Two inquiries into the ABC’s professionalism are due for release shortly: the Ray Martin report on Q&A and Fiona Stanley’s long-overdue examination of science coverage. As each has publicly extolled both the ABC’s virtues and the Coalition’s villainy, their findings, if less than critical, will be inevitably and grossly diminished by the widespread perception that their tasks should have been assigned to other auditors.
The report on Q&A, launched on July 1, was projected to take three months for its examination of 22 episodes. The review is led by one-time Q&A panellist and current ABC fan Ray Martin, who has been teamed with former SBS managing director Shaun Brown. It was prompted by the June 22 grandstanding on Q&A by ABC-invited questioner Zaky Mallah, who had earlier been convicted and done hard time for threatening to kill security officers.[i] This record did not stop the ABC driving him to and from the studio and, before his on-camera moment, providing him with coaching by the show’s producers.
Barely one week after Martin’s appointment, he gave a spray on Channel 7’s Sunrise to then-Prime Minister Tony Abbott for having temporarily banned federal ministers from appearing on Q&A while the inquiry was proceeding. Martin not only called the ban “silly” but said host Tony Jones was as tough on the previous Labor government as on the Coalition. Some of the ”rants and raves” about Q&A had been “crazy”, Martin continued, saying that he hoped his audit would bring some balance to the debate.
Capping off what many will see as a remarkable display of bias, he further suggested the Coalition had been beating up its criticism of Zaky Mallah and Q&A as a pre-election ploy. Any ethical organisation would have replaced Martin to preserve the inquiry’s credibility. Not the ABC, but.
An ABC spokesman responded instead by saying that Martin had been chosen to conduct the audit because
he is independent and the public perceive him to be. That doesn’t mean he can’t express an opinion.[ii] He made it clear that his final view will be shaped by an orderly audit of previous programs. His comments related more to the boycott than to the program itself, and everyone has an opinion on that.
Let’s turn now to Fiona Stanley’s pending report on ABC science, especially climate coverage. Even allowing for delays perhaps attributable to some members’ personal issues, its report is long overdue. When ABC Chairman Jim Spigelman announced the review way back in mid-2013, he told the Academy of Science, loftily, that science reporters were a dying breed outside the ABC, where Robyn Williams and Karl Kruszelnicki were paragons. ABC science coverage stands “head, shoulders, thorax and abdomen” above other broadcasters, he boasted. Strangely, he made this pronouncement in advance of his own panel’s findings. Kruszelnicki, by the way, claimed that global warming since 1997 was six times more than the British Met Office had calculated, then abused columnist Andrew Bolt for getting the figure correct.
Spigelman said that while he is not a climate sceptic, ABC journalists need “to hold scientists and technologists to account for their claims and conduct”. He said “impartiality” included giving opportunities over time for key points of contentious issues to be covered. However, “balance”’ involved following the weight of evidence on topics such as climate change.
We must go beyond PR handouts, or what has been called ‘churnalism’ … What I believe needs most work, is to develop our capacity to appropriately challenge scientists, not least those whose work is distributed by press release from organizations with a vested interest in favourable publicity. That includes, these days, universities.
He emphasized that ABC accuracy and impartiality was not just something the board should promote but which by law it was required to enforce. The panel, Spigelman said, would examine ten representative ABC science stories. After the panel reports, it would run a private symposium with ABC staff on science coverage. The ABC would then issue a public report on the whole exercise. Later, other non-science ABC subject areas will get similar scrutiny, he said. As a sequel to the review of science journalism, the ABC’s political coverage brims with potential.
Amid all Spigelman’s good intentions, he omitted one adjective for his panel: independent. People just assumed the inquiry would be independent, but the ABC speedily appointed one of its own board members, Fiona Stanley, to head the inquiry.
What are the chances of Stanley giving the ABC a stern report sheet?
# First, she adores the ABC.
# Second, she’s a global warming super-activist, making stump speeches for greenies about “saving the planet”, and comparing sceptics to child abusers. So what’s not for her to like about the ABC’s climate alarm coverage?
Here she is talking about the ABC a year ago:
From the age of five, when I was an Argonaut, the ABC has been a force for good in my life and work. It has educated, informed, entertained and excited me for over 60 years. It is a fantastic resource for this nation.
Unfortunately, many of us have taken the ABC for granted. My hope is that readers will realise how valuable our public broadcaster is and fight to save it from further cuts and harassment.
If you only read The Australian, or listen to the views of some politicians, you would think that the ABC is struggling to provide fair coverage of events, is biased in its politics and its science, and that it is wasting tax-payers’ dollars. Have you noticed that journalists critical of the ABC have started to call it ‘the taxpayer-funded ABC’?” [Well yes, Fiona, strange, that].
“As a scientist”, as Stanley described herself, she believes the ABC is doing a great job, while “We are now in a situation where a major commercial news organisation [i.e. News Corp] is denigrating the ABC with a vicious, sustained campaign which is extremely damaging to our public broadcaster and to the nation.”
