There must be bias at the ABC – everybody says so
You could accuse Gerard Henderson of many things – for instance, of being Australia’s most engaging and scintillating public speaker, or of providing the most even-handed and non-partisan analysis of the Howard legacy – but you can’t accuse him of shying away from irony or hypocrisy. In the latest edition of his Media Watch Dog report (proudly not using the BLINK tag since 2007), Henderson (as always) takes some digs at the ABC. His first target is Media Watch and its host Jonathan Holmes – because, he says:
Here the tradition is that a leftist presenter is prosecutor, judge and jury on matters media – and no discussion whatsoever is allowed on the program.
That is, of course, a stark contrast from Gerard’s own preferred approach to media review – a conservative culture warrior publishing a weekly blog post in which he attacks whomever he pleases without offering them any chance to respond, and without allowing comments on his site.
His specific criticism of Media Watch this week is in its (alleged) attack on ABC journalists over a story about alleged corruption in East Timor:
Last Monday The Australian broke the story about Steve Holland, who worked as a casual employee at Radio Australia, had walked away from the ABC following criticism by Media Watch presenter Jonathan Holmes on 17 August 2009.
Just a few weeks ago, Henderson had this to say about Holmes:
What a performance by ABC 1 Media Watch presenter Jonathan Holmes at this week’s IQ2 Debate in Sydney. Mr Holmes spoke for the affirmative on the topic “The media can’t be trusted to tell the truth”.
Does Mr Holmes believe that this applies to his fellow comrades at the ABC? It’s not clear. Certainly in the extract of his speech published in the Sydney Morning Herald on Tuesday, the Media Watch presented bagged only newspapers and the commercial electronic media. The Holmes Thesis was as follows: “The media are not in the business of telling us the truth. The media are in the business of telling us stories.”
Certainly ABC 1 identity Michael Brissenden told a few stories about his (hazy) recollections of his (supposedly) off-the-record dinner with Peter Costello in 2005. But this story was not covered by Media Watch at the time or since. And it was not mentioned in the Holmes lament about factual howlers in the media. Oh well, taxpayer funded journalistic comrades will be taxpayer funded journalistic comrades.
I guess Henderson’s question has been answered, but he didn’t stop to note that today. Instead, he attacked the Media Watch MO:
Suffice to say that Jonathan Holmes and Media Watch behaved as they normally do. Mr Holmes criticised someone and there was no right of reply on the program.
Dreadful stuff, it seems. Of course, Media Watch did give the journalists whose work they were scrutinising an opportunity to respond to a list of questions, summarised their response on the program, and published the response on the show’s web site – along with all other relevant documents. And their own site has a comments facility so that anyone can publish a response.
After dealing with Media Watch, Henderson took aim at thin-skinned Phillip Adams and his response to the Peter Costello claims of ABC bias. Henderson aimed to rebut Adams’s use of Counterpoint‘s Michael Duffy and 2001′s ill-fated The Continuing Crisis as examples of conservative views having a voice at the ABC. Frankly, I think Adams’s and Henderson’s arguments here are equally silly. In Adams’s case, claims of bias in content can’t be dispensed with by pointing to the personal views of one or two presenters or programs. But at the same time, Henderson seems to argue that because Late Night Live gets more and better timeslots, and a larger production staff, than the ABC’s conservatively-oriented shows, this is proof of bias. The relatively long-running and successful history of Adams’s show might help to account for that. And while his current critique talks of poor timeslots, absence of resources and an “ABC leftist” producer as the problems for The Continuing Crisis, it seems telling that in 2002 the ABC-phobic Henderson damned the show with the faint praise of being:
no worse than much – and better than some – of what passes for a comment on Radio National.
Now it seems Henderson suggests that in an unbiased ABC, the unproven show would have been given the same treatment as Adams’s program.
Of course, attacking ABC Leftism is a long-established practice by conservative politicians. But to suggest that the ABC’s flagship daily current affairs programs have a “consistent” editorial bias is not about politics, it is an attack on the very heart of the ABC’s editorial professionalism.
If Costello can prove he is right, the journalists and managers responsible for these programs should be sacked and ABC current affairs should be overhauled. If his allegations can’t be substantiated he should be sued for libel.
Claims of ABC bias are dime-a-dozen, not only among conservative politicians but on the conservative commentators’ sites as well. And it seems that the hypocrisy, the lack of actual evidence to accompany the claims, and the seriousness of the implications don’t stop people from making them.
“Dumping free, state-sponsored news on the market makes it incredibly difficult for journalism to flourish on the internet. Yet it is essential for the future of independent journalism that a fair price can be charged for news to people who value it,” he said.
He added: “We seem to have decided to let independence and plurality wither. To let the BBC throttle the news market, and get bigger to compensate.”
His outspoken attack prompted an immediate response from the BBC Trust chairman, Sir Michael Lyons. “British broadcasting is admired around the world”, he said. “Its diversity of broadcasters and their variety of funding methods is a strength and not a weakness. The public tell us that they … trust the BBC and value the wide range of services we provide. The BBC Trust … is here to strengthen the BBC for the benefit of licence fee payers, not to emasculate it on behalf of commercial interests.”
There you have it. Not only is public journalism “state-sponsored news” (carrying an implication of political bias), because it’s free it prevents commercial media from charging a “fair price” for their news and it’s this public media that’s killing good journalism.