Reforming the ABC – simple as …

Andrew Landeryou, who I’ve faithfully promised not to call a “bovver boy”, makes the following colourful observation on another Troppo comment thread:

It honestly matters very little who they put on the ABC Board, it’s the culture of the place that’s the problem. It is stacked to the rafters with inner urban leftists who regard the left of the ALP as compromising sell outs.

There is little hope for them, even with good people like Janet on the board.

It should be sold off to the slowly bleeding to death leftist publisher Fairfax, with one slowly strangling the other so that our nation may be free of both.

I doubt that Andrew really desires the demise of the ABC in his heart of hearts.   Most Tories of my acquaintance actually watch ABC and SBS news and current affairs most of the time, for the simple reason that all the commercial alternatives are shallow, puerile crap and an insult to anyone’s  intelligence irrespective of  their political orientation.   That’s especially true since Eddie Everywhere started gutting Channel Nine’s Sunday program, which was the only commercial TV current affairs program worth watching.

But that isn’t the main  point of this post.  

I’m more interested in Andrew’s observation about the inherent “inner urban leftist” culture of the ABC.   It’s a point also made in The Australian opinion pages this morning by Paul Gray:

Clearly some taxpayer-funded staffers still have trouble deciding who’s the most evil person in world affairs today – the Pope or George W. Bush. And clearly some still think that presenting “both sides” of a case means getting one interview with the ALP Left and another with the Greens.

It’s a point I made to Jen only last night when I found myself thumping the table and fulminating over a 7:30 Report story about tertiary education.   Red Kezza happily ran an unadulterated ALP/NUS line on the unmitigated evils of HECS fees and the abolition of compulsory student unionism, and then tried this miserable gambit to excuse the complete lack of any attempt at presenting both sides of the argument:

Just to reiterate we would have liked to have given the Government’s position in that story, but the minister was unavailable.

But support for HECS and voluntary student unionism is hardly confined to the Howard government.   There are plenty of commentators they could have found to present the case, Andrew Norton just for a start.   In fact, support for HECS is a fairly mainstream idea.   Even left-leaning economists like John Quiggin agree with the  concept (albeit no doubt with heavy qualifications) as does yours truly rather more whole-heartedly.

Paul Gray sees some hopeful signs that ABC journos might finally be beginning to exercise some restraint  and balance  both in their story selection and  the internal balance of those stories, even if under the weight of the express or  implied threat of a Tory-stacked Board and new and more aggresssive management.    I mostly agree with  Gray’s take on this issue, although obviously scrupulous political  balance within every single story is an impossible goal.   I do think ABC news and current affairs has persistently exhibited an excessive  left-leaning bias and that it  flows directly from the  ingrained “latte left” perspectives of journalistic staff in Sydney and Melbourne, and I don’t think that degree of lack of balance is acceptable in a publicly-funded broadcaster.  

The trick will be to bludgeon the Newtown/Carlton trendoids into recognising that different tastes and viewpoints than their own really do exist and are not held only by brain-damaged, inbred One Nation-voting  yokels, without simultaneously  squashing the sceptical, fearless,  investigative mindset that is indispensible to serious journalism (and that has never existed in the commercial media except at Sunday).

Interestingly, it appears that the political perspectives of journos at  regional ABC stations  are already changing for the better.   I have a fair bit to do from time to time with some local Darwin ABC types, and as far as I can see the Darwin newsroom is  anything  but a hotbed of latte leftism these days.   It appears that the same may be true of ABC Adelaide, at least judging by this story about what former ALP senator Nick Bolkus thinks of it.    

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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Andrew Landeryou
15 years ago

M. Parish:

Colourful? Yes. Bovver boy – as in neo-nazi skinhead – clearly not. This is a description that not even my old political foes would ever have used so I wonder why you would, as you seem an otherwise reasonable chap, particularly given your “withdrawal” of the term. I took this for being the nihilist adapation of the words “I’m sorry.” Oh well, as my fellow guests on Jerry Springer say “whatever.”

Do I really want the ABC to be “liberated.”

Really, truly I do. And yes like all news junkies I listen to AM, PM, World Today, LateLine (the best of a bad lot on the ABC) and I share the taxi driver enthusiasm for News Radio but the point is all of these things could be supported by advertising and work commercially. The demographics of these programmes are very simply an advertiser’s dream.

So there are many options for real reform of the ABC as I see it.

1) My humorous suggestion of a merger with Fairfax so that both die off.

2) Selling it to Macquarie Bank (this seems always to be an option for any Government decision) and cutting taxes.

