Fascist bastardry at Radio National

Uncle at ABC Watch and Tim Blair have both blogged on ABC Radio National’s suspension withour pay of Religion Report host Stephen Crittenden. Nothing surprising about that in itself. Both are serial Auntie-bashers from way back, and both seem to define “bias” as a concept measured by the extent to which views expressed on the ABC differ from the World According to John Howard. Nevertheless, Crittenden’s suspension for “serious misconduct” raises issues which should disturb everyone who values freedom of speech and ideas, whatever your ideological orientation. That’s why it’s disappointing to say the least that not a single left-leaning blogger has so much as mentioned this story even in passing.

According to Blair and Uncle (confirmed by Gerard Henderson in yesterday’s Age newspaper), Crittenden has been disciplined for publishing an op-ed article in the Sydney Morning Herald on 19 July. The article discussed Samuel P. Huntington’s book The Clash of Civilisations? in the light of Al Qaeda, Afghanistan, Iraq and the like. Nothing very remarkable (or especially controversial) about that, nor was Crittenden’s treatment of it sensationalist or outrageous. Moreover, even if it had been extreme or offensive to many (like numerous diatribes by ABC leftie pundits Phillip Adams or Terry Lane), you’d have to wonder how this could amount to “serious misconduct”. According to Uncle, Crittenden was at no stage given a direction not to publish the “offending” article. Even if such a direction had been given, there would be a real issue as to whether it was lawful. Uncle immediately leaps to the most negative conclusion, as is his wont. However, despite the need for caution because I simply don’t know enough of the facts to express a concluded opinion, he may well have a point:

This is now to be official ABC doctrine: to conduct jihad against the US, to hate liberal capitalism and the social values it has made possible, to call the great majority of your fellow countrymen racist bigots and to excuse their murder as politically reasonable, all this is permitted, both on the ABC and in other media. To question the role of Islamic values in Islamic terrorism is a sackable offence.


On the face of it, I can’t see any other obvious explanation for the treatment meted out to Crittenden. According to today’s Age, ABC radio staff are threatening to strike over the issue. So they should. Here are some extracts from the offending article by Crittenden to give you the flavour. They seem eminently restrained and reasonable to me. In fact I agree with just about everything he says:

“Differences among civilisations are not only real; they are basic,” he writes in the essay. “Civilisations are differentiated from each other by history, language, culture, tradition and, most importantly, religion. The people of different civilisations have different views on the relations between God and man, the individual and the group, the citizen and the state, parents and children, husband and wife, as well as differing views on the relative importance of rights and responsibilities, liberty and authority, equality and hierarchy. These differences are the product of centuries. They will not soon disappear. They are far more fundamental than differences among political ideologies and political regimes.”

Huntington divides the globe into nine occasionally awkward tectonic plates Western (led by the US), Orthodox, Islamic, Hindu, Confucian and Japanese, with Latin America and Africa more doubtfully classified as “candidates” for civilisation status, and Buddhism, oddly, as a “fossil” civilisation largely absorbed and superceded by China and India.

He envisages friction in all directions along the borders between these civilisational plates, and also within civilisations. At various times, the vast and increasing global reach of Western power and influence will bring us into conflict with each of the other civilisational groups (the West against the rest). But in particular there will be two major clashes: one in the short term with a resurgent Islam and, perhaps more ominously, a longer-term clash with an emerging China. …

The Huntington thesis has annoyed almost everybody. From the start, he was accused of massively over-simplifying the causes of Islamic extremism, offering “civilisational incompatibility” as the reductive explanation for Islamic extremism rather than dealing with specific Muslim grievances.

More recently, and especially since the war in Iraq, he has been dismissed as a darling of the US neo-conservatives, and his theory as a justification for the juggernaut of globalisation and the new Bush doctrine of pre-emptive unilateralism.

The truth is that Huntington is an old-fashioned Democrat rather than an ideologue. A former speechwriter for Adlai Stevenson and Jimmy Carter, he is a teacher who shuns interview requests. Ironically, he developed his theory during classes at Harvard to get his students to challenge their triumphalist Western assumptions.

