The concept of the need to know is familiar in government and organisations, entailing that information will not be provided unless a recipient should be aware of it.
However, the need not to know seems to be a more recent development born out of a gratuitous stance that citizens should be protected from facts lest there be a harmful effect on society.
Take, for example, how the ABC reports, or rather does not report, news. A few instances illustrate the point.
On Monday, The Australian led page one with coverage of the latest Newspoll, which had Labor leading the Coalition by 54 per cent to 46 per cent. That was news. So was the secondary coverage that, according to Newspoll, 62 per cent of Australians believed that parliament should provide guarantees in law for freedom of conscience, belief and religion if it legislated for same-sex marriage.
What was particularly interesting turned on the fact that support for this proposition was higher among Labor voters (68 per cent) than the Coalition (59 per cent) or even One Nation (64 per cent).
On page 4, it was reported that support for same-sex marriage remained high.
Ashlynne McGhee covered the story for ABC television’s News Breakfast. She told viewers that Labor was well ahead of the Coalition in the latest Newspoll. And she said that support for same-sex marriage was running at 63 per cent yes to 30 per cent no. All true. It’s just that McGhee chose not to tell viewers about the religious freedom concern, especially among Labor voters.
Was this an act of censorship? Probably not. It’s likelier that McGhee believes ABC viewers do not need to know about this.
On the evening of August 17 and the following morning, there was wide-scale media coverage of One Nation senator Pauline Hanson wearing a burka into the Senate chamber as a protest against this headgear.
Hanson’s stunt was widely condemned by politicians, including Attorney-General George Brandis, and journalists alike. But few referred to the fact wearing a burka in public has been banned in France and Belgium, among other places, during times of left-of-centre governments.
On August 18, prominent Muslim lawyer and businessman Haset Sali was interviewed by Jon Coghill on ABC Radio Sunshine Coast.
He said that he did not often applaud Hanson but added: “It’s about time the myth of the burka being Islamic dress was driven out of the water.”
As Stephen Brook documented in The Australian on Monday, despite 2000 shares on Facebook, the story was not picked up by the ABC online news site. In short, Sali’s comment was not seen to be news that was fit to publish by the taxpayer-funded public broadcaster.
On the morning of August 17, The Australian reported on documents tendered to the ACT Magistrates Court concerning the fire bomb that gutted the Canberra office of the Australian Christian Lobby in December.
Jaden Duong, whom it is alleged attempted suicide outside the ACL headquarters, told ACT police that he was “not a huge fan” of religion in general or the ACL in particular.
He added: “I dislike the Australian Christian Lobby … because religions are failed.”
The ABC’s Elizabeth Byrne reported Duong’s appearance at the ACT Magistrate’s Court. She made no mention of the fact Duong allegedly told police that a reason he chose the ACL’s office as the site for his planned suicide turned on the fact he did not like the ACL.
In short, the ABC did not report that hostility to Christianity seems to have been a motivating factor in this instance.
There is little internal opposition to ABC staff protecting society from matters that do not fit their narrative. The fact is that the ABC is a conservative-free zone, without one conservative presenter, producer or editor for any of its prominent TV, radio or online outlets, and it tends to run a line on sensitive issues.
Every now and then there is an exception. The ABC’s Media Watch presenter, Paul Barry, and his executive producer, Tim Latham, spoke out earlier this year when the ABC failed to cover adequately a couple of instances concerning the Australian Muslim community.
The first involved the statement by Keysar Trad, then president of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, that violence could be used by a man against a woman as a last resort. The second involved the radicalisation of young Muslims at Punchbowl Boys High School in Sydney at a time when the principal was a Muslim convert.
Clearly, neither the Trad nor the Punchbowl Boys High School cases filled the ABC’s narrative. Consequently, some editors decided the public should be protected from knowing about such issues.
This is even more so when certain facts involve the public broadcaster itself.
The ABC refuses to report that, in late June, former ABC TV producer Jon Stephens pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting a 14-year-old male ABC casual employee while on an ABC assignment near Gosford in 1981.
This matter has been reported in the local Gosford newspaper and by The Daily Telegraph in Sydney. ABC managing director and editor-in-chief Michelle Guthrie has advised me, via a senior staff member, that she accepts no responsibility for editorial decisions made with respect to “local court cases”. How convenient.
Also, incumbent ABC chairman Justin Milne has advised me, via a staff member, that “there is nothing to be gained from revisiting” the fact that in 1975 the then ABC chairman, Richard Downing, declared “in general, men will sleep with young boys” — despite the fact Downing, speaking in his capacity as ABC chairman, also urged Australians to “understand” the urges of pederasts. Again, how convenient.
It’s difficult to envisage the ABC failing to report a historical child sexual conviction of a former Catholic priest or failing to address a controversial statement on pedophilia by a former Anglican bishop.
But the ABC often does not report matters that ABC employees believe the public does not need to know.