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February 04th 2018 print

Geoffrey Luck

The Arrogant and Inviolate ABC

That the national broadcaster broke the law in the Cabinet Files matter is beyond dispute, yet there was our craven PM on Insiders vowing grief for an unknown public servant while uttering not a peep against those who shared the documents among themselves and broadcast their contents to the world

their abcEthics and its constraints are rarely front and centre in deliberations within the ABC. Reporters blatantly obscure the truth, distort by selection or emphasis, and add their own commentary, often with a sneer. Prestigious current affairs programmes devoted principally to sensationalism defame individuals and industries on the basis of old film or material supplied by outside partisan groups and presented out of context.

I was just getting to grips with the latest ABC misinterpretation of the American political scene by its leading Washington correspondent when Saturday Extra leapt out of my radio with a discussion of the ethics involved in the infamous Cabinet Papers case. I should have known better than to think even for a moment that Geraldine Doogue would permit any questioning of the ABC’s handling of the documents.

Indeed, her interview with Simon Longstaff, executive director of The Ethics Centre (formerly known as the St James Ethics Centre) was an illustrative example of the ABC’s look-over-there/nothing-to-see-here approach to important issues. The interview was devoted to “ethics”, but not those of ABC News’ publication of selected documents from the top secret trove. Rather, the segment focused on the as-yet-unidentified individual who purchased those filing cabinets.

Longstaff had no difficulty, right off, in finding that, ordinarily, the obligations is to return what is not yours to the rightful owner — in this instance top-secret documents to the government which misplaced them. But then he began to equivocate with a series of hypotheticals about what might have run through the unnamed individual’s mind.

“He may have been appealing to a higher order of good than his ordinary moral intuition had in this case,” said Longstaff, the man who once invited an Islamic absolutist to defend honour killings at his Festival of Dangerous Ideas.  The man John Lyons in The Australian tells us is but a simple bushie who can’t cook vegetables obviously thought, surmised Longstaff, that the papers were no longer of use to the government. Or maybe, if they were, that some higher good to be served by passing them to the ABC.

Doogue pounced: “He saw a gap between what he was seeing occur in the broader community and what he was reading in these papers. Very much as anyone who has gone to see The Post, the (movie) story of the Pentagon Papers being leaked.”

Although he pointed out that by handing over the papers, the obligation to face the ethical question of what to do with them was transferred to the ABC, Longstaff stopped short of considering what the national broadcaster should have done. The nearest he came was to observe the ABC loved disclosing what it did, not to mention seeing itself and its scoop all over the nation’s front pages and home pages as a result.

And that was as close as the ABC’s Doogue came to examining her employer’s conduct — or misconduct, to be accurate, since the publication of state secrets is a clear and obvious breach of the law.

Meanwhile, the ABC had thrown up a smokescreen with the publication on its website, and simultaneously in The Australian,  of the ostensible account of how it came to acquire the document trove. Even allowing for the reasonable need to obscure its source, almost everything in the report stretched credulity. What was notable was what the report didn’t say about any consultations that might have taken place about the ethics of broadcasting, selectively, information from highly confidential documents to which the ABC had no title. There was nothing but self-serving sanctimony about how responsible the national broadcaster had been in not publishing any documents that, in its view and its view alone, could endanger public safety or national security.

The Australian story was valuable, however, in establishing that

  • the ABC had possession of the documents for months before the first story appeared
  • it made photocopies which were sent to Brisbane and Melbourne (why, was not explained)
  • that the most senior levels of the News Department were involved throughout, and therefore responsible
  • it had been decided to concentrate on stories that would embarrass politicians – Rudd, Wong, Morrison and Abbott (although not in that order).

As Director of News Gaven Morris put it: “We could have told hundreds of stories over weeks or months.” So for many weeks, many ABC people read many, if not all the documents. The government and the public are entitled to ask; “How secure is that information?”

Hundreds of bits of classified information – some involving national security and personal reputations – are now in the hands (and minds) of people who have no right to them.