In the 1990s the world had become fixated on globalisation the new-found ability of capital, corporations and technology to move around the planet almost instantly, uniting it into one market. Indeed, a few years earlier, Huntington’s former student Francis Fukuyama had come up with his own theory of the end of history, in which he anticipated the onset of globalisation by arguing that, Western democratic liberalism and market capitalism having beaten Soviet communism, the rest of history would be a kind of American mopping-up operation.

Huntington warned against such assumptions, arguing that “in the emerging world of ethnic conflict and civilisational clash, Western belief in the universality of Western culture suffers three problems: it is false; it is immoral; and it is dangerous.”

Why the hostility to Huntington’s theory? In the West, there are signs that it points to a change in academic fashion potentially a change on the Left, not merely a shift to the Right. Cultural materialists on both Left and Right are annoyed because the theory returns us to the idea that religion matters in explaining how people live and how the world works that culture is fundamental, enduring and more important than economics. It also challenges the illusion of the ecumenical pacifists that true religion is only ever about love and peace. Above all, it cuts across three decades of Western self-hatred since Vietnam, challenging us to reacknowledge not just the West’s misdeeds, but also its vast collective achievement.

Huntington has been extremely reticent about any suggestion that he predicted the attacks on the World Trade Centre, but if he provided the theory, the planes on September 11 provided the material facts. In response to nihilistic evil on this scale, postmodern relativism was seen to flounder. After September 11, it is clear that the grand old narratives are holding and the long historical view is back. …

Huntington insists that the Islamist resurgence of recent decades really is a revival, and that it is not just anti-Western but also genuinely modern inspired by such 20th-century thinkers as Egypt’s Sayyid Qutb of Egypt , Sayyid Maududi of Pakistan and Ayatollah Khomeini and was ignited by the war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan and the Iranian Revolution of 1979.

In this, he appears to disagree with leading Orientalist professor Bernard Lewis, an important influence on Huntington. Lewis coined the term “the clash of civilisations” in a 1990 article in The Atlantic Monthly entitled The Roots of Muslim Rage. The author of What Went Wrong? (Oxford University Press, 2002 ), he views the Islamic world as backward, paralysed and oblivious to Western developments like the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Enlightenment and the scientific revolution and he suggests that Islam is intrinsically unable to modernise. On this reading, an event like September 11 is an expression of envy at Western success, the impotent fury of a religious civilisation in terminal decline. The really significant clash between Islam and the West seems to have happened in the past.

This leads to what for me is the most interesting question behind the Huntington thesis: what is modernity? Is it just about technology? Or is it also about a state of mind that is only possible because of Western individualism, egalitarianism, freedom of choice and civil institutions and rights? Doesn’t America’s greatest strength lie in its culture, which enables its economy to work brilliantly? Isn’t modernity a quintessentially Western invention which is gradually being exported to the rest of the world? Or is it just another slippery word? We are back to Francis Fukuyama (these days speaking the language of the “clash of civilisations”), who in 2001 wrote in the Wall Street Journal: “It is not an accident that modern liberal democracy emerged first in the Christian West, since the universalism of democratic rights can be seen in many ways as a secular form of Christian universalism.” …

Huntington is also haunted by a sense of Western decline possibly too much so. His suggestion that the world is becoming less Western defies common sense. His concern that “the West no longer has the economic or demographic dynamism required to impose its will on other societies and any effort to do so is also contrary to the Western values of self-determination and democracy” turned out to be an accurate description of Europe, but not the US and its coalition partners.

In fact, the bombing of Afghanistan and the war in Iraq pose many interesting problems for the Huntington thesis: a significant part of the Western public, especially in Europe, was clearly opposed to war under almost any circumstances.