3) Selling off the assets (the licences are very valuable indeed)and putting the money into worthy but non-commercial programming, plus the ABC cops $500 million per annum as I recall. That’s an awful lot of programming.

4) Electing the board and senior management of the ABC in a battle royal election campaign, can you imagine the Face Off between Tim Blair and Comrade Loewenstein for the High Office of Grand Poo-Bah of the ABC. It would be much more interesting than Beazley v Howard and would actually reconnect the ABC with those paying the bills. Perhaps an annual ballot, conducted Big Brother style, might actually draw some viewers to Channel 2. Fun for all.

What won’t work – and has never worked – is stacking the board with mates. Hawke tried it. Howard tried it. I certainly think their mates are better than the ABC’s mates but it has not been effective in making the ABC accountable.

Bring Back EP at LP
Bring Back EP at LP
15 years ago

For all their faults I rarely see much wrong in current affairs.

Is there a problem with ‘rightwing types’.

for all his faults Adams is a radio professional on the other hand I appeared to be one of the few that listened to blair/ Imre in their failed attempt.
Duffy isn’t much better.

give Gerry Henderson a program and see how he goes

Nicholas Gruen
Admin
Nicholas Gruen(@nicholas-gruen)
15 years ago

Duffy’s program is a fave of mine. Pretty much top of my ‘time shifting’ menu – involving taping when the show’s on and listening to as I nod off. (Another really underrated program is ‘rear vision’).

Of course I don’t agree with Duffy on various things (and do on others). And there are some people who are straight out cranks who get on, particularly on climate change. But then Adams had on a complete crank who argues for a global labour time unit of currency to replace all currencies (I kid you not).

The other thing I like is that though Duffy’s program is a bit more ‘campaigning’ than Phil’s LNL (which doesn’t campaign but just assumes a certain view of some things), it also has the odd lefty on.

And it doesn’t do it for ‘balance’ (uggh) but because of interest in the perspective offered. John Buchanan and Hugh Stretton are a fair way to the left of just about all posters on this site but both were invited on with interesting things to say. Stretton was treated with great respect which is only appropriate (despite how much I disagree with him).

Peter Keenan
Peter Keenan
15 years ago

On this week’s ABC Radio National’s Counterpoint program the guest editorialist, Bettina Arndt, spoke about “The distorted social world of the ABC”. A couple of her quotes (see transcript) encapsulated my feelings on ABC bias:

“Mark Scott, the new managing director of the ABC, was recently asked about bias in the national broadcaster. He made the point that the issue isn’t simply about balance – giving equal time to both sides of an argument. There’s another question, he said: Are the issues that are covered on ABC news and current affairs important issues to the Australian people or are they simply important issues to the newsroom?”

Dan
Dan
15 years ago

The trick will be to bludgeon the Newtown/Carlton trendoids into recognising that different tastes and viewpoints than their own really do exist and are not held only by brain-damaged, inbred One Nation-voting yokels, without simultaneously squashing the sceptical, fearless, investigative mindset that is indispensible to serious journalism (and that has never existed in the commercial media except at Sunday).

If I didn’t know better, I’d say your grievance is less about left-right bias and more about city-country bias. It seems as if no attack on the ABC is complete without reference to inner-city latte-sipping trendoids: maybe they’re the ones that you see as the real enemy, and maybe this is more to do with Territorian (or, more broadly, non-Sydney, non-Melbourne) provincialism than anything else. It seems impossible for you to accept that any of us living in the inner city might actually be people of good faith who genuinely do welcome a diversity of opinion (after all, they dress differently) so you’ll jump on any opportunity to have your prejudices affirmed.

J
J
15 years ago

Ken,

“Red Kezza”, as you call him, goes far harder on Kim Beazley than any other journo in this country, Right or Left. Maybe the ABC comes across as biased because truth usually blows from a leftward source (I’m being a little facetious). The simple fact is that Liberal party members consistently avoid playing ball with ABC interviewers. Perhaps the “was not available for comment” statement is a journalistic tactic they’ve devised to get Liberal politicians to live up to that lovely ideal contained in representative democracy – accountability.

Peter,

“Mark Scott, the new managing director of the ABC, was recently asked about bias in the national broadcaster. He made the point that the issue isn’t simply about balance – giving equal time to both sides of an argument. There’s another question, he said: Are the issues that are covered on ABC news and current affairs important issues to the Australian people or are they simply important issues to the newsroom?”

FDB
FDB
15 years ago

The Libs have got most of the press, commercial radio and tv trotting their line 24/7, so of course a balanced presentation looks biased by comparison.

