Last Wednesday the ABC celebrated International Women’s Day by replacing all male presenters with females. Some found this gesture condescending while others thought it uplifting. But what’s certain is that the taxpayer-funded public broadcaster’s line-up on March 8 did not do what it claimed to do.
According to ABC Publicity, the whole of the exercise was to “showcase the extraordinarily breadth of female broadcasting and creative talent” within the organisation. Among the (female) names named were Jane Caro, Susan Carland, self-declared socialist Wendy Harmer, Yassmin Abdel-Magied, self-declared activist Fran Kelly and more besides. Not one conservative among this lot.
As Herald-Sun columnist Rita Panahi pointed out on Sky News’ The Bolt Report, it was very much a left-of-centre and leftist roll-out. This reflects the fact that, under the new management of Michelle Guthrie, the ABC remains a conservative-free zone without one conservative presenter, producer or editor on any of its prominent television, radio or online outlets. There is more diversity on Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News in the United States.
When former ABC managing director Mark Scott was asked about the lack of conservatives within the public broadcaster, he would invariably point to the presence of Amanda Vanstone’s Counterpoint and/or Tom Switzer’s Between the Lines programs on Radio National. Neither is a prominent program and neither has an important time-slot. The same is the case now that Switzer also presents Sunday Extra.
A similar scenario applied on Wednesday. It seems that the only female conservative the ABC could find for International Women’s Day was Dai Le who got a 30-minute gig on the Radio National’s The Religion and Ethics Report. Again, not a prominent program.
On Tuesday, Guthrie delivered a speech to ABC staff titled “Investing in Audiences”. The ABC’s managing director and editor-in-chief outlined a plan to create a $50 million fund to source new content. She also overturned Scott’s policy of closing down regional outlets and announced that the public broadcaster will invest $15 million a year in regional jobs and extra digital and video output in its newly created Content Fund.
These initiatives will be funded by a 20 per cent reduction in management along with production and support roles on ABC TV 7.30 and ABC News. It is anticipated that between 150 and 200 staff will leave the ABC by the end of the financial year.
No one rejoices in the fact that employees will be retrenched. That said, Guthrie’s proposed reforms make sense. The public broadcaster has been regarded by many, including some of its own staff, as over managed. Moreover, Sky News and commercial free-to-air broadcasters produce good output with fewer staff.
In her speech, the ABC managing director abandoned her predecessor’s strategy of denial and acknowledged some problems. Guthrie said: “Our reach on television and radio is declining and digital is struggling to bridge the gap. We have significant audience gaps: socially, culturally and geographically. This means we’re falling short of properly and effectively representing, in our employees, content and audience impact, the modern Australia in which we live”.
Guthrie spoke a fortnight after The Australian’s Media section reported about ABC’s management concern over the declining and ageing audiences for its TV news and current affairs programs. Insiders, on Sunday mornings, is the only ABC TV program with increasing viewers.
Clearly Guthrie believes that the public broadcaster does not reflect the diversity of contemporary Australia. When the ABC managing director thinks diversity, she thinks about gender (as demonstrated on International Women’s Day), race (including Indigenous matters) and sexual orientation.
All very well. But neither Guthrie nor Scott recognise the need for political diversity. There is a sameness in the message proclaimed by so many ABC presenters (with the encouragement of their producers) on the need to act on climate change, Aboriginal recognition, President Donald J. Trump, same sex marriage and more besides. It’s essentially a Green-left agenda with an occasional dose of social democracy.
The absence of political diversity impacts on the other identity groups to which Guthrie wants to appeal. The fact is that many immigrants are socially and politically conservative. Likewise many young Australians. Some members of the gay movement vote for Coalition parties. Moreover, whatever their attitude to climate change, few Australians welcome ever increasing energy prices.
In other words, lots of Australians resent the leftist sermons preached at them daily on the public broadcaster. It is reasonable to assume that quite a few have switched off for reasons other than the impact of social media.
The dilemma facing the ABC was evident at the Senate Estimates hearings on February 28. The previous evening, ABC TV Media Watch presenter Paul Barry had commented on the fact that “almost the entire ABC” failed to report Muslim leader Keysar Trad’s comments on The Bolt Report (February 22) that a man was entitled to use violence against his wife as a last resort. The story was also ignored by the leftist journalist at Fairfax Media, The Guardian and The Saturday Paper.
Senator Eric Abetz introduced this issue in Senate Estimates on February 28. Guthrie replied that she was “glad that Media Watch had raised” the issue. Then Alan Sunderland, the ABC’s director of editorial policies, declared that the ABC did cover the Trad story but “just not well enough”.
Well yes – since Trad’s comment was not covered on the key programs ABC News, 7.30, Lateline and The Drum, AM, The World Today, PM and RN Breakfast. In his half-hearted defence of the ABC, Sunderland pleaded that the public broadcaster’s inadequate coverage of the Trad comment did not result from “some sort of concerted decision”.
And that’s the point. There was no “concerted decision”. It’s just that so many ABC employees think the same on so many issues. With regard to Trad, ABC types do not like to criticise Muslim leaders lest they be considered intolerant or racist. As Abetz told Guthrie and Sunderland, had the comment had been made by a Catholic cardinal “it would have led every single ABC news bulletin for 72 hours straight”. Sure would.
Until ABC management recognises that the public broadcaster’s left-wing fashions are a turn-off for many, it’s likely that Guthrie’s current initiatives will not achieve their desired outcome.