The Iraq war has also driven a wedge between America and Europe, problematising Huntington’s idea of a secular West led by the US. Richard Butler, Australia’s former UN ambassador, recently suggested that the EU is deeply concerned by US unilateralism, and beginning to respond. He says we may see the present unipolar world give way to a strangely Orwellian “tri-polarity”, where superpower status is shared by the US, Europe and an Asian bloc led by China. In this context, it is surely not insignificant in cultural terms that the “coalition of the willing” comprised three Anglo-Saxon nations, while France, Germany and Russia fumed on the sidelines. …

But perhaps Huntington’s most confrontational contention for a society like Australia is that culture is not in the end “multicultural”. He is an opponent of US multiculturalists, whom he says “wish to create a country not belonging to any civilisation and lacking a cultural core. History shows that no country so constituted can long endure as a coherent society.”

But doesn’t history shows the very opposite? Multiculturalism is the reason why the Roman Empire lasted so long, and Muslim societies have also been at their most vital when they open to people and ideas from outside. At this point perhaps Huntington’s critics are correct and he does reveal how static and monolithic his thinking about civilisations really is. They change constantly, if slowly, and are much more porous than he allows.

These are challenging times for Muslims living in the West. September 11 has brought increased suspicion, police raids and occasionally violence, when we know that the overwhelming majority of Muslim migrants are loyal citizens in their adopted homelands. For Australia, the US and much of Europe, the future is surely multicultural.

Arguably, multiculturalism has always been a more sophisticated process in practice than its opponents usually recognise, or indeed its supporters. Immigrant communities do indeed gradually absorb the core values, and even the underlying cultural myths of the host society. And far from an end to multicultualism, there are already signs, especially in Europe, of an emerging Multiculturalism Mark Two, where shared values are more openly insisted upon.
For example, the Dutch have established a new seminary near Utrecht for the training of imams, who will be expected to speak Dutch and be familiar with Holland’s anti-discrimination laws. And France has always staunchly promoted republican values through the education system. A new inquiry there has just been announced to look at whether Muslim girls should be allowed to wear the hijab at school, and earlier this year a national Muslim consultative council was established to encourage more French Muslims into the national mainstream.
However, all this may be more applicable to the surface of society than to the fundamental forces that shape it in the long term. In the end, Huntington provides a very useful and endlessly stimulating diagnosis of the problem at a global level. What he doesn’t see so clearly is that the solution doesn’t just lie in the consolidation of Western power but in learning how to live together in local communities.

You might have hoped that the ABC would actually be pleased to have a commentator capable of writing thoughtful, challenging analytical political prose of such obvious contemporary relevance. On the contrary, it seems they prefer the sort of poorly written, ill-considered but eminently PC bilge that Phillip Adams writes week in and week out in the Australian.

PS – Today’s Age article clarifies the legal basis of the disciplinary action against Crittenden:

Crittenden, presenter of Radio National’s The Religion Report, faces dismissal for failing to get permission to publish the article on the clash between Islam and the West in The Sydney Morning Herald.

It is believed that Crittenden provided a synopsis of the article well in advance and the finished piece five days before the publication deadline, and that he rang several times for approval but did not hear back.

An internal investigation found that he wilfully disobeyed a lawful instruction to get approval. His future will be determined by the end of the week.

Crittenden, who is unable to comment, is reportedly mystified, as Radio National’s management has encouraged such public engagement, even including it in criteria for promotion.

I’m anything but an expert on employment law, but on first glance one might suspect there would be very real legal questions as to whether such a direction is lawful, and whether disobeying it provides proper grounds for dismissal (or even suspension without pay). Here is a relevant extract from my trusty Halsbury’s Laws of Australia:

The employee has an obligation to obey all lawful orders of the employer, even where the employee believes the order to be outside the bounds of the contract or where the order relates to a comparatively insignificant matter. The duty is to obey lawful orders, so refusal is a breach of contract. But whether it will amount to grounds for dismissal or other disciplinary action will depend on the particular facts and circumstances of the individual case. There is no obligation to obey instructions which go beyond the nature of the work the employee has contracted to perform, though an employee is expected to obey instructions to do things incidental to that work. Orders and instructions which endanger the employee’s life or health, or which the employee reasonably believes endanger his or her life or health, are not lawful orders, and there is no obligation on the employee to obey, unless the nature of the work itself of necessity involves the peril, in which case the employee has contracted to undertake the risk. There is no clear line of authority as to whether it is a breach of obligation to disobey an order which, though lawful, is unreasonable. …

Comment box analyses from legal eagle readers with greater knowledge in this area would be very welcome.