For example:

They don’t bang on and bloody on about the evils of Jihadist terror because WE ALL KNOW IT’S INHERENTLY EVIL. It’s boring and it’s not newsworthy to condemn it, or to keep mentioning it every time the War on Terror is being discussed. When they question (question, mind you) the actions and rhetoric of the CoW/Israel in that war, they’re accused of LW bias. Bullshit. Nobody else is touching the idea that the US and its allies are fallible. We REALLY NEED SOMEONE in the MSM to do this.

“The trick will be to bludgeon the Newtown/Carlton trendoids into recognising that different tastes and viewpoints than their own really do exist and are not held only by brain-damaged, inbred One Nation-voting yokels”

No, for fuck’s sake, the trick will be to bludgeon the inner-city-elite-bashers (whoever they are, wherever they live) into realising they’re fighting a strawman of their own devising. Or more accurately, largely of the right-wing-elite’s devising.

John Quiggin
John Quiggin
15 years ago

“Even left-leaning economists”. Actually, the main proponent of HECS, Bruce Chapman is on the left of the profession, and most of the opposition (within the economics profession) comes from rightwingers who want up-front full fees.

Yobbo
Yobbo
15 years ago

“But, even the Tim Blairs of the Australian punditocracy riff off the ABC constantly. Why? Because it has a whole hell of a lot more balance and sophistication than any other current affairs service or news source in this country.”

Sophistication, maybe. Balance? You are kidding. Just because the commercial channels are terrible doesn’t mean the ABC is not biased. You only have to take a look at alternate news sources on the internet to realise exactly how far the bias goes.

Here are three obvious examples just from the last month.

And please let’s get into the habit of saying “Than any other FREE TO AIR current affairs or news service”.

The commerical channels are largely rubbish. The news and documentary channels on Foxtel are very good. Docos on History channel are far superior to those on the ABC.

And it’s quite sad that people like Ken simply can’t comprehend that there are a few people out there who really do want to see the ABC gone. We aren’t just trying to kick up a fuss you know.

The ABC outlived its usefulness a long time ago. Every single point made in defense of the ABC applies equally well to the subscription news channels on Foxtel.

There is simply no need for a taxpayer-funded television network any more. The ABC is nothing more than middle-upper class welfare.

“”Red Kezza”

Andrew
Andrew
15 years ago

Ken

I’m a little surprised that someone who calls themself ‘centrist’ can write a piece so full of blinkered right-wing views about the ABC and its alleged bias as this one. No-one, certainly not you, the media outlets in Australia, or even the current government, can claim to be unbiased. To claim so is a simple untruth. Humans are not and cannot be unbiased, its not in our nature. To expect the ABC alone of every other institution, company and organisation in Australia to be unbiased is simplistic and laughable. Come on, get real, and lets have a better analysis of the way the media in Australia is manipulated by government and business interests than just throwing around tired old claims of ABC bias.

Yobbo
Yobbo
15 years ago

“No-one, certainly not you, the media outlets in Australia, or even the current government, can claim to be unbiased.”

This may be true, but the rest of the media in Australia can claim to be unreliant on taxpayers for their existence. If the ABC is no different to the rest, why is it the only one that is propped up by taxpayers?

There is no justification for a public broadcaster in Australia any more. This is not 1965.

Andrew Landeryou
15 years ago

Yobbo, I think they prefer 1968.

Chris Lloyd
Chris Lloyd
15 years ago

Yeah Yobbo. Murdoch’s monopoly is an unbiased alternative to Auntie. You got a choice of Fox News, the naked news, Seinfeld. Fair and balanced.

Who would provide 4 Corners, Lateline, Foreign correspondent. Media watch? You’d kill B1 and B2 as well? You vicious heartless baaaaarstard!

Peter Keenan
Peter Keenan
15 years ago

Andrew, you accept ABC bias because:

Humans are not and cannot be unbiased, its not in our nature. To expect the ABC alone of every other institution, company and organisation in Australia to be unbiased is simplistic and laughable.

How admirably tolerant of you. So if the ABC just happened to have a bias to the right, I suppose that would be OK too.

Andrew Landeryou
15 years ago

Peter makes a compelling point. Of course everyone is biased, it’s whether we should accept that a public broadcaster should have only people of a left-wing bias.

I am available for an audition at any time.

Yobbo
Yobbo
15 years ago

“You got a choice of Fox News, the naked news, Seinfeld. Fair and balanced.”

Just showing your ignorance again Chris. There is much more choice than that avaiable on foxtel. The fact that you refuse to even find out just shows how little you know about the subject, and you should disqualify yourself from future debate.

