Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Which Broadcaster?


Keith Windschuttle's appointment to the ABC board has kicked off a new round of vituperation in Melbourne's respectable journals of opinion. Some selections from the right-hand side of the debate -

This point of view is never given fair coverage in ABC treatments of the subject. It is shouted down or airily dismissed. There is a similar refusal to accept rational debate of most other political and social matters in Australia that do not accord with the prevalent progressivist view.

Or this, from my old politics tutor -

Those who most vigorously pursue the cause of the "independence" of the ABC can't appreciate that most of the time the ABC only ever gives coverage to one side of politics. If government is truly to be "held to account", why is it that the ABC only attacks governments (Labor and Liberal) from a left-wing perspective?

Quite frankly, which station are the ABC's critics watching (or listening to)? Try sifting the ABC website to pick out the current affairs coverage - it takes longer than you expect, because there's not much. Then sit down and watch these programs on a regular basis, keeping an eye out for 'progressive bias'. What you're left with is Tony Jones or Kerry O'Brien grilling ministers and right-wing pundits with a shade more energy than they give other interviewees, and Media Watch playing up each new revelation of government or corporate manipulation.

If that's considered shutting down national debate, then 'mainstream Australia' is less secure than its self-appointed advocates would have us believe. Do the people who sit in the offices of Quadrant and the Murdoch papers - always ready to accuse the left of paternalism - think that viewers can't tell when an interviewer like Jones is skewing the issues? Are they afraid the public will start getting its opinions at the oracle of the ABC?

And how exactly does the ABC qualify as 'Marxist'? The way the right's culture warriors throw this term around makes you wonder whether they've ever met a Marxist (even Windschuttle, who once professed to be one). The only group on the Australian political scene that fits the description is the Socialist Alternative, whose activities these days are confined to competing for poster space on university campuses. Really, the only thing 'red' about Kerry O'Brien is his hair, and that not very much.

One might give the ABC's critics credit for standing on principle: a taxpayer-funded broacaster should not tolerate systemic bias among its news presenters, however mild or restricted. But the same hysterical guns are turned on the Fairfax press and the 'intelligentsia', that amorphous group whose main occupation is subverting the government and denigrating 'ordinary Australians' (another Herald Sun speak-think). Honestly, only a paranoiac could see The Age as some kind of socialist rag. Its commentary is so toothless that even viewed from the far-right shore it's nothing more than - to quote a genuine Marxist - a 'paper tiger'. There are Melbourne papers that use their op-ed pages to slander whole social groups (notably teachers, judges and academics) and undermine one of the major political parties, but they're not Fairfax-owned.

This campaign against the ABC is just another case of the right using sledgehammers against walnuts that offend their sensibilities. Like spending billions on missile defence against the chance of a North Korean rocket hitting Alaska, while the polar ice caps melt and the world runs out of drinking water. Or lobbying to get homosexuals kicked out of the US military while the wheels are coming off in Iraq. Threats should draw responses based on their magnitude, not their ideological component. But it seems that 'conservative' opinion-makers get more intellectual satisfaction from shadow-boxing with terrorist-sympathising, latte-sipping, Australia-hating postmodernists.

1 comment:

John Lee said...

For prime examples of the sort of thing that the Bolt/Albrechtsen/Pearson crowd interprets as 'left-wing bias', see this piece in today's Age on North Korea's missile program. Or this one by Mick Dodson on indigenous self-determination, or this one by Ken Davidson on governance in Australia. Note the common denominator - they criticise the US and Australian governments...