media

Reforming the ABC While There’s Still Time

Now that it is in its last days we can surely acknowledge that the most shameful aspect of this Liberal government has been its failure to promote and protect freedom of public political discourse, either in principle or as a policy imperative.

In Australia in 2019 it is a discourse conducted within a very narrow bandwith, strikingly narrower than it was at the end of Labour government in 2013. The articulation of arguments in support of a No vote in the postal plebiscite about homosexual marriage in 2017 just managed to sneak inside that bandwith. In the future, however,  the promotion of conservative arguments about matters where a similiarly strident leftist position is being countered are unlikely to be sanctioned and their proponents will need to resort to samizdat dissemination of their positions to be heard at all.

That the ABC , more than any other institution,  sets the rules for this discourse — as if the airwaves over which it is transmitted were its own private demesne — is why we have come to this pass. Mr. Morrison has three or four months to do something about it. Neither Abbott nor Turnbull, for radically different reasons, attempted to reform, let alone dismantle, the pernicious leviathan which is the national broadcaster. So it has continued to poison our public discussion and disfigure our national identity.

Mr. Morrison can yet do much if he has the will. Not least, he still has a Chairman to appoint.

The fons et origo of ABC power and reach is of course its quasi-governmental status .The ABC has a “Charter”, though it is not royal any more but simply the designation given to a series of functions and duties set out in section 6 the Australian Broadcasting Corporation Act 1983 . It has an entitlement to broadcast Parliament in session; it is the first port-of-call for a Treasurer after he delivers the budget; it still bestows those civic awards and “hosts” those public ceremonies that seek to claim an honorific or commemorative credential; it sends its own emissaries to foreign lands, stationing them there like Palmerston-era consuls without the gunboats; and — distinguishing it from its competitors as strikingly as Caster Semenya’s musculature distinguishes her from her 800-metre opponents — it is not burdened with commercial imperatives. Other broadcasters’ programming decisions are besmirched and soiled with their “trade” background but the government shilling still allows Auntie to preserve her veneer of dowager imperiousness, and there is no substitute for breeding when it comes to reliability, is there?

We taxpaying citizens made available in excess of a billion dollars to the ABC in each of the last two fiscal years. That is roughly the same amount of money given to all the entities funded by the Attorney-General’s Department for those same years, appropriations covering all of the costs of the four Commonwealth Courts (including the notoriously reckless spending of the Family Court), various tribunals, the Australian Federal Police, ASIO, the Department itself and sundry other surplus-to-requirement entities such as the Law Reform Commission and royal commissions. So, the costs of running one of the three branches of government — the Judiciary, in its entirety — are the same as maintaining the “national broadcaster”. The one expenditure is vital to the functioning and survival of the rule of law; the other is an indefensible indulgence which, manifestly now, undermines that rule.

I assert that the ABC, to an extent far greater than any other individual or corporate person, is responsible for the shutting down of public political discourse across Australia and I began, naturally enough, by identifying the source of its privilege and the extent and (captive) nature of its patronage. I turn now to its power.

There can be no doubting that those who work for the ABC see themselves as exercising an important aspect of state power. They are no mere employees of a corporation; the strictures and standards naturally imposed on those who work for an entity that must be oriented to profitability to survive are never generated within the ABC. Excellence and efficiency might be pursued or encouraged by one or other tier of management but even then the standards of measurement are essentially subjective and the disciplines imposed haphazard and ineffective. No, those who work for the ABC understand that they are on the nation’s business, pursuing national objectives. That is why their product is “free’’, after all. What the then-chairman Justin Milne said on behalf of the ABC on the July 11, 2018, to the American Chamber of Commerce captures this ethos finely:

If not us, who else will define Australian culture in a world of global platforms and content?

In the same speech he touted the catholicity of its endeavours:

The ABC does many other things commercial media does not, including making programs about science, education, classical music, art, religion and ethics ……

He could have told us of many more things that it “does” and “makes programmes’’ about, especially of a political nature, that no other entity does or has the capacity to do. And when the ABC does something, that means it opines about it or skews an account of it or loads the programming with only one perspective of it or presents it as homogenous or invariable when, in fact, it is a fissiparous or complex thing.  