The nub of Stanley’s science inquiry involves the work of Robyn Williams, the maestro of the ABC’s flagship Science Show.[iii] Any normal auditor would be alert against creating perceived bias for or against Williams. Not Stanley.
She went on Williams’ show, mid-inquiry a year ago, to publicly sing its praises:
Fiona Stanley: There are lots of ways in which both Robyn Williams and Norman Swan are impacting Australia. There is no doubt that there is a huge both listening public and podcasting public that pick up on their programs.
Sharon Carleton [co-presenter]: Praise indeed from respected paediatrician Professor Fiona Stanley.
Fiona Stanley: And many of those podcasts are actually international, and so they are used extensively by people who are interested in science and health. We use them for teaching, in medical schools, and I’m sure they use them in public health. And so the impact, I think, goes way beyond the initial program.
Two of her inquiry panel members – we kid you not – are ex-Media Watch compere and climate alarmist Jonathan Holmes and ex-ABC Triple J comedian Adam Spencer. A mixed bag – see here – of half a dozen outsiders complete the panel. Stanley, who has a distinguished background in epidemiology, paediatrics and Aboriginal health, has a new career as a climate doomster and public speaker, for which she charges as much as $15,000 per appearance. Almost 19 years of no appreciable warming has not diminished her catastropharian zeal in the slightest.
In April last year, mid-way in the ABC inquiry into the impartiality and accuracy of the ABC’s climate coverage, she actually compared climate sceptics with child abusers! “The way we are living on this planet is unsustainable, and that’s why I’m worried for my children, and my grandchildren and their children,” she said. By analogy, our own great-grandparents circa 1900 should have been worrying about threats to you and me in 2015.
Stanley’s forward genealogical concerns extend even beyond her great-grandchildren. She was lead signatory to a self-described “Monster Climate Petition” launched by greenies and luvvies in mid-2014, which included in its preamble:
It’s 3:23 in the morning and I’m awake because my great-great-grandchildren won’t let me sleep. My great-great-grandchildren ask me in dreams what did you do while the planet was plundered? What did you do when the earth was unraveling? (My emphasis)
“I’m not a climate-change expert,” Stanley gushed with commendable frankness. “But I do trust the incredible [well said, Fiona!] scientific evidence … We don’t actually know if [warming] is on the rise, but all the risk factors for it are on the rise.” Make what you can of that.
Climate sceptics make her “anxious and angry”, she has said, because they were dissing her favourite scientists and hurting those generations as yet unborn. What we should be doing, she said, is eating less meat and catching more buses and trains. Anyone spotted Fiona returning from one of her speaking engagements on a Transperth bus, possibly munching a carrot?
Her logic runs as straight as a worm in compost. On the one hand, she says “the data is very compelling”, but on the other
To expect science to be able to predict something as complex as what is going to happen on this planet, given human activity and other things, is extraordinarily challenging and I think it is pathetic of people to criticise the imprecise nature of the science…
My bet: the two ABC inquiries will issue nuanced results like this:
Ray Martin/Brown inquiry: “Ten out of ten for Q&A!”
Fiona Stanley inquiry on accuracy and impartiality of ABC science coverage: “Ten out of ten for ABC Science!”
You read it here first.
Oh, and by the way, the ABC in both cases declines to reveal how much the two teams are being paid. Whatever sums are involved, if Martin and Stanley really care about the ABC’s credibility and their own, they should step aside and let others tackle these job afresh..
Tony Thomas blogs at No BS Here (I Hope)
Justice Wood, when sentencing Zaky Mallah in 2005 to 30 months jail, had even then deplored the way the media had adopted Mallah and “gave him an entirely undeserved and unnecessary exposure… Placing a person such as the prisoner into the public spotlight is … likely to encourage him to embark on even more outrageous and extravagant behaviour.”
Mallah registered to go on Q&A in 2011, went into the audience twice, and was booked by the ABC into the audience another three times, but was a no-show. He asked twice to join the panel but – and this is a mystery – Q&A rejected him. On a further occasion Q&A begged him to join an audience, but he in turn rejected the Q&A invitation. Then there was his June 22 appearance. (Dept of Communications report, 1/7/15).
[ii] Presumably the ABC would see nothing untoward in a judge remarking at the start of a murder trial, “Well personally I’d say this fellow’s innocent.”
[iii] Williams a year ago gave a platform to climate fabulist Naomi Oreskes to predict that global warming in 2023 would kill everyone’s kittens and puppies, a prospect that thrilled Williams because of its educative potential.
Williams: Yes, not only because it’s an animal but it’s local. You see, one criticism of the scientists is they’re always talking about global things…And so if you are looking at your village, your animals, your fields, your park, your kids, and the scientists are talking about a small world that you know, then it makes a greater impact, doesn’t it.