So far we have seen not the slightest hint that the ABC will be held to account for violating the law. Prime Minister Turnbull, in full Jim Hacker mode, sternly informed Sunday morning’s Insiders that heads must roll. But he was talking only of the unknown public servant(s) who let the files slip out and away. Of the ABC, which cannot invoke the defence of culpable absentmindedness, he uttered not a word of rebuke. Such is the fear the ABC incites in the spineless.

Given the ABC’s reputation for unethical conduct and rash reporting, especially as revealed in this case, who is to say such information will not re-surface, to be used journalistically and perhaps viciously? In case you need reminding, it was the ABC which jumped on that slanderous yarn about RAN sailors torturing illegal aliens aboard their leaky boats. It was such tosh and nonsense even Media Watch had to admit it was not the national broadcaster’s finest hour. By the reckoning of less partisan observers it was a politically motivated package of flat-out untruths.

This latest ethical fail by the ABC is merely the most dramatic example of the journalistic greed that has now corrupted the national broadcaster. From a proud and disciplined organisation which did a lot with limited resources, it has become a wealthy, self-indulgent and self-pleasuring colossus which no longer tells the public what it needs to know. Now it tells the public what to think and how to think.

For more than a year, listeners and viewers of ABC programmes have been subjected to a continuous barrage of mis-reporting of US politics.  Not content with openly barracking for Hillary Clinton and publicly weeping at her defeat, the ABC has carried on guerrilla warfare against Australians’ perceptions of the incumbent president. Broadcasts that seek not to explain and interpret but to condemn and decry have been its journalists’ specialty. Through 2017, the popular Breakfast session carried a daily feature by Matt Bevan, a sneerer of the first order, who has offered little more than summaries of the latest critical, abusive or distorted American commentary. A regular programme, Planet America makes clear in its very title that it is a send-up American politics in general and the Trump White House in particular. Of course it presents itself as a source of informed analysis even though one of the comperes is a “comedian” from The Chaser. At least the temptation to President Trump fornicating with a dog was resisted, which is something, I suppose.

For months the ABC and its Washington bureau have been barracking for impeachment. Their hopes have been pinned on the allegations of Russian collusion that allegedly undermined the Clinton campaign and prompted the ongoing investigation by a special prosecutor. What the ABC’s Washington  bureau has avoided  is the significance of the Clinton campaign/Democratic Party-funded dossier that was put to political use by the FBI under James Comey.

We have now learned the extent of the conspiracy with the release of the memo from the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee. The Federalist website succinctly lays out the key seven points raised in the memo. But none of that from the ABC and its senior Washington correspondent, Zoe Daniels, who has focused her recent reporting on the strenuous efforts by Democrats to prevent the memo’s release. Her report on the AM programme dodged its significant details and went straight to FBI denials and the fact that the Democrats had a 10-page rebuttal. These are some of the things in the Congressional memo (read the original here) that Daniels didn’t think worth mentioning:

  • the fact that the anti-Trump dossier – an essential part of the case – had been funded by the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee was not revealed to the FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) court when applying for surveillance of a junior Trump staffer. Not initially, or for three subsequent extensions.
  • that senior FBI and Department of Justice officials knew that the political origins of the dossier.
  • the author of the dossier, former British spook Christopher Steele, had a personal bias against Donald Trump and told a senior Justice official he was “desperate that Donald Trump not get elected and was passionate about him not being president.”
  • Steelewas first suspended and then terminated as an FBI source for crowing to journalists of his relationship with the FBI.
  • the FBI authorized payments to Steele, but never disclosed that in its applications to FISA.
  • the FBI had assessed the Steele dossier as “uncorroborated”, and after his termination, as only “minimally corroborated.”
  • three of the four applications to the FISA court were signed by James Comey, who publicly described the Steele dossier as “salacious and unverified”.
  • FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe had admitted to the House Intelligence Committee in December 2017 that without the dossier no surveillance warrant would have been sought from the FISA court.