About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law), civil procedure and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 20 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in the early 1990s.
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Dave Ricardo
Dave Ricardo
2022 years ago

“There is no obligation to obey instructions which go beyond the nature of the work the employee has contracted to perform … ”

Surely a newspaper article on what Samuel “Mad Dog” Huntington thinks about Islam is related to the nature of Crittenden’s work at the ABC, which is to produce programs about religion.

If an executive of a bank published an article on the banking industry without getting permission from his employer, he might be in a spot of bother too – not for what he said (necessarily) but for not following the right processes.

That doesn’t mean that the ABC is right to suspend or sack Crittenden. But this isn’t about the ABC seeking to stop opinions being published that it doesn’t like. It’s about stupid bureaucratic process.

Mork
Mork
2022 years ago

Ken – I think it would be possible to argue that a broadcaster is entitled to restrict what its on-air personnel publish outside their normal duties. But there seem to me to be at least three reasons why the ABC would be up the creek without a paddle if they don’t reinstate Mr. Crittenden (with back pay):

* from what’s been on the various web sites today, it doesn’t actually seem that he was instructed not to publish: he did submit it and management simply failed to respond. Moreover, it’s far from clear that an instruction to publish would, in these particular circumstances, be reasonable, given what he actually wrote.

* a tribunal would find that the ABC is obliged to apply whatever policy it has fairly . . . cf Messrs. Lane and Adams (and no doubt there are many other examples of “one-off” pieces or statements not vetted by management).

* in NSW, at least, you basically can’t sack anyone for misconduct without a warning, pretty much unless there’s a corpse involved, and even then . . .

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Dave,

Generally speaking, the fact that I work as a lawyer doesn’t prevent me from making public comments on legal issues (as long as I don’t breacha client privilege). Nor (I think, although as I say it’s not my specialty area) does the fact that I’m commenting in the same broad general area (law) mean that a direction relating to it would be a direction relating to “the nature of the work the employee has contracted to perform”. Your banking industry analogy is much narrower and more specific.

There’s also the issue of whether such a direction might breach the implied freedom of political speech in Australia’s Constitution. I left that out of the main post because it was already quite long enough. But it’s aninteresting question. The ABC is a Commonwealth statutory authority, and there may well be a real question as to whether it is constitutionally possible for a Commonwealth statutory authority to issue directions which impact so severely and directly an employee’s ability (in his own time) to participate in important public political debates.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Thanks Mork. Your analysis sounds pretty spot-on to me.

Geoff Honnor
Geoff Honnor
2022 years ago

I suspect that Stephen Crittenden – who’s a fulltime, permanent employee of the ABC with a principal religious affairs brief – is in a different position to professional, contracted controversialists like Adams and Lane et al. It would inevitably create a different, more sensitive dimension for his external commentary – particularly if that commentary was substantially in the same area as his principal employment brief with the ABC and was seen to be “at odds” with it. My understanding is that there’s a bit more to it than that however. Strewth in the online Oz today is fingering the ABC’s HR department and Crittenden’s immediate supervisor and muttering about “personality conflicts” at Radio National.

I read the Spectrum piece in question and thought it was an excellent and considered analysis. I certainly didn’t see it as problematic in terms of his ongoing RN “Religion Report” presenter role.

I know Stephen has come under some heavy external fire for allegedly wearing his gay heart on his sleeve in tackling homophobia in the Church……..

dan
dan
2022 years ago

Would have thought that the fact that outside engagement generally was encouraged would also be relevant to this debate. On public policy, there would be a strong argument against allowing an employer to discipline an employee when the lack of approval is due to the employer not responding in a timely fashion, particularly where the subject matter of the approval has been explicitly encouraged by the employer (eg as a marker to promotion etc).

