ARGUMENTS THAT SUGGEST the ABC is “vital” to democracy in Australia are hard to take seriously; whilst some ABC products merit praise, its news and current affairs offerings leave everything to be desired — unless you sit on the hard Left, that is. A cynical article by board member Dr Fiona Stanley, appearing in Fairfax papers today and making that ridiculous claim, is really just a pot shot at the Murdoch press that damns the ABC by omission.
Dr Fiona Stanley is a brilliant and accomplished — and deservedly decorated — scientist, whose work has improved and saved lives both here in Australia and internationally.
But as a board member of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and, specifically, as a defender of any crucial role the ABC plays in Australian democracy, she makes a very good doctor indeed.
I have been reading an article this morning in The Age that is also being carried in other Fairfax mastheads, and it surprises me that anyone — even an ABC board member — would actually put their name to such a vapid, misleading piece that blatantly seeks to bamboozle its reader with bullshit, but which in fact simply substantiates the very problem it attempts to claim is a fiction.
The fact anyone or anything associated with the ABC would lash out at the Murdoch press, however, comes as no surprise; and it’s something of an oxymoron that an article purporting to show the ABC as “vital” to democracy in this country should appear in the pages of once-revered and formerly robustly independent Fairfax titles that, as descendants of their past selves in name only, often provide little more than a PR channel for Australia’s Left.
I actually had to look twice at the headline on Dr Stanley’s article — once to check it actually said what I thought it said, and once because I couldn’t believe who had written it — and to be blunt, it reinforces just about every criticism levelled at the ABC by those who take an interest in the public affairs of this country and who do not sit on the Left.
And those criticisms are valid: after all, it is rare for the ABC to have anything favourable to say about anyone from the Right (with the exception of Malcolm Turnbull, unilaterally adored by the Left) or to pursue any of the Right’s causes at all, let alone with the vigour it seems to commit to the agenda of the Left.
Before I go through Dr Stanley’s article in some detail, I should point out that the ABC’s board — funnily enough, just like that of Fairfax Media — is bereft of actual, hands-on media experience: with the exceptions of its Chairman, Mark Scott (ironically, a Fairfax man) and the staff-elected director, Matt Peacock, the other six who sit on it can hardly be said to be senior media industry figures, or even media industry figures at all.
It’s an important point; certainly, some diversity in the make-up of the board of a statutory authority such as the ABC is a good thing. But the ABC is a media organisation first and foremost — an assertion entirely compatible with its charter — and whilst I don’t suggest for a moment that the skew toward career corporate executives is responsible for the abrogation of the ABC’s duty to be impartial, or any moral imperative to exercise balance in its handling and presentation of national events, it is noteworthy given the same criticisms have been levelled at Fairfax for the same reasons: and Fairfax isn’t the national broadcaster at all.
(Thank goodness for that).
But I digress.
Dr Stanley singles out The Australian very early in her article as the villain of the piece; of all of the critics she alludes to — journalists and politicians, all dumb and delusional, of course — it is the only one she actually identifies, and does so three times (although she does single out “the government” — meaning Tony Abbott’s government — for abolishing the ABC’s international Australia Network indulgence).
Her “before” and “after” exercise, designed to show just how good the hard done-by ABC is despite the affront of the miserly conditions under which it is forced to operate, can only hold sway with those who have no idea of how a media organisation actually functions: and the first point I would make is that for the ABC to deliver everything it does today, by Dr Stanley’s own admission with 1,500-odd fewer staff and $80 million less than it did in 1986, merely shows how bloated and inefficient the broadcaster was and probably still is.
So the ABC runs four channels now instead of just the one in 1986: so what? A vast proportion of the content these channels broadcast is outsourced (and I’m talking about production, not necessarily whether they are Australian programmes or not) and it only takes a well-organised and efficient traffic manager to load the content into the cart — literally hit “enter” — and the broadcast of that material, barring technical issues, simply happens.
(For the uninitiated, and to put it very simply, a traffic manager at a TV or radio station — whilst an integral job with a big workload and usually a salary that’s less than it should be — is basically an administrative function that requires some knowledge of production specifications).
Far from dazzling her readers with the giddy-headed infinitude of the ABC’s audience and reach, all Dr Stanley is really telling her readers is how pitifully inadequate these measures are: of 10 the million people are reached by ABC1, for example, this means just 40% of the population tunes in for at least 15 minutes per week, which is hardly a success to scream from the rooftops.
20 million plays per month from iView doesn’t equate to much to be proud of either; I watch #QandA on iView every week and I only watch it to keep an eye on the open forum the ABC provides the Left. There are plenty of people who only ever go onto ABC portals to “see for themselves” the latest outrage they have heard about on the national broadcaster.
And trying to brag about the likes of Radio National and Classic FM, which barely rate better than community radio, is like bragging about a couple of hundred people showing up to a suburban football match the same day 90,000 people are at the MCG watching Carlton maul Essendon.
So yes, Dr Stanley is right on that count: so much for quantity, as she says herself.
This brings us to Dr Stanley’s next question. What about quality? What indeed.
Whilst Dr Stanley relies on an “independent Newspoll” that isn’t even referenced (perhaps because Newspoll appears in The Australian) to support her case, and waxes lyrical about data the board receives showing how much citizens value its content, and how “impressed” board members are with reviews penned by obvious sycophants and fellow travellers, the key flaw in her entire defence of the ABC — indeed, the key offence committed by the ABC against its charter — follows soon after.
