ABC Chair defends Aunty from political interference

Comment from Peter Saxon..

When Scott Morrison, early in his Prime Ministership made his first “captains pick,” to anoint Ita Buttrose ABC Chair, it was, for once, a popular one. And for good reason.

Broadcaster, author, journalist, publisher, business owner – Ms Buttrose knows “everyone” and everyone knows her. Following the unlamented departure of its Managing Director, Michelle Guthrie, soon to be followed by Chairman Justin Milne, there was no better choice than Ita to take the reins.

But if the Morrison government was hoping that Ms Buttrose would pressure Aunty to look more kindly upon the Coalition’s agenda, they must be sorely disappointed. Ms Buttrose has proved to be almost everything that Ms Gutherie wasn’t.

As then ABC Melbourne morning presenter, Jon Faine, said upon Guthrie’s ousting. “She would not take on her role as a champion for this organisation publicly. She would not advocate for us in the public domain, in the public space, which was an astonishing fail on her part…”

As it turns out, Ms Buttrose has been a fierce champion for the public broadcaster, ready to defend it from any political party that tries to exert influence over it.

Reacting to the news last week of a government inquiry into the ABC and SBS, Ms Buttrose said in a statement:

“The inquiry into the ABC’s complaints handling process announced by Senate Communications Committee Chair, Senator Andrew Bragg, appears to be a blatant attempt to usurp the role of the ABC Board and undermine the operational independence of the ABC.”

You can always tell when an election is in the air by the Coalition calling for an inquiry into the national broadcaster. It’s a rally cry for the faithful that believe that the ABC is biased against them.

Does the ABC lean to the left? Of course, it does. It’s hard to make an argument otherwise when benchmarked against other media that identify as right wing. Perhaps, if once in a while, someone would claim that the ABC had a conservative bent… but I’ve never once, in almost 50 years in this business, heard anyone accuse Aunty of right-wing bias.

In an article titled, What’s wrong with being ‘fair and balanced’? ABC Editorial Director, Alan Sunderland prophetically wrote in 2018: 

 “Fairness” and “balance” are not and never have been recognised standards of objective journalism. They can be helpful indicators of impartiality and accuracy, but only if they are put in the right context and used wisely. In other words, if something is ‘accurate and impartial’ it will always meet the recognised standards of objective journalism. If it is fair and balanced, it might not.

“A simple example will suffice. If I write a story that says a doctor wants to vaccinate a child at risk of whooping cough to protect her from harm but the child’s mother is refusing because the vaccination will do more harm than good, I have produced a piece of writing that is fair to both sides and entirely balanced.

“But it is a long way from being responsible journalism.”

Still, conservative voters remain unconvinced. While ABC bias is a bread butter issue with conservative talk outlets most readers’ posts and talkback callers accept (even if grudgingly) that left leaning media has a right to exist in a democracy. They just resent having to pay taxes to support it. Hence the ongoing calls to defund or sell-off the ABC or, at the very least, rein it in. I addressed why this is unlikely to happen in an article entitled: Why the ABC will never be fair and balanced and won’t be sold off either

As a taxpayer, I too, personally, have issues with the ingrained biases and predictable reporting on some of the topics the ABC covers. Then again, there’s other commentary with which I firmly agree. And, to be honest, there’s no media I listen to, watch or read with which I agree all of the time.

In any case, the ABC provides a much wider variety of content than just political coverage.

The ABC charter, in fact, has little to say about political bias but a lot to say about the evils of advertising and the perils of commercial influence. If the ABC were beholden to commercial imperatives, it would be forced to broadcast a commercially popular diet of reality shows and such. 

The influence that advertising can have over the content of a station can work in reverse too, as Alan Jones found out when his 2GB advertisers deserted him under threat of a consumer boycott.

The question remains as to whether taxpayers whose views don’t align with the ABC should support it. As taxpayers, we all contribute to a range of government expenditure that doesn’t directly benefit us or to which we are ideologically opposed. But mostly,we accept it benefits others while we benefit from programs that perhaps they don’t. Whether we agree with what we perceive to be bias or not, the fact remains that the ABC serves Australia well by living up to the main aims of its charter which is to present content that commercial media perhaps wouldn’t, and to fly the flag for Australian culture.

If there is to be any inquiry into the ABC, it must be independent of the government, or any political party, whether Labor, Liberal, National, The Greens or One Nation. 


Peter Saxon

Main Pic: Liberty Leading the People, Eugene Delacroix, The Louvre, Paris. Public Domain.






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