Mr.Milne and predecessor Mark Scott and their predecessors have been the only persons in the land, incidentally, who appear to have believed that the word “political” means “Labour or Liberal”. We know this from those rare occasions they have stooped to respond to a charge of leftist partisanship in a programme or report. The settled strategy has been to pretend that the realm of political discourse does not extend beyond the competing views of spokesmen of the parties of Government and Opposition, albeit with a disproportionate voice given to Greens mouthpieces as the representatives of straight-bat decency, on the quotidian controversies of the news cycle; both parties were given a say, they claim, and, furthermore, in demonstration of the even-handedness of the broadcaster, supporters of each of the parties both then complained about a bias in the coverage – and, well, they would do that, wouldn’t they?

The actual charge meanwhile, is never addressed and that is that the ABC manifests a grotesque and undeviating leftism in what it chooses to make programmes about, in who it appoints to make them, and in the political views it allows to be expressed in them. (editor’s note: approved political views — leftoid, of course — and who gets paid to express them is represented to a tee in the video below. One of the performers, Pip Rasmussen, just happens to be the daughter of Tony Rasmussen, who spent 22 years at the ABC and ended his career there in 2015 as the supremo of ABC regional local radio. When it comes to hiring, the ABC often keeps it in the family, so to speak.)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BwC3v49Xxx8

Before I say more about the kind of political perspectives that are propagated every day by the ABC we should remember that such dissemination can be effected in many ways. For example, an issue to which it wishes to draw attention might be promoted as a topic of online discussion; or be the actual subject matter of a news report; it might be the theme of a drama or comedy or be no more than a reference made within it; perhaps it will be a personal view “revealed” by someone who is herself  the subject of a profile or an interview. The mode of dissemination is almost unlimited. It can be cocksure or subtle, shameless or covert. All that is necessary is that the programme makers and presenters share the same underlying weltanschauung – and that can be guaranteed by ABC staff who, however unlettered they may have emerged from their university educations, have acquired the necessary patina of competence to procure a middle management position in the Human Resources ministry of this ministate.  This commissioning of the half-educated radical into a position of power in civil administration has been the sine qua non of the successful cultural-Marxist colonisation of most of our public service departments, state and federal over the last 40 years, has it not? Why would the ABC be any different? Might it not even be the instantiation of this principle, par excellence?

I am studiously seeking to avoid hyperbole here, I assure you. We must remember that the groupthink which has now reached efflorescence in the ABC was not spontaneously generated but is the product of numberless bureaucratic acts and resolutions , some petty and others immediately transformative, over many years.

Children’s television is a good example. I can recall how our grade 7 teacher at my state primary school would religiously march our class every Monday from its pre-fabricated classroom down to the TV room in the original school building to view Behind the News, a current events programme made by the ABC specifically for children. I can remember watching a report about the Sino-Soviet border clashes in 1969.  As was usual whenever communism featured in a programme the state system that sponsored it was fairly but scrupulously identified in the programme and then contrasted unfavourably (sensibly and obviously enough) with our own, in background pieces , as in this instance, by presenters who spoke in clear and concise English and never patronised their audience of 11-year-olds by addressing them in the patois or with the mannerisms of some imaginary nascent kiddie-counter-culture (for contrast, watch the video above), though that would pervade ABC children’s programming soon enough thereafter.

