triple j’s Hottest 100 caught up in politics

Comment from Peter Saxon.

When triple j first aired the Hottest 100 on Australia Day 1989 they could not have imagined that almost 30 years down the track there would be a serious call to shift our national day away from January 26.

It was around that time that the Hawke – Keating governments were busy re-inventing Australia Day. By 1992, PM Paul Keating appointed the well known liberal broadcaster, columnist and advertising guru Phillip Adams to chair the National Australia Day Council. He did much to rebrand the event by distancing it from the archaic long boat re-enactments that dwelt on the past and instead he put the emphasis on celebrating the modern nation we had become along with all its diversity.

Yet, among the many changes, I can’t recall any push to change the date. 

1992 was also the year that the historic Mabo decision was handed down by the High Court of Australia. Later that same year Keating became the first Prime Minister to publicly acknowledge the affect European settlement had had on Indegenous Australians. In what has become known as his Redfern Park Speech, Keating told the crowd,  “We committed the murders. We took the children from their mothers. We practiced discrimination and exclusion. It was our ignorance and our prejudice.”  

By 2008, after years of resistance by the Howard government, the newly installed Labor PM Kevin Rudd stood in parliament to formally apologise to Australia’s Indigenous peoples. 

Still, there was no call to change the date on which we celebrate Australia Day.

It is, to some extent, this new and sudden desire by some sectors of the Indigenous community and fellow activists, to change the date of Australia Day that has whipped the conservative commentariat into a lather. That, and the fact that triple j, an arm of the ABC (sworn enemy of said conservatives) seems to be actively campaigning for the change.

As conservative outlets often point out, commercial entities have a right to be biased and hold any particular political position they like but as a tax payer funded organisation the ABC’s role should be to remain neutral as it facilitates a robust discussion by giving all credible viewpoints equal air-time.

While that might seem fair and reasonable, there’s a counter argument that suggests that any radio station should be free to cater to its own core audience. triple j’s audience is as well defined on the younger progressive end of the scale as 2GB’s is on the older conservative. While each stations’ listeners would love to shut the other’s up, a diverse range of freely expressed views is vital to a healthy democracy.

Let us be clear, triple j has not advocated changing the date of Australia Day per se.  

However, as it states on its website, it is considering moving its Hottest 100 to another date, “Future years are under review and we’ll continue to talk to Indigenous communities, artists and our audience about this.”

There is little doubt that the majority of triple j listeners would be receptive to the idea – certainly one of the Hottest 100 partners, Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience (AIME) would. 

I’m not going to go into the arguments for and against moving Australia Day away from January 26 other than to say that there’s merit on both sides. I’m even less inclined to give you my personal point of view because I don’t believe it’s what readers expect of radioinfo. It is not our role to take sides in a public debate.

The question is: is it triple j’s role?

I’ve put that question to ABC management. They have declined to comment beyond what is already on their website.

If it were any other show on any other station it would be a simple programming decision to move it to a time slot better suited to its audience. But the Hottest 100 has become so synonymous with Australia Day, any attempt to move it will likely result in a swift backlash – albeit mainly from people who don’t listen to triple j. That’s the new norm in a world of unsocial media.

Whether intended or not, moving the program to another day would be seen as a strong political statement… one that many will question is triple j’s to make. 

Those who equate Australia Day to “Invasion Day” will see such a decision as courageous but the morally correct thing to do. Others will see it as un-Australian, incensed that the government broadcaster would choose to distance itself from Australia Day. The shock jocks will have a Field Day.

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