Does anyone else feel as though our national broadcaster, the one that sucks in over a billion dollars a year of taxpayer monies, is doing the unimaginable and showing itself to be even more biased today than it was a year or two ago?
Given the choice between selecting questions, deciding on what to cover and revealing implicit assumptions that favour a right-of-centre Coalition worldview or those favouring the Labor and/or Greens perspective, the ABC opts for the latter virtually every time. Okay, every time without exception.
When reporting on matters to do with the federal Coalition government itself, and given the choice between implicitly favouring a Tony Abbott outlook or a Malcolm Turnbull outlook, the ABC is so evidently and unashamedly in the latter’s camp you might almost think he is the Minister in charge of its budget. Oh, hang on, so he is! But even were he not, I doubt there is a single sentient Australian who doubts that the ABC’s top presenters, producers and reporters virtually all find Mr. Turnbull a more congenial figure than Mr. Abbott. And they do little to disguise that preference.
Of course many, many, many of Mr. Turnbull’s supporters are Labor supporters, and while they won’t actually vote for him, they do prefer him to Mr. Abbott — hardly surprising, given that Mr. Abbott is more conservative.
So, to steal a line from a recent British journalist who was visiting our shores, the ABC leans so far to the left that it makes the BBC seem like Fox News. You might think that that an exaggeration. Well, I’ve just returned from a week of work in London, where I watched a fair few BBC political shows. Sure, the BBC leans left. But you know what? They actually employ a few presenters with right-of-centre pedigrees. To the eternal shame of our ABC (allowing that it is capable of shame), Mark Scott and the Board of the ABC, there is still not a single presenter or producer of a big-ticket current affairs show with right-of-centre credentials or that sort of pedigree. Not a single one.
How is that compatible with the ABC Charter and its statutory obligation to be impartial? The answer: it isn’t.
Especially galling is that the ABC Board seems not to care. It has certainly not forced Mr. Scott to remedy this gross and glaring imbalance. And let me remind you: your tax money (and mine) is being spent by an organisation that appears to see itself as the propaganda arm of the Greens. It will criticize Labor, but always from the pro-boat people, soft-on-Islamic extremism, big-government, anti-labour relations reform (and so on ad nauseum) perspective. In other words, when the ABC does attack Labor it’s from the left.
I don’t care in the slightest if others wish to pay for this sort of worldview by buying The Age or SMH. But I resent it terribly when I am forced to pay taxes to fund such an organisation. It stinks that the ABC Board under Jim Spigelman is doing nothing about this.
And so to my last point. It should now be clear to Mr. Abbott, and indeed to the non-Turnbull wing of the Liberal Party (meaning all those MPs who actually have a conservative bone in their bodies, and I am not at all clear how many that might be), that something has to be done about the ABC. Co-existence is not a long-term option. The ABC will set out to destroy any Coalition government that advocates policies that are (in world terms) in line with those of, say, Prime Minister Harper in Canada or Prime Minister Key in New Zealand. (I deliberately omit Mr. Cameron in the UK.) So, sooner or later, a conservative government will have to do something and it might as well be this one.
But do what? Putting solid people on the Board is clearly a waste of time. Quadrant‘s Keith Windschuttle and The Australian‘s Janet Albrechtsen have been on the Board. They accomplished nothing, if I can be forgiven for being blunt. I have said for a while that the government needs to pass a statute that requires all top-line current affairs shows to have two hosts, one clearly with a pedigree from each side of politics. Opposing such legislation, as Labor and the Greens would be bound to do, will make plain just how disgracefully one-side the ABC stacking of its shows really is.
It might also make the ABC take ads. This worked in Canada by forcing the nation’s CBC to put on shows, including current affairs programmes, that drew audiences from more than the luvvie inner-city crowd. Otherwise no advertiser would go near them.
But this requires government ministers to state the obvious, and to do so repeatedly. “Our ABC” is not ours at all. It’s yours, all you Ultimo lefties, who seem to think you are morally superior to those of us with small-government, protect-our-borders preferences. You think your moral antennae quiver at a moral frequency that makes you better moral beings than we poor benighted slobs who vote Coalition. These days you barely bother to hide your sanctimonious bag-of-wind preaching.
It’s time to call this out, Coalition Cabinet Ministers. It’s time to tell Mr. Scott that his organisation must be more like the BBC and the CBC. I never thought I’d be saying that but, in comparative terms, they are both bastions of impartiality and fairness.
If Mark Scott can’t fairly run the organisation of which he proudly proclaims himself “editor-in-chief”, then fire him and fire him now. Right Now.
James Allan, Garrick Professor of Law at the University of Queensland, is the author of Democracy in Decline