Chris Lloyd
Chris Lloyd
15 years ago

Yob:

I subscribed to Foxtel for a year and dropped it, mainly cause I was paying for ads. I am certainly not ignorant of what they have to offer as they spruiked their other channels every five minutes while I was trying to watch Star Trek. I thought that Foxtel was severely limited in context and Australian context was almost absent (apart from Sky News which wan’t bad).

If you don’t mind I will still consider myself eligible for debate if the arguments for killing Auntie ever reach that threshold. Your still a banana-cidal maniac and I won’t forget it.

Chris Lloyd
Chris Lloyd
15 years ago

..severely limited in content and Australian content…

Yobbo
Yobbo
15 years ago

“You got a choice of Fox News, the naked news, Seinfeld. Fair and balanced.”

Stephen Hill
Stephen Hill
15 years ago

Other than SBS News, where is the unique Australian content on BBC World, CNN, Sky News (which just borrows from monopolists Seven and Nine), CNBC and Fox News?

Also there are a lot more people without pay television than with it, hence the reason why anti-sophoning legislation is politically a big issue. This would suggest a larger proportion of the electorate does not have access to the variety of channels you included (of the news channels listed, none of these provides a serious investment in local news and current affairs). Also, in some rural areas it is quite difficult to get Pay TV even if it is affordable. Finally, ABC Rural would be one of the first services scrapped in any privatisation, this would cause the mother of all backlashes in the heartland of conservative territory.

whyisitso
whyisitso
15 years ago

“Darwin newsroom is anything but a hotbed of latte leftism these days”

I reckon they think a latte is a Sydney-produced beer.

Chris Lloyd
Chris Lloyd
15 years ago

Ken:

I read the ABC report you linked to and I do not think you do it justice. Your summary ‘Red Kezza happily ran an unadulterated ALP/NUS line on the unmitigated evils of HECS fees and the abolition of compulsory student unionism”

whyisitso
whyisitso
15 years ago

“Certainly it seems peculiar that education is completely free up to year 12 and then not.”

I’m not sure what you mean by “completely free” but it’s a bit like air fares – quoted at $x, plus taxes that amount to a pretty high percentage of the original fare. Public school education can be pretty expensive to parents when you add the (not in reality) optional extras. Also about a third of kids go to private schools which have fees ranging up to $21,000 at senior level plus many extras. Although the federal government helps out by contributing to private schools’ costs, state governments provide very little.

If all children went to private schools, the cost of the public system would go to levels that would force governments to institute quite considerable user-pays levies.

Stephen Hill
Stephen Hill
15 years ago

I just read the report and have to agree with Chris as well. This article gets the Stephen Hill non-bias tick of approval.

Although I do question why the student with the $17,000 car-loan thinks this is part to blame of the government. Personally, I can’t see how any student would need to spend such money on a first car, my first car was just over a grand and “old smokey” as it was known in its later years, served me well. Seriously who buys a first car thats worth $17,000 when they are a student?

I think the only problem with Bevan’s story, is that he should have focused more on what is lacking in student support (Austudy et al). Issues like rent assistance, the $200 a week being a little small (I think there should be a modest increase, students though should be able to rough it out a little, but we should discourage students working more than 15 hours, so that only those more concerned with their social life are working lengthy hours.) But where it is much worse is the $26,000 family threshold for Austudy, which means a lot students in struggling families cannot afford to go to uni and in the area of scholarships, oh and the postgraduate area which is an absolute mess. And it is the latter area that I know intimately, as in my postgrad course between a half and three-quarters of the students have quit because they cannot afford to continue (and it also explains the lengthy completion rates that various education ministers have complained about).

Why pay out $50,000 per commencing postgrad, and then offer no form of financial support for these students, its absolutely brain-dead form of investment. Postgrads can’t get Austudy, can’t get the dole in most circumstances, and with scholarships cutting in at about the 92% mark (mid-high high distinction grade-average) a lot of talented students just cannot afford to go on to further study, and Honours is now all about “getting the mark out” rather than the pursuit of knowledge (we have Honours students shopping around subjects looking to take the subjects taken by the softest markers). Its an utter joke. So I absolutely agree with CIS adjunct Steven Schwartz in this piece that scholarships should be increased substantially and also should be awarded on academic merit (which would put in doubt the international scholarship awarded to Alexander Downer’s daughter, as a third-class honours degree just doesn’t cut the mustard.)

Chris Lloyd
Chris Lloyd
15 years ago

What I meant Whyisito (every time I see that blog name I think of Julius Sumner Miller) is that there is a clear discontinuity in user cost when one moves from year 12 to year 13. State high schools are pretty close to free (maybe a couple of grand pa) and uni courses are at least triple.

