How The Staff Captured The ABC

ashbolt mugThe Australian on January 31 had a long editorial arguing that Mark Scott, the managing director of the ABC, was a failure, a man ‘out of his depth who lacked the focus or strength to lead the ABC in a new era’. He was failing in his role as editor-in-chief, the editorial said, and failing to take responsibility for the news stories broadcast on the network. Instead, it argued that the ABC was run by ‘a collectivist inner-city clique of broadcasters, bloggers, latter-day Trotskyites and inked hipsters’.

All this is true enough, but it doesn’t explain how things got that way. Another dimension about the ABC that needs airing is who makes appointments to the ABC. When Mark Scott got his job he declared publicly that he recognised the political bias in the organisation and that he would intervene to reform particular programs, especially Four Corners and Media Watch. But before long, whenever new appointments were made to these programs, or to others among the commanding heights of ABC news and current affairs, such as Lateline and the 7.30 Report, Scott was nowhere to be seen. He did not sit on their appointment committees to interview applicants and did not even challenge the composition of those committees, despite the fact that some of them contained old hard-line leftists who had been there for decades deciding the political character of the ABC’s staff.

In 2005, I gave a lecture titled ‘Vilifying Australia’, published in Quadrant in September that year, where I discussed the phenomenon of staff capture of media organisations by leftists, which I said went back to at least the 1960s. I nominated Allan Ashbolt as the originator of this push at the ABC:

Ashbolt was a maverick broadcaster at the ABC, then a largely conservative organisation. Ashbolt managed to find jobs for a small group of Marxists and radicals like himself. In the ensuing thirty years that group, its appointees and values, have captured the organization. Ashbolt’s views have not only survived, they have built a house culture that even the appointment of a board now dominated by conservatives has been unable to displace.

A year later, when the Howard government appointed me a director of the ABC, the then-host of Media Watch, Monica Attard, used her platform to challenge this statement. ‘Where is your evidence, Mr Windschuttle?’ she barked at the camera. On Media Watch, of course, there is no right of reply and I was not going to waste time and effort going to the ABC’s ineffectual in-house complaints department.

However, thanks to the new Quadrant Online website, which houses the complete archives of our magazine, now is a good time to bring that evidence to light. It is to be found in one of the most insightful pieces of media analyses ever written in Australia. The author is Anthony McAdam who in the 1980s had a regular column on the media in Quadrant. The title of the article is ‘The ABC’s Marxists’ and it was published in the January-February edition of 1983. It might be old, but there is still much to learn from it today.

Keith Windschuttle is the editor of Quadrant

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