.

A major concern, for many observers during my time as communications minister, was, and still is, the ABC’s unrelenting left-wing disposition, more concerned with soc­ial issues of poverty, discrim­ination and social disadvantage but never the economics of how to afford its “obvious” remedies. …

While 7.30 is a “news magazine instead of a hard news-breaking operation”. While the ABC’s preferred priorities were much more in line with ALP values than those of the Coalition, the ALP in government felt the same frustra­tions. Indeed, shortly after coming to office, I received a call from a former senior Labor cabinet minister: “Mate, on the ABC, we’re right with you. Don’t expect us to say anything in public, for obvious reasons, but go your hardest.” …

It is fatuous and disingenuous for the ABC to respond to criticism of specific programs or items by saying that Australians overwhelmingly approve of the organisation. This deliberately conflates the preponderance of its coverage, rarely contentious, albeit of varying quality, with its coverage of politics (which it sanitises by calling it news and current affairs), which is often highly contentious. If these two binary fields of endeavour were to be held in separate entities, the response might be quite different.

Another much favoured line of defence is: “If both sides of politics criticise us, we must be doing something right.” This juvenile non sequitur ignores the fact the ABC critique is always from the left of both major parties. …

What must be understood about dealing with the ABC is that it is intensely political: everything is contestable, every employee seems to have a strong view. … As they give little attention to economics and finance, pursuit of good government or the priorities of middle Australia, they swiftly default to moral outrage; a much easier line to pursue and easily lapped up by the indolent couch lizard.

In arithmetic you are right or wrong, but with social justice the campaign never ends, so everyone’s a winner except, as it happens, the actual victims. …

During one election campaign in which I was involved, a Liberal interviewee was met with frequent, sceptical interjections such as: “Surely you can’t believe that?” The corresponding interview with a Labor politician was more along the lines of: “Would you like to say any more about that?”

This illustrates the typical dividing line between a hard and a soft interview, which can graphically demonstrate an interviewer’s leanings, but is never acknowledged by the ABC and its defenders. Instead, in this instance, the ABC response to criticism was to commission a report from a carefully chosen academic content to show that each side had received equal time.

This is not only a matter of partisan politics; have you ever heard an ABC interviewer stoutly cross-examine a refugee lawyer or put a climate change advocate through their paces? …

Bias can start well before an item goes to air, when decisions are made about who to interview, what line to take, the blurring of the once black line between news and opinion. Not only should the interviewer be balanced; if a panel is loaded towards one side of a hot debate it will inevitably be a slanted outcome. …

Q&A is a hot bed of the narrow leftist thinking of inner-city elites, usually led by a compere who proudly wears his dispositions on his sleeve and never lets a perceived right-wing view go uncontested. Nearly all of its subject matter being alien to middle Australia, the ABC likes to pretend the hand-picked audience is politically representative. But you have to watch for only five minutes to know it’s not; even the loaded youth demographic gives it away. The selection of questions is not spontaneous and more often than not focused on the ABC’s pet subjects, while the panel invariably includes a token “conservative” often subject to audience booing or ridicule.