Those who argue for uni fees have, I think, to argue* for high school fees at optional yeas 11-12. But they are too gutless to do so. I think it is worth highlighting these kinds of inconsistencies in order to challenge what seems to have become the conventional wisdom that uni fess are OK because (a) the students go on to earn more, (b) will work harder if they pay, (c) should not be subsidised by those who do not go to uni. All these arguments work for year 11-12. And just to repeat, I am not necessarily against uni fees.

Stephen: Agree about post-grads. Almost the only way to get a decent one is to top any funding they might bring with them with an ARC grant. BTW: What was the $50,000 per commencing post grad?

Just to get back to Yobbo – what can you say to someone who thinks that CNN “leans left” while Fox “leans right”! CNN is left? Whell it isto the left of Fox. Anyway, Stephen made the points I would ahve made.

*Note: I went to a private school and still can’t stand to split an infinitive.

whyisitso
whyisitso
15 years ago

“*Note: I went to a private school and still can’t stand to split an infinitive”

I split as many infinitives as I can for two reasons: (1) it annoys the pedantic (old) buggers who insist that not splitting infinitives is the whole basis of good English expression, and (2) a split infinitive sounds less contrived and forced. In other words to happily split an infinitive sounds satisfying.

Stephen Hill
Stephen Hill
15 years ago

The $50,000 per commencing postgrad, I think is about what a university department receives from RTS (Research Training Scheme) per Masters Research student, I think it is about $80,000 for PhD.

whyisitso
whyisitso
15 years ago

Yes JSM wasn’t a million miles away from my thoughts when I chose that name. You’ll note that my comments on blogs that have gravatars feature the old Prof next to the name.

Stephen Hill
Stephen Hill
15 years ago

Our department calls the RTS students, the “unfunded students”. We have had out of all the Honours graduates, only unfunded students for about the last four or five years (I’ve been told a few times you basically have to do a Masters by Research with a couple of publications to get a scholarship to do a Phd, which if you look forward to the future means lots of people entering entry-level jobs at ages between 30-35). This list would include quite a few first-class honours students, and when I did Honours I thought the head of department was being hyperbolic about the lack of scholarships, turned out what she was saying was very accurate.

Yobbo
Yobbo
15 years ago

“Also there are a lot more people without pay television than with it, hence the reason why anti-sophoning legislation is politically a big issue. This would suggest a larger proportion of the electorate does not have access to the variety of channels you included (of the news channels listed, none of these provides a serious investment in local news and current affairs).”

I don’t see how this necessitates the ABC.

The larger portion of the electorate, despite not having access to pay TV, still doesn’t bother watching the ABC.

The target market for the majority of the ABC’s TV programming is educated, urban viewers with incomes in excess of 60,000pa. In other words, people that do have access to Pay TV and can easily afford it.

Taxing the poor to fund a TV station that caters mainly to the rich is regressive and unnecessary.

Keep the ABC if you want, but make it funded by subscription rather than taxation.

“Just to get back to Yobbo – what can you say to someone who thinks that CNN “leans left”

Stephen Hill
Stephen Hill
15 years ago

“The target market for the majority of the ABC’s TV programming is educated, urban viewers with incomes in excess of 60,000pa. In other words, people that do have access to Pay TV and can easily afford it.”

That may be a portion of its market, but it certainly includes a much broader of people from diverse income groups. As I mentioned ABC is the only major broadcaster to cover the rural areas, and its audience would include a lot of students and retirees, who would be earn well below $60K a year. I’d say somewhere near half of ABC viewers/listeners would earn below this figure.

Yobbo I think you are allowing your hatred of the latte left to cloud your judgement on this one, you would actually be shocked at the scale of the audience on the ABC. Lots of people I know who I might lazily define as “low-income, non-intellectual” may not listen Radio National, but they watch the ABC News and programs like “Denton” (a format which Denton admits he wouldn’t be able to do on a commerical channel) or shows like “Kath and Kim”, “Seachange”, “Good News Week”, “Spicks and Specks”, and whatever new incubation they come up with that the commericals will eventually poach or rip-off and make a half-arsed facsimile of.

Also ABC has a host of niche programs in various areas, from science programs like “The New Investors”, which my Dancing with the Stars-watching parents adore, to the religious program “Compass” which my conservative-Christian Rev Nile voting aunt watches well religiously (pardon the tautology). And then there is lots for comedy-lovers, music-lovers, which would be too risky for anyone chasing a “mass audience” but whose audience would definitely be substantial. When you add all this up this, I’d be confident that part of the reason why the Liberals can’t radically alter the ABC to weaken its emphasis towards fearless reporting is that there are more ABC viewers/listeners/web-sites than there are Liberal voters (and a lot of Liberal voters that love the ABC).