Signs of panic at Their ABC

It is wrong, not mention the height of bad manners, to delight in the anguish of others, but in certain rare cases exceptions can be made. Collingwood supporters’ pain as their team blew a 44-point half-time lead and lost the 1970 VFL  Grand Final to Carlton makes a good example, as will the bleating on the evening of September 7, when six years of Labor rule are likely to be brought emphatically to an end.

Christian charity and its multicultural variants be damned! Enjoy the spectacle – and savour the angst at Their ABC most of all, for this will be the moment when the business of settling scores can begin in earnest. If the anxious snivelling already to be heard from Ultimo, Southbank and the national broadcaster’s other citadels of bias and cronyism is any indication, ABC Managing Director and Editor in Chief Mark Scott might want to consider applying some of that $10 million he accepted from Julia Gillard as the election season began to the bulk purchase of tissues and smelling salts.

In The Age today, retired Media Watch compere Jonathan Holmes frets about the damage even the slightest reduction in funding will inflict on his former employer, parroting what seems to be the emerging ABC line that the Murdochs will be somehow responsible:

"A few years back in Britain, James Murdoch called loudly for the BBC’s online activities to be reined in. News Corp’s Sunday Times memorably told the Beeb to ‘get your tanks off our lawn!’

What better way for Tony Abbott to repay some of the favours received from the Murdoch press than by cutting the ABC’s budget, on the grounds that online activities are not part of its remit, and shouldn’t be funded by the taxpayer? ‘If you want to compete with commercial media online,” he could say, ‘then compete on fair terms: erect your own paywall, or take advertisements, like everyone else’.”

For a man who paid the rent by smirking and eye-rolling through five years of purported media criticism, Holmes is remarkably selective in quoting his sources. It wasn’t just the Murdoch Times that accused a government broadcaster of unfair competition. Closer to home, Crikey! publisher Eric Beecher, no one’s idea of a right-wing baby stomper, has made precisely the same point and in almost the same words:

"Operating in the commercial space, we expect vigorous competition from other commercial publishers. But to see the ABC tanks roll up on our lawn was bewildering."

Beecher was miffed about the 2009 launch of The Drum, the ABC’s opinion site, where a token conservative contributor or two can’t obscure the fact that Mark Scott’s brainchild is poaching the same ratbag readership from which Crikey! has managed to extract a profit. Good on Beecher for noticing that nongs and Guy Rundle fans — pardon the tautology — represent a market niche worth tapping; shame on Scott for using not his money but the public purse to trespass on another’s turf.

Holmes’ vapourings do jhave their up side. Now that he is working for Fairfax, a company that lacks the wit to notice the ABC is stealing its audience and its lunch, his thoughts are confined to the printed page. Finally, the Widow Twankey smirk and endless eye-rolling need no longer be endured.

The ABC’s pre-emptive outrage at Rupert Murdoch continues without Holmes as the resident King Tut-Tutter, as anyone who endured Monday night’s programming could not have helped but notice. After the 7pm News came Australian Story’s hagiographic treatment of Tony Windsor, with references to the disgust his conservative constituents registered at the decision to  install Julia Gillard in The Lodge illustrated not with sound bytes of locals’ contempt for their turncoat MP but via headlines, like this one, from Murdoch’s Australian.

Next came Four Corners, which was mercifully free of Murdoch references – an oversight, surely, as the program dealt with the treatment of cancer and would have leant itself to the passing depiction of the mogul as a metastizing tumour. But not to worry. As former Whitlam spinner Kerry O’Brien – are there any former Coalition operatives doing host duties on the ABC? — advised at the show’s conclusion, next week’s episode would re-cap the election campaign, so things will soon get back on track. It is London-to-a-brick that we can expect a full update on Murdoch’s evil to compensate for this week’s deficit.

Next, with Media Watch, Murdoch was back and how! Andrew Bolt has posted on new host’s Paul Barry’s one-eyed exposure of the  press lord’s alleged abuse of his papers’ pulpit, but the show’s summation of News Corp stories reporting Kevin Rudd’s  demeanour and deficiencies all boiled down to a sentiment expressed in just four words:

…this is character assassination!

Apparently, if you work at the ABC, reporting and documenting that the Prime Minister is rude to make-up artists, plucks policies from thin air, is petulant, a bully, and has sawn into kindling the planks of the platform on which the ALP stood for the previous six years, from the Carbon Tax to boat people, is no reflection on his character. As Australians – those who do not work for the ABC, at any rate – are likely to observe on September 7, the very man whose white-anting and back-stabbing has been key in driving his party to brink of ruin has no character worth assassinating.

