GERARD HENDERSON’S MEDIA WATCH DOG

ISSUE – NO. 666

26 January 2024

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ELLIE’S BACK

 MEDIA WATCH DOG LANDS ON AUSTRALIA DAY

As avid readers know, Media Watch Dog went on what journalists like to call a Well Earned Break around Gin & Tonic Time on Friday 15 December 2023.  It has returned on Australia Day 2024, having been put together on 25 January. MWD reckons that ABC TV’s Insiders will return on Sunday 4 February (after a six week WEB) and ABC TV’s Q+A on Monday 19 February (after a mere eight week WEB). Meanwhile Sky News’ The Bolt Report re-commenced on Monday 8 January and Outsiders on 21 January. Which suggests that some breaks are more “well earned” than others.

Once again, this year, avid readers are encouraged to send in material or, as the late Dean Martin was wont to say: “Keep those cards and letters coming, folks”.  All of it is read and as much as possible is used at some stage.  MWD is put together with a very small staff (all of whom work on other matters too) – unlike the taxpayer funded public broadcaster’s TV Media Watch (presenter Paul Barry) which has a team of around half a score (in old fashioned word usage) for a 12-minute program around 45 weeks a year.

Thanks to MWD’s avid (and avid-but-not-uncritical) readers.  Remember to Keep Morale High in 2024.  And Happy Australia Day.


MEDIA WATCH DOG NUMBER 666 LANDS ON AUSTRALIA DAY

  • A note on 666 & David Crowe

An avid reader has pointed to the significance of Media Watch Dog No 666. After all, 666 is the number of the Beast. Ellie’s (male) co-owner accepts that the 666 reference comes from the New Testament – as in the Book of Revelation Chapter 13:8. As is its habit, MWD goes to the Douay-Rheims Bible – so pardon the old fashioned English:

Here is wisdom. He that hath understanding, let him count the number of the beast. For it is the number of a man: and the number of him is six hundred sixty-six.

In his (somewhat apocalyptic) gospel, John did not identify the Beast. But he did make it clear that 666 is a symbol of imperfection, a serious consequence of Original Sin and The Fall – leading to the Vale of Tears in which we all reside. For its part, MWD regards David Crowe (chief political correspondent for The Age and Sydney Morning Herald)as a contemporary personification of the flawed Beast. Re which see this issue’s “A David Crowe Moment”.


  • SCOTT-MORRISON ANTAGONIST LAURA TINGLE REPORTS ON MORRISON’S POLITICAL CAREER ON 7:30

As MWD readers will recall, on 9 October 2020 the ABC chief political correspondent Laura Tingle sent out a late night tweet. In it, she accused then prime minister Scott Morrison of “ideological bastardry” and concluded “hope you are feeling smug”. The tweet was removed the morning after the night before.

On 23 January, Scott Morrison announced he was resigning as the Liberal Party member for Cook to become vice-chair of the American Global Strategies organisation and to work with the asset firm DYNE.

So, who did the taxpayer funded public broadcaster enlist to cover the Morrison resignation for ABC TV 7.30 – the ABC’s prime current affairs program? Why, Comrade Tingle. How about that?

And so it came to pass that Laura Tingle praised Mr Morrison with faint dams – as the saying goes. Like all leaders, Morrison had his faults – on which Tingle concentrated. Even in relation to the AUKUS defence pact – the Morrison Government’s most important achievement – Tingle looked on the dark side of political life, pointing out that Morrison had upset France by not going ahead with French conventional submarines but committing to United States or British nuclear powered submarines.

That’s the problem with the ABC as a conservative free zone. When a former Liberal Party prime minister departs politics, the ABC could only find Morrison antagonist Laura Tingle to cover his political career. Can You Bear It?

  • COMMUNICATOR BEN HART COMMUNICATES THAT DONALD TRUMP AND MIKE PENCE ARE BESTIES ENOUGH TO CO-AUTHOR A FOREWORD TO SCOTT MORRISON’S BOOK

While on the topic of Scott Morrison, his retirement was covered by ABC TV’s News Breakfast on 24 January in the “Newspapers” segment.

Communications consultant Ben Hart was the commentator and he spoke to co-presenters Lisa Millar and Michael Rowland. Towards the end of the segment, discussion turned to Mr Morrison’s resignation. Reference was made to avowed Christian Scott Morrison’s forthcoming book Plan For Your Good. It contains a foreward by fellow evangelist Mike Pence, the former US vice-president during the administration of Donald Trump. Let’s go to the transcript:

Ben Hart: … we know that Scott Morrison was very close to Trump. Trump has written apparently the foreword to his book and Scott Morrison –

Michael Rowland: Mike Pence has written the foreword to his book.

