For one tantalising moment on the oh-so-progressive Jon Faine 774 ABC Melbourne programme, the earnestly progressive social researcher Hugh Mackay seemed to reach out a metaphorical hand to not-so-progressive fellow guest Nick Cater, author of The Lucky Culture: And the rise of an Australian ruling class (2013). Mackay, on the show to promote his own tome, The Good Life: What makes life worth living? (2013), assured the listeners that, as an advocate of the Golden Rule, he had been paying close attention to Cater’s argument, and even agreed with him that journalists hold attitudes notably different from regular Australians. Cater must have swooned at the prospect of somebody on the ABC, albeit a guest, endorsing his ‘New Class’ thesis.
Alas, it was not to be. Journalists are different, Mackay clarified, but only on account of being more “open-minded” than ordinary folk. Open-mindedness, or at least a modern-day version of it, is the raison d’être of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Take, as an instance, the open-mindedness of the aforementioned Jon Faine, who cultivates an image of sophisticated bonhomie – unless his guest is, say, James Delingpole, catastrophic anthropogenic global warming (CAGW) skeptic. On that occasion, April 27, 2012, Delingpole’s denial of imminent catastrophe prompted a paroxysm of frenzy on the part of our radio host (audio of their encounter can be found here).
Most of us are more circumspect than Delingpole, especially when we speak to open-minded people who are controlling the microphone. On Tony Jones’ Q&A programme, for instance, the best way for the forlorn conservative panellist (if there be one) is not to provoke the ire of host, fellow panellists and baying crowd – open-minded one and all – by keeping thoughts to oneself.
Not until the 1960s, according to The Lucky Culture, did the ABC become truly open-minded. “Salaried bohemians” commandeered the national broadcaster in order to liberate Australians from traditional prejudices and make us more receptive to new ideas. Coincidentally, these new ideas were identical to those of the salaried bohemians. Down through the decades the ABC has been open-minded about so many things –- gay marriage, Kevin Rudd, John Pilger, Noam Chomsky, Hugo Chávez, Michael Moore, Michael Mann, Robert Manne, Bill Henson, Ken Park, the Muslim Brotherhood, Barack Obama, the First Intifada, the Second Intifada, Julian Assange, Julia Gillard, border security, national security, Paul Collins, Paul Krugman, Yasser Arafat, Al Jazeera, the Greens, Andrew Wilkie and now Edward Snowden. Over the years, Phillip Adams — whose fragrance Sophistique Bonhomie was released by last year by Proctor and Gamble — has been open-minded enough to invite Christopher Hitchens onto his Lateline radio programme to impart a running Trotskyist critique of American foreign policy. All good things come to an end, sadly, and the world’s most famous Marxist became something of an unperson on Lateline after performing an unpardonable political volte-face, though Hitch did make a brief return when momentarily open-minded enough to be a candidate for an ideological waterboarding.
Earlier this year Andrew Bolt fumed when the ABC’s latest choice for host of Media Watch was announced. Every single compere of the programme, in the opinion of Bolt, has been a political partisan, from Stuart Littlemore to the second coming of Paul Barry. Contraire, responded the ABC’s Managing Director Mark Scott, unable to identify any “ideological bias” in Media Watch presenters. Bolt was incredulous. Not even Howard-whacking Jonathan Green? And, for heavens sake, what about David Marr? No ideological bias, insisted Mark Scott, doing his best impersonation of the sophisticated bonhomie of his media personalities. It is not about ‘Left’ and ‘Right’ and other such contrivances. Media Watch hosts have always been talented and highly professional, and these are the qualities that drive such a programme. Integrity rules and politics should not and does not come into it. Mr Bolt ought to have known all that. No explanation, of course, for why Bolt’s application to be Media Watch’s new presenter had been rejected. Then again the man is a CAGW skeptic and being a ‘denier’ hardly falls under the category of open-mindedness, as defined by the ABC.
The ruse of open-mindedness, over the past half-century, has enabled bohemia-styled socialists to capture the commanding heights of our erstwhile Judeo-Christian nation, from the education system and academia to many of our mainstream Christian denominations. The march of the left through our social institutions has been that much more effective for the marchers themselves believing they march to their own drum. They are all – cough, cough – individuals. We have to accept the probability, as astonishing as it might sound, that Mark Scott genuinely thinks the ghosts of Media Watch past and present have been without “ideological bias”. Conservatives must also face the likelihood that ABC management really believes publishing Edward Snowden’s leaked documents best serves Australia’s national interest – the national interest being best served by the humiliation of a Coalition government and undermining its “stop the boats” agenda.
