Have you heard the story about the experienced Australian journalist who maintains that an accurate report of an on-the-record panel discussion may amount to an attack on free speech?

Last Sunday, The Australian’s media reporter Sophie Elsworth attended the final day of the Sydney Writers Festival. Her focus was on the session titled Barrie Cassidy and Friends. It was a review of the year in Australian politics, chaired by the former presenter of ABC TV Insiders.

According to the 2024 SWF program, Cassidy assembled a hand-picked squad of “the country’s sharpest pundits”: Bridget Brennan (ABC), Amy Remeikis (Guardian Australia), Niki Savva (Nine newspapers) and Laura Tingle (ABC TV 7.30’s chief political correspondent). All four are regular panellists on Insiders. All are critics of the Coalition under the leadership of Peter Dutton.

Elsworth’s account of the event in The Australian last Monday was titled “Tingle’s rant: ‘We are a racist country’ ”. This was an accurate reflection of the news from the 2024 SWF. Tingle, one of the leading broadcasters at the taxpayer-funded public broadcaster, had declared: “We are a racist country; let’s face it, we always have been and it’s very depressing.” Needless to say, this put-down of Australia by a member of the alienated left sparked widespread applause from the overwhelmingly left-wing audience. But there was more to Elsworth’s account.

She also reported that Tingle had agreed with fellow panellist Savva, another Dutton antagonist, that the Opposition Leader was saying words to the effect that “everything that’s going wrong in this country is because of migrants”. This was an act of verballing by Tingle. Dutton has never said this.

The chief political correspondent at ABC TV’s 7.30 went on to allege that she found it “profoundly distressing” that Dutton had given a “licence” to Australians to abuse individuals “turning up to rent a property or at an auction”. She appears to hold the view that in modern multicultural Australia it is possible to distinguish between citizens and newly arrived migrants.

To most Australians, this is a tolerant and accepting immigrant nation historically, where interracial marriage is relatively high and ethnically motivated crime is relatively low. To the alienated left, however, Australia is racist.

One problem with the SWF panel on politics turned on the fact it was one of those occasions where Laura agreed with Barrie who agreed with Amy who agreed with Niki who agreed with Bridget who agreed with herself. Or something like that. If Tingle’s view on Australia in general and Dutton in particular had been challenged by one or more panellists there would not have been such resultant controversy. But the panel was like the ABC – a conservative-free zone.

As it turned out, debate on Tingle raged without comment by ABC managing director David Anderson or newly appointed ABC chairman Kim Williams.

Then, on Wednesday, Justin Stevens (ABC director of news) put out a 167-word statement stating that Tingle’s remarks at the SWF “lacked the context, balance and supporting information of her work for the ABC and would not have met the ABC’s editorial standards”. Stevens conveniently overlooked the fact Tingle made a similar criticism of Dutton on the ABC’s very own Insiders program on May 19. On this occasion, she described Dutton’s views on immigration as “very dangerous for our community”. I documented this in my Media Watch Dog blog last Saturday.

Stevens’s statement advised that “Laura has been reminded” of ABC editorial standards and “their application at external events as well as in her work and I have counselled her over the remarks”. Stevens put in a link to a 1372-word statement by Tingle. It’s part defensive and part denial. And Tingle says criticism of her SWF performance “is not helpful to me or to the ABC; or to the national debate”.

Quelle surprise! Tingle did not find criticism helpful. She concluded by stating, defiantly, that her “work is built on, and delivered in, the framework of the ABC’s very high editorial standards”. This despite being counselled by Stevens.

The latest ABC controversy turns once again on its lack of what American journalist Uri Berliner has termed “viewpoint diversity”. It’s too early to judge Williams’s influence on the ABC in this regard. After all, as he pointed out in a recent profile in The Monthly, he is the ABC chairman. Williams added “there’s a management that runs the place” and it was proper “to understand the separation of responsibilities between a board and the management”. But he has stressed the importance of impartiality by the public broadcaster.

It is the responsibility of Anderson and his managers to ensure political diversity in the conservative-free zone he oversees. Unless this is done, the ABC will continue to lose its one-time conservative viewers and listeners to Sky News and elsewhere.

This lack of viewpoint diversity is manifest throughout the ABC. Take last Monday’s Q+A program, for example. Discussion began with the decision by Karim Khan, the International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor, to apply for arrest warrants for Hamas terrorist leader Yahya Sinwar and democratically elected Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Five out of five panellists supported Khan. No other view was heard.

Melbourne-based lawyer and businessman Joe Gersh (who is a member of The Sydney Institute’s board) appeared on Sky News on May 16. He asked how John Lyons, the author of two books hostile to Israel and its supporters in Australia, can “be the lead spokesperson on global affairs at the ABC dealing with this issue”. Gersh cannot be dismissed as an anti-ABC nut case. He recently was praised by Anderson for his role on the ABC board between 2018 and 2023.

The problem with the ABC is that it cannot see itself. On Wednesday, Cassidy put up a post on X in which he accused “the Murdoch media of turning up at writers’ festivals to attack free speech”. In other words, Cassidy regards Elsworth’s accurate reportage of Tingle’s comments at a taxpayer-funded public event as an attack on free speech. Now, that’s a joke.