Behind the News is still going today though in 2019 there is an entire ABC digital channel targeting primary school children called ABC ME on which the programme airs. In 2018 it covered children  participating in the Sydney’s Mardi Gras. The piece showed men kissing and the same hackneyed old tropes this event always features of lascivious young men gyrating in various states of pronounced undress. That story was “promoted” regularly on the channel (remember the ABC does not permit “advertising”) before it was broadcast. Parents complained. The ABC does not submit to the Australian Communications and Media Authority Code of Conduct binding commercial broadcasters but has its own Code of Practice about such matters. An appeal only lies to ACMA after you have navigated unsuccessfully through the ABC’s own review process. The following is an excerpt of what the complaints to the ABC and ACMA reasonably asserted:

Let us not forget ABC ME is targeting 6-12 year olds. And let us not forget that prematurely exposing children to sexual themes is harmful to children…….

They’re innocent and some children were truly scandalised. The children could have still understood the story without showing exposed men.

 If the Mardi Gras were a sober event where LGTBI people marched and paraded in their clothes and didn’t have sexual references, I would not have a problem with ABC ME associating with this event. But the Mardi Gras is and has always been a public display of sexuality. So why should kids see this LIVE if as a society we filter all our media to avoid children seeing this type of content as a protection from early sexualisation? It is nonsensical.

It is specifically the images…….. which I along with teachers, parents, children and a principal that I have spoken to, have agreed was age inappropriate for primary school kids. 

And I still believe that primary aged kids should not have the Mardi Gras promoted to them as a family event when there is so much overt sexuality at the event.

The ABC response in excerpt said:

ABC ME has advised that it strives to reflect the diverse lives of Australian children and their families, and that it is featuring children and families from a variety of LGBTQI backgrounds as part of the ABC’s focus on the 40th anniversary of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras……..

In our view, the promotion was clear that the children featured were participating in the parade with their families, and this was a source of joy and celebration for them.  The reasons for this mood were signalled in the promotion in its references to families and acceptance and equality, and were explored in more detail in the program itself. 

The transformation of a children’s programme from one which affirmed, albeit benignly and discreetly, our national and customary status quo ante, to one which promotes to that target audience of children a parade which includes -and could fairly be said to be characterised by- lubricious exhibitionism, tells us all that is necessary for us to understand how profound the colonisation and crisis at the national broadcaster has become.

That ACMA dismissed the mardi-gras complaint, by the way, demonstrates my point. The ABC has now successfully pioneered the inclusion of sexualised material in children’s programming and the regulator has failed to stand up to it. Commercial broadcasters would never have chanced their arm in doing this. But if they now follow the ABC (and they might) and we begin to see the explicit promotion of the “joy” and the “celebration” of homosexual parades to their infant audiences, we will know where it began. It began, as nearly all of these acts of cultural insurgency have, with the conceit and self-assurance of an ABC executive as he determined that the part of the corporation’s massive  firepower within his control ought to be unleashed for this purpose. As with sexual mores, so it is with any of the other things that the ABC “does” –they are not reflecting changed cultural norms, but fashioning and creating them.

The utterance of heterodox opinion on any ABC channel or station has now been almost wholly extinguished. The extirpation of views and the suppression of news which might challenge or contradict the pervasive leftist, feminist, anti-Christian ethos of the ABC is now carried out with insouciance and savagery.

WATCHING Q&A  is an infuriating experience for many  Australians because they never hear any of the panellists promote a political philosophy that even gestures at an articulation of their own.   The producers and the “host” know that the conservative-de-nuit will be so constrained by the live audiences’ reaction and the perceived pressure arising from Mr.Jones’ interruptions, as to render any arguments he or she may advance anodyne and ineffectual. It is more expedient for the ABC, however, to have a Liberal junior Minister or Greg Sheridan type occupying the chair to the right of screen, mouthing de rigueur platitudes about the discussion points of the evening than it is to leave the chair empty. That way the credit can be claimed for convening the simulacrum of a debate while the intellectually subversive dangers of actually having a debate can be avoided. Thus is the ABC project furthered.

Mr. Jones strikes me as someone who may have joined the organisation as an intellectually curious individual and who early on in his career might have been uneasy about the suspension of a sceptical frame of mind that is required to exist within the ABC “current affairs” environment. He is troubled no longer, obviously enough, about such matters.