Australia has reached the stage where news from its national  broadcaster is no longer trustworthy. Process and technique have replaced authenticity in reporting. In the plethora of live reports from the sites of trivial events, reporters conduct cosy chats with the studio anchors instead of reporting to the audience. Instead of tightly scripted reports that can be read by the studio announcer, the emphasis is on ‘being there’, without regard for whether it adds anything to the story or its drama. So we have long-winded ad-libbed rambles from on-the-spot, with the only result being time wasted that could be used for other, more, or better stories.

Let commercial TV outfits make their reporters stand thigh-deep in floodwaters for live crosses, shiver in snow banks or whatever other stunts they believe will help their news shows sell soap powder. The ABC should be above that and once, long ago, it was, when news reported straight and without bias or omission was the basis of its reputation. The casualness with which its reporters use unnecessary adjectives, prefix their reports with redundant verbal flourishes, and end them with gratuitous opinionated conclusions further demonstrate why listeners and viewers can no longer turn to it for authentic fact, why its breathless reporting demands a dose of salt.

It is now thirty-seven years since the Dix Report on the ABC. It’s time for another root-and-branch investigation of this billion-dollar elephant before it goes further out of control and does more damage to the villagers who own it and the unvarnished, un-slanted truth they pay for and are entitled to hear.

Comments [17]

  1. Christopher Saitta says:

    The ABC, vast majority of universities, political parties, and crazy political groups don’t have any idea of what Sydney or Melbourne will look like in a couple of decades on the current trajectory. Their persistent push for the melting-pot utopia that embraces all behaviors, cultures, religions, peoples and races will lead to homosexual nightclubs being blown-up by Islamic extremists, fighting between ethnic races, a widening divide between Left vs Right, exponential rises in general terrorism, and the overall inevitable decline of our cities. Possibly the Chinese immigrants might gain control of Sydney and Melbourne, however this hasn’t been sanctioned by the people of Sydney and Melbourne looking into the future.

    I recommend that Sydney and Melbourne move toward a system similar to the Swiss Cantons, where we decide collectively on who is allowed to enter and live in the city!

    The lunatic stewardship of Clover Moore is truly worrying and disgraceful. Perhaps we should make sure that we fly the homosexual, Australian, Aboriginal and ISIS flag on the harbor bridge! After all, it is a gesture of unity according to these lost and deluded politicians, leaders and mayors.

    On a side note:

    I wonder what would have happened if an Islamic conquest occurred on the Australian continent? Perhaps it would look like much of Indonesia today with an Island or 2 (Bali) still knowing and embracing their culture, language and peoples.

    Sometimes I think that the Aboriginal people deserve to have been conquered by Islam for their insolence.

    • whitelaughter says:

      Indonesia controls rebellious islands by dropping large numbers of Javanese colonists on them, allowing them to claim ‘the majority wants’ and giving their military a friendly base to operate from. They’d do exactly the same in OZ; they can easily drop 30 million people here, ensuring their permanent control.

  2. Christopher Saitta says:

    I think I am going to go for the Peking Duck: if I have to choose one, some or all of the following;

    - raging homosexuals, misguided indigenous, dumb liberals, lunatic socialists and/or dumb university academics

    that will decide on the future of Australia.

    I am Happy to marry a Chinese woman as opposed to the alternatives.

  3. Rayvic says:

    Geoffrey Luck should be commended for his expose of how unprofessional the ABC has become. So much so, that the ABC can no longer be trusted as an impartial reporter of news.

    Besides going overboard by deliberately misreporting US politics, the ABC has consistently censored views that are politically incorrect, e.g. those opposed to man-made global warming, and so-called same-sex marriage.

    His concluding remarks are worth repeating: “It is now thirty-seven years since the Dix Report on the ABC. It’s time for another root-and-branch investigation of this billion-dollar elephant before it goes further out of control and does more damage to the villagers who own it and the unvarnished, un-slanted truth they pay for and are entitled to hear.”

    Luck

    • padraic says:

      I also read that article by John Lyons in the Australian on the weekend. One thing that struck me was how do you “research journalists” as did the “bushie” who “discovered (presumably on the Internet) that McKinnon had been to courts more than 100 times fighting for the release of documents”? I have to say that I was less than impressed with the article.

