Antinuclear

Australian news, and some related international items

Far from having a leftwing bias, the ABC has been tamed by cuts and incessant attacks

So what is to be done? One recommendation I have made to the parliament is to enshrine in legislation the ABC’s funding so that it cannot be stood over by future conservative governments. Such legislation would set a minimum level of ABC funding, indexed for the future, which the government could not fall short of without passing legislation through the Senate.

Second, the independent selection panels for the ABC must be strengthened. When Labor designed the panels, we did not imagine that a future government would be so brazen in ignoring their recommendations. This could include legally limiting the proportion of directors who could be appointed outside the panel process.

Finally, the ABC’s leaders need to toughen up and actually show some leadership in defence of their own institution. They are under attack every single day – whether by the Liberal party, the National party, the Institute of Public Affairs, the Murdoch media, or myriad other arms of the rightwing establishment – and should learn to fight back.

The alternative is to continue seeking to appease the far right. And that only ends badly.

 

Kevin Rudd,  https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2022/may/10/far-from-having-a-leftwing-bias-the-abc-has-been-tamed-by-cuts-and-incessant-attacks?CMP=share_btn_tw 10 May 22, Under the Coalition, the national broadcaster has been domesticated to the point of overcorrecting for perceived partisanship.

When your opponent is determined for war, history teaches us appeasement does not work. Indeed, unilateral concessions are often counterproductive: they weaken your position and embolden your adversary.

Sadly, these are lessons that the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, by and large, has failed to learn. Over the past decade of conservative rule, the national broadcaster has been gradually tamed by an unrelenting campaign of bullying, intimidation and delegitimisation.

The clearest example is the ABC’s budget. Despite a crystal-clear election promise in 2013 of “no cuts to the ABC”, the national broadcaster is facing $1.2bn of cumulative cuts over a decade. These cuts have felled two television programs that were crucial to government accountability, Lateline and the state-based 7.30 program (once known as Stateline), among many others.

Most government ministers, no matter their level of ability, can navigate a short daily press conference or a local radio interview. But you can’t fake your way through a 15-minute grilling on live television where premiers and prime ministers have their mastery of the issues put to the test. Also gone are statewide radio bulletins, digital transcripts and programs like the Media Report, which examined the rapid changes to how information flows in our democracy.

The cuts have not stopped at our water’s edge. Our national security has been undermined by the axing of the ABC’s Australia Network, which broadcast high-quality television throughout the Pacific while adding to the ABC’s overall pool of foreign correspondents. Radio Australia’s shortwave radio service – an essential lifeline that amplified our national interests and democratic values to remote Pacific Island countries – has also been axed. And while Australia has retreated, China has spent billions to expand its global media presence with Xi Jinping vowing to “tell Chinese stories well” and “make the voice of China heard”.

The Coalition government also exerts control by quietly stacking the ABC’s board with directors hand-picked by the minister, directly ignoring the recommendations of independent merit-based selection processes established under legislation by my government. This includes Ita Buttrose, a former Murdoch editor and Liberal party fundraiser, as its chair. At one stage, five of the eight government-appointed board members were not recommended on merit.

These appointments risk affecting decision-making at the highest levels. One apparent example was when Buttrose’s predecessor, Justin Milne, responded to government complaints by demanding journalist Emma Alberici’s head. “They hate her,” Milne reportedly wrote in an email to then managing director Michelle Guthrie. “We are tarred with her brush. I think it’s simple. Get rid of her. We need to save the ABC – not Emma. There is no guarantee they will lose the next election.” Alberici was eventually forced out. Milne denied there had been any interference by the government in the ABC and said the “interests of the ABC have always been utmost in my mind”

But the most insidious way the government domesticates the ABC isn’t through budget cuts or board appointments; it is through incessant attacks on the national broadcaster over alleged systemic leftwing bias in its news and current affairs.

These attacks have always been fanciful. There have always been prominent conservatives at the ABC. Consider two of the ABC’s recent chief political correspondents: Mark Simkin later became Tony Abbott’s press secretary; Chris Uhlmann was a protege of deeply conservative MP Paul Osborne. Other presenters include Tom Switzer, who sought preselection for the Liberal party and runs the Centre for Independent Studies. Some ABC staff, like Phillip Adams, have been involved in left-of-centre causes over the years.