Ben Hart: I think it was reported that they were co –

Michael Rowland: Oh okay, I stand corrected.

What a load of absolute tosh. Comrade Rowland was correct. The idea that Trump would co-operate with Pence on anything these days is mind-blowingly naïve. The former detests the latter. And Ben Hart – News Breakfast’s fave communicator – is not aware of one of the great rivalries in American politics. Can You Bear It?

  • JANE CARO DISRUPTS A TIME OF GOODWILL FOR ALL WITH AN EVENING RANT ABOUT CHRISTOFASCISTS

The last issue of MWD went out on 15 December 2023.  It was that time of the year when many mere mortals look forward to experiencing a time of peace and goodwill towards others. The reference is to the Gospel of Luke 2:14 (Douay Version preferred).

But, alas, it was not to be.  The prospect of peace and good-willism across the land was interrupted by the sound of Jane Caro.  As MWD readers will recall, Comrade Caro in 2019 tweeted that some 50.1 per cent plus of her fellow citizens were “truculent turds”. She later said that she was, er, tired and emotional at the time.

But there’s more.  It was around Gin & Tonic Time on Saturday 30 December 2023 when Ellie’s (male) co-owner noticed this post:

 

Does anyone care that, on a Saturday evening, Jane Caro is blocking someone or other on X? Apart, that is, from Nine Entertainment’s Sunday magazine which employs her as an occasional columnist.

As to “Christofascists”. Well, clearly, Comrade Caro has a limited vocabulary – especially at Gin & Tonic Time.  The original Fascists – remember Benito Mussolini – were hostile to Christianity in general and the Catholic Church in particular. They were hardly “Christofascists”.   How ignorant can a Nine columnist get? Can You Bear It?

  • JENNA (“FOR ALL I KNOW”) PRICE MAKES STUFF UP IN HER SYDNEY MORNING HERALD/AGE COLUMN

And so it came to pass that the last MWD for 2023 coincided with the last (boring) segment of the ABC TV’s The Drum.  Re which see “An ABC Update” in this issue.

The Sydney-based MWD fave Jenna Price, who identifies as a visiting fellow at the Australian National University in Canberra and as a regular columnist for The Age and Sydney Morning Herald, was one of The Drum’s 800 panellists. Before Price commenced visiting the ANU, Comrade Price taught media at the University of Technology, Sydney. [How often does this comrade visit the ANU, I wonder? – MWD Editor.]

Not surprisingly Dr Price (for a doctor she is) was somewhat upset by the demise of The Drum.  So much so that she wrote a column for The Age and SMH on 30 December 2023 titled “Canning The Drum latest ABC misfire”.  This is what she had to say about the program’s junking:

The Drum is dead, a victim of the chaos the ABC now finds itself in. Audiences for the national broadcaster have shrunk. Weekly reach has dropped by nearly 8 per cent over nine years. Under the eye of Ita Buttrose, the budget for the ABC has withered.

What a load of absolute tosh. As an avid Sydney reader – an economist, in fact – has put it to MWD.

You no doubt saw the nonsense from Jenna Price in today’s SMH where she suggested that the ABC budget had “withered” under the Chairmanship of Ita Buttrose. A basic inspection of the ABC’s annual reports shows that the ABC’s expenses have increased from:

  • $1.114 billion in 2021, to
  • $1.140 billion in 2022, to
  • $1.204 billion in 2023.

That’s a $90 million increase, yes increase, over two years. I would like my household finances to wither like that.

Jenna Price went on to write:

On top of this, the ABC is constantly harassed by News Corp commentators who, for all I know, get bonuses every time they demean the public broadcaster.

How about that? The learned ANU visiting fellow implied that (unnamed) News Corp commentators “get bonuses every time they demean the public broadcaster”.  Her evidence?  Zip. Indeed, the ANU academic admitted that she does not know whether her suggestion is true or not.  This, apparently, is what passes for scholarship at the ANU. Which raises the question – Does Dr Price teach ANU students that it is professional journalism to make imputations against commentators even though the accuser has no idea whether they are true or not?  Which raises another question, to wit – Can You Bear It?

