On Thursday came the news that ABC staff who were members of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance would stop work between 2pm and 2.40pm (AEDT) next Tuesday, March 7.
According to the report in Nine newspapers, members of the Community and Public Sector Union who work at the ABC will support their fellow toiling masses by wearing red and publishing messages on social media in solidarity with their striking MEAA comrades. It’s not clear whether Billy Bragg’s version of The Red Flag will be heard through the ABC’s inner-city studios in Sydney and Melbourne on the day.
The MEAA’s cunning plan to silence the ABC for a mere 40 minutes is designed to prevent coverage of the announcement by the Reserve Bank of Australia as to whether interest rates will rise, fall or remain the same.
ABC staff must be in a state of delusion if they believe the public broadcaster is an essential source of information when there has never been more news outlets in Australia. But the timing means the strikers will lose only 40 minutes of a day’s pay. It’s not quite like the Victorian police strike of 1923.
Unlike most journalists, ABC employees have relatively secure employment. Moreover, the public broadcaster has guaranteed funding for years in advance. No commercial media organisation knows that it has assured financing into the medium future and beyond.
Nevertheless, the MEAA and the CPSU want more money for ABC employees. The current MEAA demand is a 6 per cent immediate pay rise dated back to July 1 last year plus an increase in superannuation from 10.5 per cent to 15.4 per cent. When many families are struggling to pay energy, fuel and food bills, along with increasing rent and interest rates, this indicates a sense of entitlement that prevails within the taxpayer-funded broadcaster.
Last Tuesday, Sophie Elsworth had an exclusive report in The Australian. She revealed that the ABC had taken the unusual step of reminding journalists that they must be objective. The focus was on reporting of the proposed Indigenous voice in the lead-up to the referendum to alter the Constitution scheduled for later this year. They were to receive a “deep dive” session into impartiality training.
According to Elsworth, the training session was to be held that day, headed by ABC editorial policy manager Mark Maley and ABC editorial policy adviser and Indigenous woman Bridget Caldwell-Bright. The ABC email announcing this initiative exhibited a certain lack of corporate self-awareness. It stated that the ABC was committed to a situation where “no significant strand of thought or belief within the community is knowingly excluded or disproportionately represented”.
The memo stressed that ABC staff “do not unduly favour one perspective over another”. And it ended by warning them to abide by the ABC’s “broader commitment to inclusion and diversity”.
This overlooks the fact that when the ABC discusses diversity it avoids the issue of political diversity. That’s why ABC panels overwhelmingly tilt to the green/left – with the Labor Party representatives invariably criticised from a green/left, but not politically conservative, perspective. And that’s why the public broadcaster remains a conservative free zone without one conservative presenter, producer or editor for any of its prominent television radio or online outlets. ABC management and senior staff maintain that such conservatives exist. But nobody has been able to name one.
The outcome of the endeavour by Maley and Caldwell-Bright remains to be seen. Ideally, the public broadcaster should provide platforms for considered Australians to state their case – whether they support a Yes or No case in the forthcoming referendum from whatever considered perspective.
This would not only be good for public debate. It also would diminish any claims by opponents of the voice that they are being censored.
It is uncertain where Caldwell-Bright stands on this issue. ABC managing director David Anderson revealed in Senate estimates on February 14 that he had delivered an over-the-phone “caution” to Patricia Karvelas. The Radio National Breakfast presenter had put out a tweet, on the night of the federal election last year, describing Linda Burney, now the Indigenous Australians Minister, as a “legend”. You would assume, then, that Karvelas supports the voice.
However, after Karvelas described a commentary piece about Australia Day written by voice advocate Marcia Langton in The Australian as “a powerful piece of writing”, Caldwell-Bright fanged Langton’s article as “divisive and dangerous” in her criticism of (then) Greens senator Lidia Thorpe. Clearly, Caldwell-Bright approves of Thorpe’s left-wing critique of the voice. But does Caldwell-Bright favour criticism of the voice from political conservatives such as Jacinta Nampijinpa Price being heard on the ABC?
The fact is, the ABC has cancelled many conservatives from appearing on its current affairs programs in recent years. In this sense, it is a media version of the left-wing dominated taxpayer funded literary festivals. This is one reason for the decline in the ABC’s ratings and the rise of Sky News – as conservatives desert the public broadcaster, even to the extent of paying for subscription TV.
It’s one thing for ABC management to preach impartiality but quite something else to preside over its implementation. The ABC memo declared that “staff do not unduly favour one perspective over another”. But they do. Are Maley and his managerial colleagues in denial about the ABC’s campaigns of recent memory with respect to president Donald Trump, the late Cardinal George Pell and former attorney-general Christian Porter, among others?
It’s possible, just possible, that Maley is afflicted by ignorance with respect to the ABC, which remains a staff collective. At Senate estimates on February 14, Anderson indicated that he did not know details about how the ABC’s flawed and unbalanced coverage of a meeting in Alice Springs concerning street violence got to air, and why the ABC’s initial response was to support the reporting in question. The event had taken place almost two weeks earlier.
Perhaps it’s time to reform the ABC from the top down so management knows what its entitled staff are up to – apart from going on strike.