Generally, this would arm the employer with the means to prevent an employee from taking those steps which are required to carry out the employee’s duties and become eligible for advancement. That is, it would place an employer in the position of being able to say “we are not going to promote you because you haven’t published externally”, where the reason for that is that the employer has withheld approval for those publications.

Tiu Fu Fong
Tiu Fu Fong
2022 years ago

It’s difficult to give a legal analysis without seeing the terms of Crittenden’s employment contract. They could be vastly different from the default common law positions and could include something along the lines of “no publishing of articles without the explicit written consent of higher management”.

in facta absentia iudicimus” – We’re judging in absence of the facts.

(* I made that legal maxim up made myself. Apologies to Latin scholars)

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

A quick look at a labour law text on my shelves reveals that s13(5) of the Public Service Act 1999 (Cth) provides:
An APS employee must comply with any lawful and reasonable direction given by someone in the employee’s Agency who has the authority to give the direction.
I doubt that an open-ended direction to get all outside op-ed articles pre-approved, followed by a prolonged failure to give any answer at all despite submission of the draft article by the employee, would be regarded as a reasonable direction.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

I should have added that I don’t know whether Crittenden (or ABC employees generally) is “an APS employee”. However, the definitions in section 7 of the PS Act suggest that the ABC is probably a “Statutory Agency”, which would mean that Crittenden WOULD be “an APS employee”.

Homer Paxton
Homer Paxton
2022 years ago

Mork is wrong with regard to NSW if one earns something over 80K.
You can be sacked without any reason.
It is only if you earn below the nominated figure you need to get two warnings before dismissal.

Stephen Crittenden is a highly biased journalist on the Religion report who interviews third rate intellects such as John Spong almost every time he visists Australia yet somehow never gets around to interviewing virtually any conservative theologians of note.
He has yet to come up for a reason how the denominations whose theology he favours ( such as the Uniting in Australia) is in dramatic decline yet denominations he dislikes such as the Sydney Anglicans are rising in numbers.

Having said that it seems very strange to get rid of him. I would have thought it would be desirable to have someone who can use another media to indirectly highlight his program.

Dave Ricardo
Dave Ricardo
2022 years ago

Homer, your sectarianism is becoming very tiresome. Perhaps you should try blogging on Ian Paisley’s web site, where I am sure you be right at home.

Dan
Dan
2022 years ago

Hey, rules are rules. Just ask Anthony…

bargarz
2022 years ago

Ken,

I hadn’t blogged on this due to time restrictions but I share your concerns. If the ABC management are going to play hardball over the voicing of opinion (not that I’m promoting that at all), then some consistency would be nice.

FYI on Huntington; here is an interview that Huntington did in the weeks after September 11 in which he discounted the ability of Clash of Civilizations/ to predict the attacks.

I had it buried in this post which touched on his book (amongst other things). The post is mainly a rant about Alison Broinowski’s hateful bile post-September 11 so you may have to search it for the Huntington references about halfway down.
Huntington’s article (and later a book by the same title) proposed that by far the greatest threat to the West would arise from what he termed the “Confucian and Islamic”

mark
2022 years ago

Ken, I hadn’t ‘blogged it because I didn’t know… and I was occupied with a combination of assignments and thinking about the very important topic of pies… ahem.

This does look like a case of idiot beauracracy “at it again”, and not Uncle’s indescribably stupid conspiracy theories being even remotely close to the truth.

Geoff Honnor
Geoff Honnor
2022 years ago

“beauracracy” – a hot looking group of public servants? Coloured cardy wearers maybe?

Gummo Trotsky
2022 years ago

That’s why it’s disappointing to say the least that not a single left-leaning blogger has so much as mentioned this story even in passing.

I may have been a little remiss in not reading Henderson’s article yesterday, but suggesting that the left has managed to organise a conspiracy of silence within the space of just 24 hours is a bit rich. If I weren’t in the middle of extracting a tarball right now …

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

At least that’s one bite. Beating up an argument is getting harder and harder these days (except about bloody Keith Windschuttle).

Gummo Trotsky
2022 years ago

Windschuttle is small potatoes. Just wait till I get my forthcoming The Fabrication of Astrophysics Volume 1: The Copernican Revolution published.