Barry kept it up for the full 15 minutes, commenting not so much on the news and its coverage, which is his brief, but giving birth instead to the palliative mythology from which supporters of this government will draw comfort two Saturdays from now, as the tally of fallen seats grows by the hour. As viewed from the ABC’s ivory tower, Labor will not have lost because voters seized the chance to end six years of shambling incompetence, internecine feuds, party-room betrayals and general chaos, but because the electorate is composed of dim bulbs whose passions are turned on and off by Murdoch’s claw-like hand upon the switch.

Arrogant? Elitist? Condescending? All of that, you bet, but instructive all the same, as that smarter-than-you attitude goes some way towards explaining why Rudd’s flaws go unremarked in the ABC’s newsrooms, especially its Current Affairs unit. Tape worms are ugly creatures, but not to each other.

By now it was time for Q&A, the guests stacked as usual according to the standard formula of four left-tilted heads to no more than half that number of conservatives.  Judging by the applause that followed any utterance of standard Labor/Greens talking points, the bookers did a similarly thorough job of assembling just the right audience to cheer the panellist’s further exposure of Murdoch’s “bullying”. All told, he was mentioned by name some 19 times – once every three minutes, on average, with innumerable associated references to his mastheads, especially the Daily Telegraph and its election-season front pages.

It was at this point Q&A’s luvvie brigade surrendered entirely to Murdoch Derangement Syndrome.  How outrageous that the Telegraph would depict Kevin Rudd and comrades in Nazi uniforms! How low could the vile rag go? It was hard not to laugh at the panelists’ attempts to mislead, to feign conviction, to clutch at any slimy straw. The Telegraph‘s front page, remember, invoked Hogan’s Heroes and its know-knothing Sergeant Schultz. Only a moron or a deceiver could have presented it otherwise.

Once again, the meme held that Australians are a stupid lot and far too easily led. Unspoken, but wafting like the pong of swamp gas throughout the show, was the assumption that privately owned media organisations would be better off if responsible, correct-thinking adults like, well, people who work for the ABC could decide what was fair and what was not. And if the Finkelstein Media Inquiry is any indication, which troublesome editors need to do hard time.

For those who enjoy a laugh, Q&A ended with compere Tony Jones’ lament that Tony Abbott has so far shown no inclination to join Kevin Rudd on next week’s program. It is an increasingly familiar plea from ABC lips. Leigh Sales very nearly implored Abbott to let the ABC conduct at least one of the prime ministerial  debates, and at The Drum no less a luminary than Mark Scott has mouthed much the same plea.

The left always declares its enemies to be feeble-minded, whether they are or not. Ronald Reagan, who beat the Soviets and ended the Cold War, was no better than a genial dunce. George W. Bush, despite his MBA, could not hold a candle to the genius of Al Gore, divinity-school dropout. John Howard, of course, was “Little Johnny” and retarded to the point where he had to take his cues by clandestine hotline from the Oval Office or, if that was off the hook, from Pauline Hanson.

If Abbott does duck next week’s Q&A there will be even less grounds for doubting his smarts. Why should a Rhodes scholar subject himself to a biased compere and the ABC’s stock-standard partisan audience? Who knows what might happen? Q&A’s producers might even treat another smelly hippy to a front-row seat and a sly wink that it would make fine television if someone were to throw a shoe.

Stay away, Mr Abbott. You have nothing to gain but a bushwhacking. And if you need further proof of what would likely be in store, consult the transcript for Tuesday’s Lateline, which saw the preposterous Clive Palmer level the accusation that Newspoll and Galaxy can be bribed by the likes of Murdoch to produce whatever slanted results are desired – a claim hostess Emma Alberici allowed to go conspicuously unchallenged.

On top of Palmer’s mischief, the ABC has opened its microphones to repeated appearances by visiting British MP Tom Watson, who has been dining out – and dining often, one gathers – on his part in keeping the Fleet Street phone-hacking scandal in the news.

Once again, another of those peculiar ABC omissions. While its talking heads have given Watson free rein to attack the Murdoch hacks’ phone hackery, he has not yet been asked for his view of the only similar incident seen in Australia. That would be the one which concluded with three Age journalists pleading guilty to illegally accessing the Victorian ALP’s  confidential voter data base.

But The Age, of course, is on the side of the angels, at least by the ABC’s reckoning, so no need to go there when Rupert the Rotter is available for repeated public burnings.

Murdoch can look out for himself, so let the ABC have its fun. Come the morning of September 8 and for at least three years after, joy at the ABC will be in short supply.

Make it so, Mr Abbott. Please make it so.

Roger Franklin, the editor of Quadrant Online, is available to replace Mark Scott and hand out an awful lot of severance notices

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