Senator Mitch Fifield hails from Victoria, which explains rather a lot. When the ABC’s latest ministerial overseer says, as he did on Monday, that the national broadcaster could not have had a better steward than Mark Scott, it is important to supply the needed context, which is this: To a Garden State Liberal, long accustomed to failure and adversity, anything marginally more pleasant than armpits swollen with buboes qualifies as a great success.
Fifield’s is the state — or was until premiers Baillieu and Napthine handed it straight back to Labor after a single do-nothing term — which actually recorded a swing to Gillard in 2010. That was the election Tony Abbot came thisclose to winning, and it was Victoria which cost him most dear while inflicting on the rest of the nation a two-year dose of Tony Windsor’s bitchy spite and Rob Oakeshott’s prolix incoherence. It was in Victoria, too, where Fifield’s state colleagues swore blind that they would repeal our state’s Charter of Human Rights, another playground for lawyers, provocateurs and sinecured grievance mongers, only to repudiate that pledge upon election with barely a pause for breath. If there is any hope whatsoever to be drawn from the minister’s kind words for the national broadcaster’s managing director and self-appointed editor-in-chief it is that, as a leading Victorian Liberal, not a syllable he utters can be taken seriously.
Sadly, given that he was elevated to his portfolio by a Prime Minister still sudsy from the prolonged soft-soaping of Scott’s newsroom minions, Fifield’s instantly stated delight in the excellence 0f the ABC is likely inspired, if not by sincerity, certainly by an astute desire to get no one offside, especially his new leader. Why, the tongue-bathing he lavished upon Scott could even work! When the election is called, the ABC might, just might, re-pay the favour of Fifield’s praise by making some pretense of unbiased coverage. This hope that being nice to those who detest you will reap dividends is another characteristic of Victorian Liberals, as Baillieu demonstrated by annually sharing a table at the Premier’s Literary Awards with the keyboard-ticklers of Melbourne’s grant-fed literary set. The luvvies thought him a great bloke, but only when he was within earshot and had a cheque book handy. In gushing over Mark Scott while pointedly neglecting to make any mention of budget cuts, nepotism, secret contracts, huge salaries, sweetheart gigs for semi-retired talking heads, higher programming standards and doctored photos of pants-down conservatives mounting dogs, Fifield is honouring another aspect of his Victorian heritage: comfort your enemies, spurn your friends.
All of the above is by way of an introduction to what will be, without a doubt, yet another case of a Victorian Liberal pointedly ignoring both duty and, if only Fifield had the kidney to exploit it, a prime opportunity to emphatically remind the ABC of the obligation to observe its Charter. The moment that will, undoubtedly, go un-seized came midway through Monday night’s Q&A, when host Tony Jones unburdened himself of a dim-witticism directed at Fifield’s party colleague on the red benches, Cory Bernardi.
“You mentioned Cory Bernardi there and some on the Right have urged him to start his own Right-wing party — Cory Bernardi’s Golden Dawn or something …” quipped Jones.
Golden Dawn is, of course, the jackbooted, Nazi-saluting party for Jew-hating crypto-fascists whose ranks have swollen in response to the incompetence, corruption and escalating chaos inflicted by Greece’s succession of spendthrift leftist leaders (thus does one trash pile spawn another). Jones, an alleged news-biz professional, could reasonably be expected to know as much. But no, he is no better than a superbly remunerated ignoramus, according to Q&A executive producer Peter McEvoy, whose response to Bernardi’s complaint figures in the senator’s latest newsletter. The relevant section is reproduced below:
“… yet Tony Jones thinks it is okay to link a conservative Federal Senator to such a disgusting movement.
I contacted the producer of Q&A to register my disgust at such a reference and received a response that included the following passage:
“Tony’s remark was flippant – giving a fictitious party name to a proposal circulated by Senator Bernardi’s supporters, including Andrew Bolt.”
What the producer was telling me was that the ABC’s pre-eminent current affairs host had no idea that Golden Dawn was actually a real political party even though he had reported on them in recent years.
