Friday, June 26, 2015

Hold the Front Page

I am frankly appalled by the rank misrepresentation of events on the ABC’s QandA program on Monday 24 June, as depicted on the front pages of, in particular, the Murdoch Press and how this feeds into the fear narrative gaining prominence in Australia’s national conversation.  


Following the QandA program, accusations were levelled against Mr Mallah which were errant nonsense and extremely damaging.  Statements which I’m frankly surprised Mr Mallah hasn’t referred to his lawyers to pursue a defamation action.


But, as they say, you never want to let the facts get in the way of a good banner headline:

Courier Mail Wednesday 24 June 2015

If ever there were grounds for the government to criticise the actions of the media it is surely for this sort of banner page.


Instead the Prime Minister, ably supported by the Ministers for Immigration and Communications, reached for populist and pointedly inaccurate remarks to attack Mr Mallah and the ABC. 

“… Australians would feel betrayed… whose side are you on?”; and, “Our supposed National Broadcaster is giving a platform to someone who hates us, hates our way of life, supports the terrorists who would do us harm” were followed up the next day with: “heads should roll”.


While errors of judgement for including Zaky Mallah (a man of arguably questionable character) in a live broadcast were admitted to and apologised for by the ABC, the stifling of further discussion of the matter (with the noted exception of Mark Scott’s spirited defence at the 2015 Corporate Public Affairs Oration) by the ABC gives me cause for some concern. 


For my “eight cents a day” my expectations are higher of the National Broadcaster:  I do not expect it to be “Pyongyang Television”, particularly if this leads to the emasculation of the ABC for political or commercial advantage. 


My ABC needs to grow a pair.


A dominant theme in former Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s update to her compelling book “My Story” is her concern that the ABC is now so fearful of government criticism that it is no longer capable of fulfilling its charter.


As Ms Gillard says “More than 90% of newspaper circulation [in Australia] is covered by two companies.  For the vast majority of Australians wanting a print copy of a metropolitan daily newspaper, there are only two choices.  If you live in Perth, you can get Kerry Stokes’ West Australian.  Otherwise, you can have a Murdoch paper or a Fairfax one.  To get a Fairfax one outside New South Wales and Victoria, you need to hunt down a Financial Review.”


Even Malcolm Fraser agreed that “we have the most concentrated media in any democratic country, anywhere in the entire damn world.  That is dangerous.”  And while Ms Gillard’s statements refer to newspapers, both hers and Mr Fraser’s comments could equally encompass the very similar ownership statistics in commercial broadcast media.


Without the ABC where would Australians go for a more balanced approach to news? 


That the ABC is capable of quality journalism is beyond doubt.  Programs like QandA or the recent Killing Season ably illustrate this and Insiders, Lateline and the 7.30 Report are surely the benchmarks by which other Australian journalism is measured.  So why shouldthe ABC cower and buckle under the routine and strident criticism it gets from the government and its commercial competitors every time it holds up a critical mirror or challenges a government position?


Far from backing down, My ABC should double down on presenting and investigating alternative viewpoints, redouble its efforts to call out inaccuracies, vigorously examine ideas and policies and forensically test the claims of all of our elected representatives and public figures.  And I mean all of them.  


A big, bold, well-funded and independent National Broadcaster is vital to keep at bay an alarming narrowing of the national conversation.