 I saw him interview Christopher Hitchens when the great essayist, then riddled with cancer, was near the end of his fight (the word is in no cliché in his case). Jones was respectful, even paid obeisance to him. Towards the end of the interview (part one below) Jones told Hitchens he had given his sons a copy of Letters to a Young Contrarian, Hitchens’s homage to Tom Paine and Samuel Johnson and the great English-speaking tradition of authorial independence and journalistic fearlessness. I do wonder what sense Jones’ sons now make of that gift when they observe their father so zealously and so discourteously interrupt, shut down and mock those expressing opinions at variance with the ABC catechism. Nothing could be more dishonourable to the memory of Hitchens. Surely, Mr. Jones, you once beheld a nobler aim than playing the Lord Chamberlain to the leftist ascendancy at your employer? 

Jones’ ABC colleague, Ms. Jennifer Byrne had concluded her own televised interview with Hitchens, not long before his diagnosis, by calling him a “sexist”– this solely because he had ingenuously revealed to her how happy he was that success had finally enabled he and his  wife to agree that she could leave her own career to concentrate on looking after their home and family (this is the same household that gave succour to the fugitive Salman Rushdie at the most dangerous time of the fatwah). Byrne actually used the S-word in earnest.  Of all the things you might raise with this interesting and lettered man, she chose an imbecilic banality. This was the parting word to him from “our ABC” as he left our shores for the last time. I remember watching it and feeling humiliated on behalf of us all. A person who would say this is surely the last person a civilised broadcaster would put in charge of a books programme.

The ABC method of presenting what it “does” has evolved to a deliberate inversion of the purpose of undertaking the activity in the first place. So, science programmes do not seek to generate inquisitiveness about the natural world; rather the purpose is to proselytise faith in climate alarmism. Its abandonment of objectivity in its embrace of the most fundamentalist versions of “climate change” is notorious, at least outside of IPCC satellite groups. Indeed, we must remember when the public face of science at the ABC, Mr. Robyn Williams, stridently encouraged his paymaster to ban the screening of a film promoting an alternative perspective on this controversy. Though he was unsuccessful in having it canned, the film in question, The Great Global Warming Swindle, was the one and only broadcast of its kind ever permitted on the ABC. And after that broadcast it was blitzed by an ABC-endorsed panel of catastropharians and in-house muggers.

Mr. Williams had the shamelessness to conduct himself in this authoritarian manner while fronting a radio programme whose title –Ockham’s Razor-honours one of the great English medieval opponents of scholasticism. No doubt the irony attendant on doing that while he played Thomas Aquinas to his employer’s Church of Rome, never occurred to him, a circumstance that itself may have been avoided if the Religious Unit had not already been eviscerated by management.

The only religion given sympathetic, more often than not cordial, treatment by the ABC is Islam, and it is the only one with a substantial number of adherents actually at war with Western civilisation. Indeed, within days of Donald Trump’s 2016 victory, the ABC was featuring a report on how the new president would be bad for the ummah. In recent years our armed forces and security services have been confronting a savage Salafist strain of a religion that is medievalist in its outlook and customs; Muslim assassins have struck down civilians in Sydney; other attacks with a far greater potential loss of life have been thwarted. It is clear now that the attempt to integrate substantial numbers of Lebanese, Syrian and Afghani immigrants and refugees has been radically unsuccessful.

 

THESE things taken together would seem to require any properly managed national broadcaster to respond by opening up its stations and channels and services to an honest discussion amongst the citizenry about all aspects of Islam in Australia. Is it a religion that is inherently inconsonant with the norms of our civic life?   Instead, at such a time, the ABC has chosen through its news and current affairs programmes to lead a crusade for the appeasement of this most combatant of all faiths. It has exhibited a disciplined incuriousity about core Islamic teachings pertaining to apostasy and jihad, for example. It has sought to quarantine the religion from criticism when the interests of the nation required, surely, the examination of the religion’s remarkable capacity to inspire many of its followers to perpetrate violence against innocents.

But the ABC is incapable of finding the resources or investigative zeal it brings to the pursuit of the Catholic Church for historical abuses of rogue members of its clergy, for the task of examining the genital mutilation or child marriages that occur within Moslem communities in Australia in the present day. It is a broadcaster which obsessively ventilates the most exquisite disaffections of our secular feminists while ignoring the cruelties and Koranically sanctioned domestic arrangements which so many Moslem women living amongst us must endure.

These disparate grievances I have raised might explain the obloquy with which the ABC is regarded by a very substantial number of Australians, most of them Liberal voters. The ABC has actively subverted their most sacred allegiances and traditions. They see it as coarse, unpatriotic and culturally authoritarian and they are surely justified in having that view. It offers them neither support nor affection nor the faintest hope that it will ever countenance the need for reform.    

The present leadership and membership of the Labour and the far left parties, on the other hand, many of them unionists and ethnic and other minority activists, rightly regard the ABC as a permanently available source of reinforcement of their views and as an agent of recruitment, as well as a vital resource during election campaigns. It is in the interests of these parties to protect, cosset and enlarge an unreformed ABC. 

Dismantling the ABC, then, has been a reverie of conservatives for decades. The requisite leadership  for the task must be found by Prime Minister Morrison and quickly too. If the polls are correct and a Coalition wipeout is just down the road, the window is shrinking to reform and restore the national broadcaster and banish the sins of omission and commission it has embraced and exalted for so long. That and other measures come Budget time might well stand as this government’s single most notable achievement.

13 comments
  • brandee

    A brilliant expose Stuart. But how to modify this blight on our democracy?

    Has the possibility been examined of making the ABC available on subscription only for the current equivalent of the pre-Whitlam radio licence? Friends of the ABC would surely not object if the government offered a free voucher for this amount to all welfare and full pension households. The voucher could alternatively be used towards the subscription for ‘Foxtel TV and Sky news’ channel instead of the ABC. To many Conservatives and the non-aligned the latter channel offers a more balanced service – Andrew Bolt, Peta Credlin, etc.

    To assist in making up the shortfall in ABC funding from the subscriptions the ABC would be encouraged to run advertising, as is done in NZ, which would also enable more market sensitivity.

  • 8457

    In support of Brandee I would add merge with SBS , require the merged body to advertise and freeze funding from Consolidated Revenue.

  • ianl

    This is a familiar complaint. While accurate, it is yet again impotent.

    1) any real attempt to reduce the ABC’s throttlehold on propagating hard bias and political propaganda will cause an immediate shrieking and renting of clothes, audible to Mars, one could expect. Freedom of the Press !! (that actually means the freedom to say and do what they, the ABC, like, not what we may wish). No political party in Aus can withstand that barrage – in fact, the ALP/Greens help promote it, as do half of the Libs.

    2) for a brief period, I was attracted to the ABC subscription notion, but it is an impractical pipedream. There are far too many radios and TV’s out there now for the voluntary licence concept to work, let alone the impossible nightmare of collecting it. Impose it through the tax system ? We do that now …

    3) the elephant in the room ? A good proportion of the populace believe the ABC to be the most credible of the media outlets (a good deal more than just Friends of the ABC or GetUp). Nothing will change that perception, particularly as the ABC will not broadcast facts adverse to itself.

    A familiar complaint, but too much like Portnoy’s.

  • brandee

    Valuable follow on from my suggestion but perhaps the intention was not made clear that the ABC would no longer be free to air. To receive the signal one would need a description device obtainable on a yearly basis by subscription with the subscription for welfare households covered by social security on application. By this modern method the government largess of the Whitlam concession to the ABC is wound back.
    To further the cost cutting it is suggested that the government funded radio stations be restricted to rural areas and that city AM and FM stations be sold off except perhaps for Radio National and Classic FM. Their is no justification for the government to fund radio for which there is a a wide choice of commercial alternatives.
    Do the Turnbull trained and Photios approved Morrison and Frydenberg have the bottle to contest this issue which can be seen as a survival one for Conservatives?
    Peter Dutton may have been up for the contest.