Ron Mead
Ron Mead
2022 years ago

Gummo, Ken’s hardly suggesting a conspiracy among the left on this issue. Perhaps just a pattern…

Observa
Observa
2022 years ago

Good on Aunty for sacking this xenophobic racist. Clash of civilisations indeed! Doesn’t he understand that warm fuzzy multiculturalism can transcend national and religious boundaries. If he needs any evidence of this he need look no further than the warm expression of solidarity, Indonesian Sawad alias Sardjiyo feels for many Australians. (Sawad of course helped mix the Bali night-club bomb) Cindy Wockner in Denpasar, Bali passes on this message of warmth toward Australians from Sawad- “I want to thank the Australian people who supported our cause when they demonstrated against the policies of George Bush. Say thank you to all of them.” Now what could be fuzzier than that?

Homer Paxton
Homer Paxton
2022 years ago

Dave,
If you take the macquarie dictionary definition of sectarianism then it has been Mr Crittenden and his forbears at the Religion Report who have been guilty of that by only interviewing people they are happy with.
On the other hand I am quite happy with any ideas being debated in the market place.

Dave Ricardo
Dave Ricardo
2022 years ago

Market place? I didn’t know reigious ideas are sold in a market. So what you are saying, Homer, is that if the price of Roman Catholicism goes up compared to Methodism – let’s say because sinners have intone more Our Fathers after confession, a price not paid by Methodists – then there will be shift in demand from Catholicism to Methodism. What do you think the cross elasticity is?

Is there also a derivatives market for religious beliefs? I was thinking that maybe low Anglicans could buy some call options on Baptism, should the Anglican Church decide to merge with Rome some time in the future. If it happens, they exercise the option, and, hey presto, no need to deal with those Devil-inspired Papists. That is certainly something that you in the Sydney diocese should think about. (Technical question: would they be European options or American options?)

Of course, there is the doctrinal problem that Jesus drove the money changers out of the temple, but never mind.

Tiu Fu Fong
Tiu Fu Fong
2022 years ago

The derivatives market for religion is in swaps eg Westerners embracing Eastern religions while Far Easterners embrace Western religions (noticed all those Chinese and Korean Christian churches?).

Homer Paxton
Homer Paxton
2022 years ago

Dave,
options are for wimps!
I have gone very long on the second coming.

For a ‘tolerant’ person you hurl the pejoratives around with merry abandon. You might even be mistaken for a person who has absolute values!

Dave Ricardo
Dave Ricardo
2022 years ago

Homer, you are right. I am abolutely intolerant of God botherers, especially those that bother me as well.

mark
2022 years ago

Dave, you’re forgetting one of the few real commandments of the Great God Om:
Thou Shalt Not Subject Thy God to Market Forces!

cs
cs
2022 years ago

What’s this about the second coming?

Ron Mead
Ron Mead
2022 years ago

“What’s this about the second coming?”

A mere distant memory for oldies like me, I’m afraid, Chris!

cs
cs
2022 years ago

LOL

Homer Paxton
Homer Paxton
2022 years ago

Dave,
Next time you hurl a pejorative in my direction try to ensure it is accurate.
I don’t mind how many you hurl.

It is strange to be criticised for wanting all ideas to be debated though.

Geoff Honnor
Geoff Honnor
2022 years ago

On which point of strangeness Homer, you and Stephen Crittenden would appear to be in complete agreement – strangely enough.

Homer Paxton
Homer Paxton
2022 years ago

Geoff,

I am all for Stephen parading his tastes to the full but merely to be balanced and possibly more selective in his choice of interviewees (?).

Afterall the bible is full of people who commit heresy.

to give but two examples.
If one in going to interview someone in Australia who does not believe the bible but believes he is a christian then interview Peter Carnley, He has unquestionably the best mind for this. Indeed why not promote a debate between Him and Peter Jensen alah Stott and Spong.
Why does Encounter interview Ibn Warriq instead of The Religion Report?

Unfortunately one doesn’t get this.