AT about the same time Fairfax Editor at Large Mark Baker began looking into the “young and naïve” Julia Gillard’s past as a salaried partner at Slater & Gordon it should have been obvious to even the most blinkered eye that many questions about our Prime Minister remain to be answered. Without stretching a point, The Age and Sydney Morning Herald have long been little more than house organs for the left, so a senior editorial executive’s decision to shrug off his incurious colleagues’ inertia and disdain, roll up his sleeves and begin digging came as a welcome change. When even Fairfax catches the whiff of something rotten, then there must surely be something more substantial than an olfactory phantasm of the conservative imagination.
There is, however, one place where the instinct to spin and belittle, to denigrate and dismiss, remains vigorous as ever, and that is the Southbank studio in Melbourne where ABC Radio’s Jon Faine puts on a show most weekday mornings. His performance on Friday was a beaut, representing in less than 30 minutes, at least to this listener, not only the abrogation of a public broadcaster’s obligation to wield the straight bat, but also, and more to the point, why the ABC is seriously overdue for a very stiff dose of reform. If and when the Coalition assumes the government benches, let Faine’s histrionics be Exhibit A.
But before hearing what happens when public monies are handed to partisans, let us set the scene. On Thursday, as Ralph Blewitt made himself available to speak with police in Melbourne, Faine welcomed his return from Malaysia with a frothing, outraged performance that denounced the former bagman of Gillard’s bent lover, Bruce Wilson, even to the extent of quoting his sister as saying Blewitt was a rogue, crook and cad.
Michael Smith, who has done so much to wrangle potential witnesses and dredge up documents, attempted to call in but was denied the microphone, Faine’s fulminating having left no time for the contemporaneous airing of an alternative point of view. He was invited, however, to respond on Friday’s show, the Age’s Baker also getting a guernsey.
Once again, the segment was introduced by a Faine sermon, and few hellfire pulpiteers can ever have decried sin with quite the zeal he brought to bear on those who would cast doubt on his Prime Minister’s honesty. Surprisingly, despite what must have been the very large clothes peg on his nose, Faine’s voice sounds entirely normal. It is painful to contemplate public money underwriting such hysterics, but it is worth enduring the audio to gain an understanding of the ABC’s debasement.
Did you count Faine’s interruptions? Did you notice the truculence and sarcasm, to be expected of a snotty adolescent but most definitely not from a handsomely remunerated public broadcaster? Did you wonder who is running the ABC and the groupthink that must prevail if such excuse-making and incoherence are taken to be acceptable?
There are some who argue that the ABC has outlived its usefulness as “a market-failure broadcaster” and should be sold off holus bolus, the inmates cut loose to find employment where they can. Count this writer among those who think that would be going too far. Its bush broadcasting, while not without fault, does a serve a market increasingly subjected to the anodine and syndicated ear wax peddled by commercial operators. In the bush, if only for emergency alerts and the latest market prices of turnips and fat lambs, ABC Radio remains something of value.
But the rest of it? Well, listen again to that Friday audio. For once it is Jon Faine who says it all.
Roger Franklin is the editor of Quadrant Online and an irregular broadcaster on ABC 774′s commercial rival, 3AW