  • STUART LITTLEMORE CONDEMNS ABC EXTRA-CURRICULAR OPINIONATING STAFF WITHOUT CONFESSING THAT ONCE-UPON-A-TIME HE WAS AN ACTIVIST ABC JOURNALIST

While on the topic of Sydney Morning Herald/Age columnists, did anyone see the piece by Stuart Littlemore and David Salter on 23 December 2023 titled: “ABC is at rock bottom:  Blame negligence high up”.  Stuart Littlemore KC is the founding host of ABC TV’s Media Watch. And David Salter is a journalist who was, for a time, executive producer of Media Watch.  As avid readers will be aware, your man Salter won MWD’s most prestigious “Five Paws Award” in Issue 662, 24 November 2023 for railing against the ABC’s obsession with diversity (except political diversity).

The Littlemore/Salter analysis was thoughtful.  They have no problem with ABC management’s decision to scrap The Drum or discontinue Andrew Probyn’s employment in Canberra.  And they are untroubled with the decision to bring forward the departure of Josh Szeps (re which see Issue 655) and to terminate the short-term contract of Antoinette Lattouf (re which see this issue).

The Littlemore/Salter critique was focused on “the ABC’s failure to control the extracurricular opinionating of its on-air staff”.   Since the ABC is a Conservative Free Zone, they were clearly referring to the taxpayer funded public broadcaster’s abundance of leftist activist journalists.

Littlemore/Salter also criticised the ABC “of being too willing to accede to pressures that allow the well-meaning goal of diversity to compromise professional standards”. Quite so.  But the joint authors overlook the point that the ABC’s quest for diversity does not extend to political diversity.

MWD has only one other substantial criticism of the Littlemore/Salter article in Nine Entertainment’s newspapers.  Namely, either they have a poor memory or else they are in denial.

The truth is that, in his (media) day, Stuart Littlemore was an activist left-wing journalist.  Comrade Littlemore (as he then was) worked on ABC TV’s This Day Tonight (the predecessor to 7.30) in the early 1970s.

In his 1996 book, The Media and Me (ABC Books), Stuart Littlemore proudly wrote that, on his watch, “TDT had built its success on assaulting the conservative values of postwar Australia”.  He added that TDT was not into “detached quasi-professionalism” but was involved in “angry journalism, calculated to change Australian attitudes”. Littlemore also wrote that TDT was the Coalition government’s “main antagonist” in the years leading up to the election of Gough Whitlam’s Labor government in December 1972.  Moreover, he and his colleagues were “hardly going to attack” the Whitlam government in office. In short, the ABC was a leftist staff collective.

So, there you have it. In December 2023, Stuart Littlemore criticised ABC management for tolerating the “extracurricular opinionating” of on-air staff.  Without mentioning that he and his comrades were among the first to take the ABC down the extra-curricular opinionating road of activist left-wing journalism.  Convenient, eh?  But, Can You Bear It?


NEW FEATURE: A DAVID CROWE MOMENT

Due to (overwhelming) popular demand, Media Watch Dog has decided to establish “A David Crowe Moment” segment. Your man Crowe is chief political correspondent for The Age and Sydney Morning Herald. He is much loved by the taxpayer funded public broadcaster and is a regular commentator on ABC TV’s Insiders and ABC Radio National Breakfast programs.  Oh yes, Comrade Crowe is also vice-president of the National Press Club.

David Crowe’s singular book is titled Venom. In fact, like the British Royal Family, it has more than one title.  Believing that Labor would win the May 2019 election, Venom was advertised before the 2019 election as having the title “Venom: The Vendettas and Betrayals that Broke a Party”. The reference was to The Liberal Party.  Former Liberal Party prime minister Malcolm Turnbull was photographed on the front cover with Peter Dutton behind him.  Mr Turnbull had been replaced in August 2018 by Scott Morrison and Mr Dutton had voted for the motion that there be a spill of the leadership position – where Turnbull lost and subsequently stepped down.

Comrade Crowe and most of his (out of touch) colleagues in the Canberra Press Gallery believed that the Labor Party, led by Bill Shorten, would defeat the Morrison-led government in May 2019. Whoops – it didn’t happen.  What to do with a book about to go to the publisher when the author’s prediction about the election outcome was hopelessly wrong?  Easy, really. Change the cover and some of the text.

And so it came to pass that the sub-title of Crowe’s learned tome was changed.  It now became: Venom: Vendettas, Betrayals and the Price of Power.

Your man Crowe is one of those left-of-centre Canberra Press Gallery types who will tolerate a Coalition government provided it is led by a left-of-centre politician like Malcolm Turnbull. But not one by the likes of John Howard, Tony Abbott, Scott Morrison or Peter Dutton.  But there you go.

It’s said that “you can’t judge a book by its cover”. