Media

ABC Bias and the System Sustaining It

I’m a big-time ABC radio consumer: Classic FM, The Country Hour, Roy & HG and Grandstand but feel let down by their flagship news programs for a lack of forensic objectivity. In regard to ABC Television, it used to be our default station but I can’t remember the last time we watched. Charges of bias at the ABC are legion and, as a scientist I couldn’t help myself and gathered data to test these charges: qualitative data on how interviews are set up and quantitative data on how the Sunday flagship program, Insiders chooses, its panellists.

The ABC has well-known views: Israel (country and rugby player, both constant dangers); Hamas (plucky militants); climate change (emergency!crisis!); Aborigines (victims of white men); Pell (guilty now and forever); Hewson, Turnbull, Rudd et al. (sun shines 24/7 from ventral orifices) etc.

These views need to be maintained and are underpinned by ABC unit operations: pleasant interviews for aligners (daren’t interrupt Ms Wong, can’t interrupt Ms Keneally) while those in the cross hairs get the “When did you last beat your grandmother” treatment. ANU microbiologist Peter Collignon copped it recently. Fran Kelly skewered him with Perth GP Andrew Miller’s comment that the Infection Control Expert Group (ICEG, of which Collignon is a member) “was grossly negligent and to blame for the infection of innocent people”. Collignon tried a reasoned, risk-based response, only for an increasingly querulous Kelly to cut him off on twelve occasions. It was a typical high heat-no light interview; was its purpose to punish Collignon for appearing regularly on Sky After Dark? Below an excerpt from that interview:

Fran Kelly: [Interjecting] Do you think it’s important to have national guidelines on ventilation in hotel quarantine?

Peter Collignon: Yes, I do. I think it’s a very good idea. But just –

Fran Kelly: [Interjecting] So why don’t we have it?

Peter Collignon: Well, the group I’m in answers actually to the chief health officers who make that decision. But my own view –

Fran Kelly: [interjecting] But aren’t they coming to you for expert advice, wouldn’t they be wanting expert advice from you on that?

Peter Collignon: So I do, I fully agree that for ventilation, we need actually clear guidelines about [hotel] corridors in particular. And we need expertise from a number of groups. So the principle –

Fran Kelly: [Interjecting] Shouldn’t your group lead the way? Your group is the group where the AHPPC takes their advice that advises the national cabinet, shouldn’t you lead the way? And will you recommend that the expert group comes up with some kind of national guidelines, national standards?

The pile-on is another preferred modus operandi: first, the ritual belittling interview of the fall guy, then follow quickly with the demolition interview, and finally bring in the finisher (the ABC fave du jour). The proposed Kurri Kurri gas/hydrogen plant coverage was typical: belittle Angus Taylor, then quickly follow with the demolisher (Investor Group on Climate Change), whose most recent financials, as filed with the Charities Commission, can be read here)  and top it with the finisher (the AFR‘s Phil Coorey). Then run it on every news bulletin on every station: a phalanx of lazy, partial, incurious, non-forensic interviews. It’s the ABC norm.

The Insiders under new broom David Speers (touted by the ABC for “his inimitable interview style and forensic analysis”) has three panellists each week and I logged all 62 editions from February 2020 to May 2021 to establish how wide was the gene pool.

The answer is, not very. Of the 186 panellists used, the ABC contributed 44, Guardian Australia (29), Age/Sydney Morning Herald (24), Australian Financial Review (16), West Australian and Herald Sun (12), Saturday Paper and Nikki Savva (8), The Australian, Channel 10 and News.com.au (7), Mark Kenny (6), Courier Mail, Seven News and Crikey! (2) and the Daily Telegraph (0).

Most favoured were Patricia Karvelas (ABC) with 11 appearances, David Crowe (SMH) and Katharine Murphy (Guardian) on 10, the AFR’s Phil Coorey (9) followed by Niki Savva, the Saturday Paper’s Karen Middleton and ABC’s Andrew Probyn (all 8). Assigning Niki Savva and Peter van Onselen was a problem – they have weekly columns in The Australian, but very much align with the ABC. To avoid controversy I treated Ms Savva as independent and van Onselen as Channel 10, after all he is their political editor.

News Corp supplied only 19 (10.2%) of journalists compared with 60 (32.3%) for non-News Corp papers, 44 (23.7%) from the ABC and 63 (33.9%) from online and other media establishments.

Why the disparity? It can’t be based on readership. According to Roy Morgan Newspaper Readership (December 2020) Nine Entertainment newspapers (Age/SMH/AFR) readership (1.9 million/week) is about half that of Murdoch’s (3.6m/week) but supplied twice as many panellists. Karen Middleton (Saturday Paper 0.2m/w) appeared more often than The Australian’s Greg Sheridan, Simon Benson and Rosie Lewis combined. The Guardian was easily the major contributor with 29 (15.6%) of panellists despite having only online readership (newspapers have both print and online readers). The Guardian’s dominance is further boosted by its eternal ownership of the Talking Pictures franchise on Insiders.

Why were only five News Corp journalists (Campbell, Smethurst, Benson, Sheridan and Lewis) among the 42 panellists – is it because they happen to be curious and might unload alternatives to the ABC zeitgeist? Think Chris Kenny exploding bush fire myths; Shari Markson exposing China (bioweapons); Andrew Bolt pacing out St Patrick’s Cathedral to show Pell couldn’t possibly be guilty; Peta Credlin digging out the critical six minutes of phone logs in the Victorian hotel COVID fiasco. That’s what all journalists should do, but can you imagine the ABC’s finest getting off their doctrinaire chuffs?

Why are ABC journalists universally of like mind? Is it that their wicket is so good: long summer breaks, public and school holidays? Plus for the elites like Kelly, Sales and others a four-day week and ministerial-level (maybe even prime ministerial) salaries? For that kind of deal who wouldn’t “align” and keep a straight face when bias is mentioned. As Rampaging Roy Slaven says every Saturday: “Make of that what you will!” 

Dr John Sumner is a microbiologist specialising in food safety and risk assessment for industry, governments and the United Nations

16 comments
  • ChrisPer

    Very good explanation and observations! Thanks!

  • nfw

    “…and the system that sustains it”. That would be the ever grateful taxpayers who just love being mocked and their masters, known as politicians, who are too frightened to actually listen to and obey the majority who want to see Their ALPBC demolished. No, the lefties, luvvies, SJWs and snowflakes coud make us an offer we just couldn’t refuse but that would never happen as it would mean spending their own money and they don’t like doing that. Their ALPBC is an anachronism in the 21st Century.

  • nfw

    Wow, we beat Mr Lee.

  • Harry Lee

    Now ask what can be done about the actual causes of the ABC problem, viz:
    There is no provision in the Australian Constitution, or the derived/dependent legal system, for the protection of pro-Western Australians from the anti-factual, marxist, post-modernist, anti-Westernist onslaught conducted by the ABC-
    -and also by SBS, and by the education systems, and by parts of the legal system, and by many other parts of the public services more generally.
    Wealth-producing, striving, law-abiding, nett tax-paying, contributing citizens are funding the mechanisms of their own enslavement.
    The idea that freedoms that permit evil enemies to enslave the productive classes -freedoms enshrined in the Constitution- are positive, beautiful, good features of our society is a naive, nay, idiotic, suicidal idea.

  • Harry Lee

    nfw -all my very best wishes to you. I am pleased to serve on the same team as you, even if, from time to time, on certain matters, we might differ in the weight we put on particular factors pertaining. Cheers, Harry.

  • Alistair

    I blame the Labor Party. When it ceased to be an effective voice in opposition, it fell to the ABC to stand up and be the Marxist government in opposition. It’s a thankless job but someone has to do it.

  • Helmond

    Much money is spent on the ABC, but it doesn’t attract large audiences. The money, bad, small audiences, good.
    I’m pretty sure Radio National’s ratings are no more than 2 percent, and that’s of the people tuned in to listen to any radio station. So I’m guessing that less than 1 percent of Australians are actually listening to Fran. Almost all are probably ALP/Greens voters and it seems unlikely that she is getting any converts.
    Fortunately, comparatively few Australians have ever have ever heard of Fran.
    The salaries of the “stars” on the ABC seem shrouded in secrecy, but I’m pretty sure that Fran’s is in the region of $300K. Not astronomical for radio shock-jocks, but half way decent shock-jocks need to pull in ratings of around 15 percent to justify their keep in privately owned radio. In the commercial world 2 percent surely wouldn’t cut it.
    What I really can’t understand is why a Liberal/National government allows this sort of crap to persist. They seem to be funding an organisation that is hell bent on bringing it down.

  • Harry Lee

    Helmond-
    -there is nothing in the law/the Constitution that prohibits the use of funds created by nett tax-payers being used for marxist or for any anti-factual purpose.
    The ABC is free to destroy the basis of factual assessment and reporting of any and all matters.
    Ditto the tax-payer funded education systems, and even the legal system itself.

  • Ian MacKenzie

    The ABC is long past any possibility of reform or change. It has ignored its charter responsibility for balance for more than 20 years with no consequences except larger and larger budgets. Given its failure to meet its responsibilities to taxpayers there is no reason for maintaining its budget at current levels other than appeasement. If the Coalition maintains this posture, it deserves all it gets

  • padraic

    I agree wholeheartedly with the following statement of the author – “These views need to be maintained and are underpinned by ABC unit operations: pleasant interviews for aligners (daren’t interrupt Ms Wong, can’t interrupt Ms Keneally) while those in the cross hairs get the “When did you last beat your grandmother” treatment.” That happens with interviews but it is equally bad when they are reporting what they laughingly call “news” each morning on News Radio. The topics are not “News” as we used to know it but involve climate change, animal rights, mental health, victimhood in its many manifestations, PM Morrison and related Government decisions and the usual range of left wing activist causes. Our PM is portrayed as some sort of immoral monster in a Marvel comic responsible for all the ills of society, as they see it. Government decisions and initiatives are outlined then they get someone from a university to comment, usually a woman with a victim accent and dripping with faux compassion, and who are more often than not a non-entity PhD student or an assistant professor or researcher who immediately says that what the government is doing is wrong, despite the fact that to most people it is eminently sensible. They also get spokeswomen from various charities to try and get them to belittle government initiatives relating to charity work, but such people often remain non-committal, much to the annoyance of the interviewer. Charity spokespeople know not to bite the hand that feeds them. This anti-government and anti-Morrison bias is relentless and formulaic. I long for the days when a national broadcaster gave us news of happenings that actually resonate with viewers/listeners in that they give us the facts and leave us to make up our own adult minds, without all the patronising waffle about things that appeal only to undergraduates and the like.

  • STD

    The ABC’s the United Nations policy advertising arm within the Australian Government- First Nations, gay marriage, transgender rights and all the functions of other people’s human rights commission. The Australian Government is doing the human rights bidding for the UN.
    Australians are second class citizens in their own country.

  • Stephen

    Graham Richardson once described the ABC as being a Workers Cooperative. A bit like a Stalinist Soviet. If you defy the the groupthink then its off the the Gulag you go! The Pascoe fiasco is a good example. Not a a single ABC voice has been raised to question this frauds veracity. They actually seem to be continuing in their support of him. They seem to have forgotten that old good advice, “when your in a hole, stop digging”. As a tax payer I want much better value for my share of the billion plus dollars.

  • STD

    “Let every man judge according to his own standards, by what he himself has read, not by what others tell him”, Albert Einstein.

  • STD

    There there ———————————ABC

  • Lonsdale

    “I’m a big-time ABC radio consumer”. Why?

  • STD

    ‘Lonsdale, I believe you must enjoy the effects of self harming.

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