Crikey today wades into the increasingly hostile attack on the ABC from the Abbott Government:
The ABC Act, section 78, subsection 6:
“Except as provided by this section, or as expressly provided by a provision of another Act, the Corporation is not subject to direction by or on behalf of the Government of the Commonwealth.”
Malcolm Turnbull is dangerously close to doing exactly that. Put aside the ideology of the war on the ABC, the grudges and accusations of bias that have come from every government since Aunty’s first broadcast, the convention is clear: ministers can’t interfere in the editorial content of the ABC.
Turnbull, we’ve learned, not only contacted ABC managing director Mark Scott — not, as convention dictates, the government-appointed chairman — but complained specifically about the deal under which ABC News ran The Guardian‘s cracking Edward Snowden-derived scoop on Indonesian spying.
It’s an extraordinary intervention, perhaps the worst since John Howard’s media minder Richard Alston formally and vigorously complained about the broadcaster’s coverage of the Iraq war in 2003.
Scott stood firm, as he should. And he’ll have the public firmly on side — the ABC is one of the most trusted institutions in the land; its many viewers don’t take kindly to bully governments trying to influence its reporting.
We’re told this morning’s Coalition party room meeting was dominated by talk of ABC bias. As if there’s nothing more pressing for a new federal government to focus on. The war will wage. But Turnbull won’t win.
I’ve a couple of points to add here. First, it is surely absurd for the Government of the day to attack the national media outlet for breaking news stories. The fact is, that’s the media’s job. To attack the ABC for “amplifying” the Snowden story is also bananas. The story was coming to light whatever the ABC did. If the Government does not like having a national broadcaster then it should mount its argument to close it down and put it to the polls.
Second, both sides of politics complain about ABC bias but the Coalition much more so. It’s certainly true that the ABC has a culture that is Left of the Coalition and is very annoyingly entitlement driven. But most of the ABC journos are pros and the bias does not often result in tilted news or current affairs coverage that I can see. In cultural material the strong links with the BBC probably prevent it becoming overly progressive as well. It could sure do with more business and economics coverage, but hey, the Chaser is more entertaining.
The preponderance of conservative complaints says as much about the Party as it does the ABC. Libs have this weird habit of howling every time there’s a threat to freedom of speech then screaming for censorship when that results in criticism aimed at them. I personally think this is an issue with conservative culture. It operates through a masters and apprentices prism that venerates power and age above even its core values of liberalism.
Third, the last thing that this Government needs is a more compliant ABC. It has a raging supporter in seventy percent of Australia’s print media telling the naked emperor that it has beautiful clothes. That will not lead to good government, it will not lead this Government to improve its performance and it will not extend its tenure in power.