The crucial point, then, is that the ABC’s undeclared war on Tony Abbott is not, in the first instance, personal. Many Labor-Green supporters like to believe they have a soft spot for Malcolm Turnbull, but that soft spot would harden up quickly enough if circumstances catapulted him back into the leadership position. Turnbull might chose to believe that his open-mindedness about Bill Henson, Barack Obama, CAGW and even the ABC itself provides him with a certain diplomatic immunity in the never-ending culture wars, but he would be deluding himself. The perceived close-mindedness inherent in his Liberal Party membership trumps a handful of open-minded positions any day. The ABC undercut him when he was leader of the Liberal Party, and they would do it all over again if the need arose. The ABC – the tax-funded radio and television network of Australia’s modern-day left – has been at war since the 1960s with something bigger than the personal foibles of a Malcolm Turnbull or a Tony Abbott. The ABC’s undeclared mission statement is to reconfigure Australian society; the takedown of Tony Abbott’s character, paradoxically, is nothing personal.
The New Left – I’m sorry, The Open-Minded – have undertaken to uproot traditional Australian prejudices, and yet their own intolerance has to be experienced to be believed. Some Liberal politicians attempt to avoid opprobrium by disowning the conservative tag -– à la Malcolm Turnbull – and proclaiming their affection for the ABC, but all in vain. Tony Abbott, in three recent interviews on The Bolt Report between late August and erly December, has repeated that he was “not going to complain” about the ABC. In the first interview – just two weeks before the election, to be fair — acknowledged that sometimes he comes off “second best” on an ABC programme, but this had been “much more my fault than it is the ABC’s.”
At least he agreed in the second of the those interview – which occurred after the election – “that there tends to be an ABC view of the world” which was “not a view of the world that I find myself in total sympathy with”. Nevertheless, five weeks later, after a mounting a blistering campaign against the Coalition government on every front, including almost daring the Indonesians to break off relations with Australia, Abbott remained sanguine about the ABC, confident the critics will be won over by sound economic management and fixing the $400 billion debt bequeathed to the nation by the Rudd-Gillard Labor administrations. We remember, of course, how admiring the ABC was when the Howard government put right the $96 billion debt left by the Keating Labor government.
One possible advantage of being a born-again conservative, rather than a life-long traditionalist such as Tony Abbott, is that we remember what conservatives looked like from the other side of the great divide. It was not a pretty sight; akin, perhaps, to the way a proponent of apartheid in South Africa might have viewed the non-white population. The apartheid allusion also holds true in the sense that the ABC fails to reflect in its programming and political perspective the views of the majority of Australians, more than 52 per cent of whom preferenced the Coalition parties at the September 7 election. Given the fantastic salaries the ABC has now been shown to pay its on-air personalities, is it time the marginalised majority of tax-paying Australians were properly represented on the airwaves? Amanda Vanstone’s Counterpoint, a one-hour programme on Radio National (Monday at 4 p.m. and repeated on Friday at 1 p.m.) amounts to nothing more than tokenism, and we learned from the anti-apartheid campaign that tokenism is never enough.
There have been rumblings in the Liberal Party – in the Victorian branch earlier this year, for instance – about privatising the ABC and SBS, but it seemed as if it might be an issue destined to remain on the back burner. The Edward Snowden episode, not to mention the salary revelations, has produced something of a sea change amongst conservatives. I am not convinced Tony Abbott appreciates this. On October 25 he argued that because he was a conservative he did not see the need for a “radical change”, which sounded almost plausible at the time, if somewhat disingenuous. But the ground under his feet has shifted since then. Henceforth Abbott will be no more able to support the status quo at the ABC than Malcolm Turnbull could successfully sustain the Liberal Party’s endorsement of Kevin Rudd’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS). Abbott must address the ABC conundrum and that involves more than ensuring “the ABC is well managed, has a good board, a strong board”.
There are two choices for the Coalition, the first involves taking a leaf out of the New Left’s own handbook – affirmative action. For that to happen, though, the ABC must first own up to the fifty-year-old delusion of open-mindedness. All we ask is that for every episode of Media Watch hosted by Paul Barry there’s another one straight afterwards anchored by, say, Andrew Bolt – for every 7:30 Report an 8:30 Report, for every Lateline a Laterline, for every Insiders an Outsiders, and so on. Characters like Kerry O’Brien of “Bennelong has seen a large swing to the ABC” can come out of the political closet and be themselves.
On the other hand, if the ABC refuses to honour its commitment “to deliver content with integrity, diligence and transparency and to act in the interests of citizens”, the second option open to the Coalition government is to privatise the corporation, a not unreasonable outcome given that it would save the Australian taxpayer $1.1 billion (and climbing) every year, which includes Tony Jones’ $355,789 salary, Jon Faine’s $285,249, Fran Kelly’s $255,000, Paul Barry’s $191,259, Barry Cassidy’s $243,478 and Mark Scott’s own not inconsiderable of $773,787.
Salaried bohemians, they should have warned us back in the 1960s, do not come cheap.