The excuse was almost as offensive in its ignorance as the original deliberate slur…”
Q&A is accustomed to this sort of flack; indeed, it thrives on the long, loose leash that allows it, time after time, to shrug off the reactions to its latest outrages. If not for Islamic hotheads, stacked audiences, thrown shoes, feral invasions and the fun of betting on the number of times Jones interrupts conservative guests (allowing that the show’s bookers actually invite a conservative, that is), the show would not be worth watching at all. Like a gruesome car crash, however, with fairness and balance mangled and twisted in the wreckage, it can be hard to look away no matter how much you might want to.
Thing is, though, the official Q&A response is very hard to credence — not, mind you, the implication that Jones is an overpaid dill, but the assertion that, on the topic of Golden Dawn, he is an uninformed dill. On October 5, 2012, Jones himself introduced a Lateline segment on Greece’s turmoil which not only made prominent mention of Golden Dawn but actually included a few words with one of its prime movers. Before McEvoy dashes off another cavalier dismissal, let us concede that Jones might not have been paying attention to the clip he prefaced. There are are monitors all over TV studios and the temptation to admire his own image might have been a distraction.
Harder to ignore — impossible, actually — is Jones’ more recent mention of Golden Dawn which went to air in April on Q&A. This airing demonstrates beyond doubt or quibble that Jones knew exactly what he was saying when he made that crack about “Bernardi’s Golden Dawn”. Jones was swapping views with guest Nana Mouskouri when the following exchange went to air. Notice in particular Jones’ reference to the 17 seats Golden Dawn occupies in the Greek parliament. Not only does he known the name of the party and what it represents, he can state with precision how many representatives it boasts.
NANA MOUSKOURI: Some people, the other side, maybe is more exigent. How do you say? More demanding, but they all have something right. You cannot condemn. Of course, the crime is very hard, yes.
TONY JONES: Can you actually reason with, for example, in Greece you have a political party called Golden Dawn?
MOUSKOURI: Yes. Yes.
JONES: Openly, the leader describes himself as racist.
JONES: Can you reason with a political party like that, I wonder?
MOUSKOURI: No, I cannot, but, you know, the problem is that people have voted and they are in the Parliament. So, they have to find a reason why this was created and maybe we are – in Greece also we have a responsibility to ignore maybe the social situation sometimes and so that the people come to have help from a party like this and it is voters and they are really in the government.
JONES: Yes, I think they have 17 seats.
So just to re-cap: A TV host drawing his significant salary on the public purse makes a cheap, vile crack about an elected politician. His bare-faced producer, who has form, then asserts it was all an innocent mistake despite, presumably, being well aware that his show’s star discussed Golden Dawn in detail just a few weeks earlier. One hesitates to use the word “liars” but in this instance, under these circumstances, a better descriptor does not come readily to mind.
But wait, there is more. In addition to its other activities — amongst them, stealing market share from for-profit news outfits and thereby putting non-ABC journalists in Centrelink queues — the national broadcaster also struts its hip-dude presence on Facebook. Have a look at this page and do note the month-old dates on the various comments. As the page may well vanish down the ABC’s memory hole, the rankest posts have been preserved for posterity via the screen grabs below. The question to which the ABC invited Facebookers to respond: “What do you think of the Golden Dawn Party”, which had just announced its intention to send a party of election workers to Australia in quest of votes from the Greek diaspora.
Could Jones have spied the above comment and made a mental note? There is plenty more of the same where that came from, but not a trace of the balance the ABC’s Charter obliges it to observe:
Remember, all of the above is from the Facebook page of the same ABC which is pledged to inform and entertain all Australians, not just Greens, Labor’s left and unwashed layabouts afflicted with father issues and arts degrees. It is the easiest thing in the world to delete offensive Facebook comments, yet ABC employees have allowed this bile to dribble down its Facebook page for well over a month.
Minister Fifield might want to investigate and, perhaps, insist on the appropriate disciplinary action. Then again, given his new leader’s fawning respect for the ABC, which did so much to install him in The Lodge, perhaps not. After all, that nice-and-lovely approach worked so very well in Victoria.
Roger Franklin is the editor of Quadrant Online.