Nonetheless, the Liberal party attacks persist because they serve multiple purposes. First, they delegitimise the ABC, fuelling the idea that reporting that exposes the government’s failures cannot be believed. The ABC’s critics often claim to detest cancel culture, but they would love nothing more than to cancel the ABC.

Second, by doing so, the Liberals curry favour with Rupert Murdoch, who has a direct financial stake in undermining public broadcasters, be they the ABC in Australia, PBS and NPR in the United States, or the BBC in the United Kingdom. Murdoch hates any media he can’t control, and he wants the ABC privatised.

Third, they normalise the idea that Murdoch’s national stranglehold on print media is OK because it’s merely a rightwing counterbalance to the leftwing ABC. This is ludicrous; the ABC has robust standards, rigorous complaints processes, and is accountable to parliament. News Corporation is functionally unregulated, its political bias is way off the Richter scale, and it acts like a petulant child at the very suggestion that it be compelled to answer questions at a commission of inquiry about their monstrous levels of monopoly.

The Murdochs insist they have nothing to hide, while claiming the ABC is compromised. If they actually believed this, they would have welcomed a wide-ranging media royal commission years ago.

Fourth, and most importantly, the Liberals use these tactics because they subtly condition the ABC’s staff to be hyperconscious about confirming the stereotype. You can see it in the eyes of television reporters who, having caught themselves in the act of saying something that could be construed as vaguely leftwing, will rush to invoke a Coalition talking point (even if they know it is false) or engage in facile “both sides” arguments that draw a false equivalence between the two parties.

For example, I have heard ABC journalists dismiss wasteful spending by the Morrison government as merely the cost of rushing money out the door, just as Labor did during the global financial crisis. In reality, there is no equivalence between spending around $850m to fast-track 9,000 school building projects, and the $38bn poured into inflationary jobkeeper overpayments, including to massive corporations that didn’t need it.

In this context, I was particularly stunned by last week’s episode of Q+A, which bordered on unwatchable. David Speers’ repeated interruptions of Anthony Albanese seemed designed to prevent him giving complete answers to any of the audience’s questions – let alone to challenge the factually inaccurate narratives implicit in some of them.

For example, when Albanese was stepping through Labor’s plan to fix the national disability insurance scheme to a struggling carer, Speers attempted to skewer him with a simplistic interruption about whether Labor policy would involve “getting rid of the bureaucracy or adding to the bureaucracy” – as though the issue turned on the headcount of public servants, rather than the quality of service. Speers then pivoted straight away to the political theatre of whether or not Anthony failed the gotcha question of the day, leaving the questioner – a single mother with two disabled children trapped in a nightmare of mismanagement by an indifferent Liberal government – little closer to understanding what a Labor government would do for her.

In the space of 60 minutes, Speers interrupted Albanese on more than 60 occasions. How anyone could watch that program and see leftwing bias is beyond me. Whatever motivated Speers, his approach would not have helped many undecided voters decide which party to support.

No level of unfairness to the Labor party will convince the Liberals to stop attacking the ABC, nor will it change Labor’s commitment to the national broadcaster as a cornerstone of our democratic system. Supporting the ABC is part of Labor’s DNA.

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So what is to be done? One recommendation I have made to the parliament is to enshrine in legislation the ABC’s funding so that it cannot be stood over by future conservative governments. Such legislation would set a minimum level of ABC funding, indexed for the future, which the government could not fall short of without passing legislation through the Senate.

Second, the independent selection panels for the ABC must be strengthened. When Labor designed the panels, we did not imagine that a future government would be so brazen in ignoring their recommendations. This could include legally limiting the proportion of directors who could be appointed outside the panel process.

Finally, the ABC’s leaders need to toughen up and actually show some leadership in defence of their own institution. They are under attack every single day – whether by the Liberal party, the National party, the Institute of Public Affairs, the Murdoch media, or myriad other arms of the rightwing establishment – and should learn to fight back.

The alternative is to continue seeking to appease the far right. And that only ends badly.

 Kevin Rudd is a former prime minister of Australia

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May 10, 2022 - Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, media, politics

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