Talking of a list of “wicked problems” that includes climate change, environmental degradation and “inequality” — bedrock issues of the Left — Dr Stanley says, in a direct answer to her own question of why the ABC is “so important” for Australian democracy, that “citizens need to be informed about these issues to support appropriate political and whole of government policy solutions.” (My emphasis and underlining).
Who the hell is the ABC to be the arbiter of what political solutions to anything are “appropriate?”
We could simply stop there; that sentence, if representative of the ABC’s philosophy from the top down — and there is absolutely no reason to believe that it isn’t — encapsulates everything that is wrong with the ABC, and neatly validates the trenchant criticism it attracts from those who regard it as little more than a propaganda service of the Left that is (outrageously) funded by taxpayers.
Read a little further, and the real agenda emerges; this article is a backdoor attempt to advance the climate change theories of the rabid Left by re-emphasising the “science.” I’m sure, as Stanley claims, that the ABC’s reporting accurately reflects the “science” on coal, coal seam gas, and the other things she mentions.
The problem is that the “science” on climate change is not settled; there are differences of opinion held in respected quarters within the scientific community that organisations like the ABC simply fail to mention, Or if they do, they call it “bad science” as Dr Stanley has, or something similar. It’s hardly the kind or rigorous approach you’d expect from someone of her calibre.
It’s all a campaign; an enterprise designed to ensure one position prevails over the other. There is nothing objective about it. At the very minimum, if the ABC were all the good things Dr Stanley claims of it, the broadcaster would spend a considerable amount of time presenting both sides to allow its viewers to form their own opinions. But remember, folks, it can do no such thing: Dr Stanley has also said, in writing, that the ABC’s efforts are designed to persuade its viewers to support appropriate political solutions — appropriate as the broadcaster sees fit.
I tend to rattle on, with increasing frequency, about the ABC’s #QandA programme; billed as “Adventures in Democracy,” this weekly one-hour programme is just about the most blatantly biased brainwashing exercise ever conducted in this country.
Those who haven’t seen it will understand, when they do, that host Tony Jones has to be counted as a panellist: he is no simple moderator; featuring a panel of six that routinely splits 4-2 (and usually 5-1) in the favour of the Left, ordinary weekly shows see a barrage of pre-screened questions directed to panel members, and the questions themselves generally either raise the pet issues of the Left or seek to put the token panel presence of the Right under as much pressure as possible.
The beaten Liberal MP Sophie Mirabella was a favourite #QandA target in this regard; the hapless Mirabella would invariably find herself under siege from both the audience and the rest of the panel.
And to cap it, Jones exhibits a disturbing tendency to simply cut off any audience participant showing any pro-Liberal sentiment.
A recent innovation, which the ABC apparently prides itself on, is to vary the “weekly issues” focus with a series of “special” #QandA programmes built around set themes; this week it was “Science,” and more specifically a bitching session about what nasty arseholes Tony Abbott and his mates are for their “attack” on universities. A few weeks ago it was “Dangerous Ideas” from an all-female panel spouting unbridled left-wing drivel. The prospects of one of these “special” programmes ever investigating labour market deregulation, or taxation reform, or “welfare vs work,” or anything else that is remotely connected to competent governance, are zero.
So much for balanced and unbiased content from the ABC.
I make the point that so many voices on the Left who rail against the outrageous conservative bias of the Murdoch press (and especially those, like Dr Stanley, who sit in their ABC or Fairfax citadels) conveniently ignore that fact that Rupert Murdoch made it his mission, for example, to get their hero Gough Whitlam elected in 1972. Or that his papers turned on the best Prime Minister this country has ever had to see the contemptible Kevin Rudd swept to power in 2007.
I remember watching #QandA one night in a Hobart hotel room back in early 2010 — when an audience full of school students ripped Rudd to pieces — and thinking the ABC had finally turned over a new leaf. But silly me; all it was doing was the bidding of those who wanted Julia Gillard made Prime Minister, although in a macabre way I agree that helping to tear Rudd down must at least have made many people at the ABC feel good about themselves.
But for ABC types like Stanley to hit out at the Murdoch press, and The Australian in particular, is disingenuous; to the extent the Murdoch editorial position endorses or favours anyone or any side of a given issue, that position evolves and changes with the flux of events.
As a commercial enterprise boasting market-leading products that deliver a return to their shareholders, it is perfectly entitled to do so: and I would challenge Dr Stanley, or any of her cohorts at the ABC, to nominate which news journalists at The Australian are such embarrassments to their profession as to either warrant or deserve the grubby little attack she has launched at them from the glassy confines of Fairfax’s Media House.
The simple truth — and it’s an unpalatable one for those who think they are entitled to sinecures from which to propagate the drivel of the Left and/or to commit the sin of omission by simply ignoring anything they dislike — is that the ABC is a failure as an entity.
It is a failure as a media outlet; it is a failure as a reputable purveyor of news and current affairs content; and it is a failure weighed against the clear mandate its charter imposes upon it.
How anyone can seriously claim the ABC is “vital” to Australian democracy in its current state beggars belief, but there you are — Dr Stanley believes it; but with the exception of the slavering Left and those whose trust at face value in the ABC to deliver balanced content is systematically abused, a growing number of Australians rightly question the value of “their ABC:” irrespective of what the latest “independent Newspoll,” or distorted and misrepresented ratings statistics, might suggest to the contrary.