      • ianl says:

        Said article was a deliberate puff-piece. The current editor-in-chief of The Aus (been there about 18 months or so, I think) was appointed from the Fairfax stable and from the beginning deliberately started turning the ship-of-state to port.

  4. Mr Johnson says:

    Malcolm won’t touch the ABC as long as he believes they’ll provide cover and support against a return of Tony Abbott. But as soon as Tanya Plibersek removes Bill Shorten, and it’ll happen soon, he’ll get the surprise of his life, when a Left faction Labor leader will swell the ABC’s hearts with rainbows once again.

    • Ian Mackenzie says:

      To be fair, and with the proviso that I certainly don’t hold a torch for Malcolm, no other Prime Minister has done anything much about the ABC either. The Labor PMs don’t have any incentive to rein-in the ABC, but as far as I’m aware, Fraser, Howard and Abbott didn’t do anything more than make disapproving comments.

  5. Bran Dee says:

    So true Ian Mackenzie. Tony Abbott even appointed MT as Communications Minister overseeing the ABC and this must rank as one of TA’s worst comatose seminal/seminary decisions.

    Now that Jim Molan is Senator Jim Molan can we have a survey of Conservative voters to gauge if Jim Molan is preferred as prime minister to MT. Those general surveys which ask if MT is preferred to Bill Shorten are so misleading because quite a few Labor voters might prefer MT to shady Shorten but in their electorate they will vote for the Labor candidate.

    Geoffrey Luck writes with so much insight and wisdom that he ought to be drafted to the committee of inquiry into the ABC that one only hopes might be appointed by a leader such as Jim Molan. No protestation Geoffrey as age is no limit says the still working 95 year old entrepreneur Peter Clark who, according to the Oz [5/02], took under his wing the nerdy 10-year old [Dick Smith] who lived across the street in Roseville and gave him a start fixing radios.

    • Egil says:

      An inspirational comment that I hope concerned Liberal MPs take to heart.
      Jim Molan comes across as unshakeable and wise.
      He would stare down uncommitted passengers.
      If he still has the grit required and can mobilize the common sense people of his party,
      AC and PHON will get on board quick smart.
      And purpose will be re established.
      Malcolm Turnbull will end up getting his gig on his ABC sooner or later, anyway.
      Sooner is much the better option.

  6. Egil says:

    A truthful article through out.
    But;
    “….a politically motivated package of flat-out untruths.”
    If this is referring to flat-out lies, what is wrong with using the precise term; lies?
    Is there a sophisticated legal angle to this preferred nuance of language, that I am unaware of?
    “Untruth” sounds somewhat uncommitted and half hearted.
    A word well suited to Bill Shorten, Malcolm Turnbull and such.
    Until AHRC rules it to be Hate Speech, punishable with gulag,
    I suggest truth tellers should use the precise and robust term; lies!

    • Lo says:

      Thank you Egil, I was about to ask the same question. Why untruths? They are lies. Why use/choose a word that is so weak? Why do we keep protecting I don’t know who against the truth?

  7. Jody says:

    Last night’s “Australian Story” was just another piece of evidence of why I absolutely despise the ABC. It covered the wedding of Christine Forster to her long-time female partner. Tony Abbott was ridiculed for his conventional views about marriage and Forster took pains to paint Tony as a childhood bully who would “hit me on the head if I annoyed him”. All the ducks were aligned; Magda the Banshee introduced the program with that glowing beatific smile of the sainted and painted Christine as a victim. The Banshee talked about the ‘tsunami of drama in the family’ which Christine had ‘overcome’. The opening images of the ‘bride’ trying on a white dress were just simply embarrassing for the lack of class. There were 6 children and 2 husbands very hurt by this but Christine decided to ‘come out’ and do what she ‘had to do’ despite the opportunity cost to abandoned teenagers. Adding insult to injury she paraded her love interest on national TV through SSM activism – never mind what the children thought or think. We do truly live in an age of moral vacuum and industrial strength narcissism – all of it eulogized by the ABC and its pandering, lilly-livered acolytes and shills.