  • Jody

  • T B LYNCH

    The ABC was established by the Scullin labor government in 1929 to represent the left; the story was that all the private media was owned by right wing moguls. The ABC is doing its duty, so you shouldn’t complain.
    The left has money pouring out its ears and no longer needs help from the taxpayers. A real leader like Hawke [who sold the Commonwealth Bank and Qantas] would sell the ABC, save $1,000,000,000 per annum and maybe balance the budget.

  • ianl

    @brandee

    > ” … the ABC would no longer be free to air. To receive the signal one would need a description device obtainable on a yearly basis by subscription”

    Car radios ? Drivetime would be decimated !! 🙂

    And no, no political group in Aus will withstand the barrage of malicious outrage if one dared to interfere with the ABC.

    Just last year, a few of their radio and TV “talent” made a hopeless mess (Faine and Alberici), yet the bodies left lying in the dust were the CEO and Chairman.

  • Adelagado

    Al least, previously, the ABC aimed itself at older audiences who hopefully had the maturity and experience to see through and reject such bias. But now they are clearly targeting a younger, more malleable, audience. Local ABC radio in particular has become incredibly juvenile and simply alternates between sessions of lefty news and ‘approved’ music.

  • brandee

    ianl makes good points but misconstrues some of mine by saying ‘drivetime [radio] would be decimated’. My advocacy is for most ABC radio, AM and FM to be sold off. It might still be viable if it could generate income like the existing commercial radio.
    ‘Car radios?’. Classic FM would remain. Also Radio National would remain, so Philip Adams who once spruiked the virtue of communism, then of socialist Labor, and now nihilism, might have a venue if he finally transitions from ala sinistra to ala derecha.

  • Jody

    There is no justification for keeping ABC-Classic FM. With world class streaming services of huge numbers of international radio networks now available it is stupid to consider this waste of time known as “Classic” FM. With world class speakers, a Network Audio Player and superb amplifier I can listen to BBC-3, Radio Stephansdom (Vienna) and any American station I find. Why, in the name of all that’s holy, would I want to listen to the local product (which is inferior)?

  • Alistair

    Comment here has referred to the hue and cry which would follow any attempt to sell off the ABC or make it subscription-based. The Australian Conservatives seem to me to have the best way round that. They propose to merge the ABC and the SBS and limit the consolidated entity to two TV stations, two radio stations and one on-line presence limited strictly to relaying their current broadcast news etc. (which should, of course, stick to its charter, but enforcement of which might be another matter).
    This would be a huge saving and would be very arguably fair when there is so much content available on-line now for news, discussion and entertainment.
    The ABC alone, as it currently stands, would arguably be in breach of media cross-ownership rules if it were a commercial enterprise, as in any market has TV, radio and the equivalent of print media with its on-line news and opinion. This is an argument for fairness and proportional size. The current cost comparison with the whole of the Attorney General Department’s entities is pretty damning when you consider the essential nature of their services.

  • brandee

    To Jody, your point is good but ABC Classic FM is easy to find on any car radio and it is a pleasure to hear the music pieces announced by Greta Bradman.

  • whitelaughter

    The ABC can only be taken down by axing it without warning. Anything else gives them the time and resources to destroy the govt that seeks to take them on.

    Ditto SBS.

    Finally, the local content rules need to be scrapped. https://www.acma.gov.au/Industry/Broadcast/Television/Australian-content/australian-content-television
    “The BSA requires all commercial free-to-air television licensees to broadcast an annual minimum transmission quota of 55 per cent Australian programming between 6am and midnight on their primary channel. They are also required to provide during the same time at least 1460 hours of Australian programming on their non-primary channels.”

    This is absurd, and the result of the vast amount of drivel on the idiot box. Removing this requirement would immediately destroy the careers of countless worthless non-entities (worthwhile in and of itself) and massively reduce the costs of running media channels.

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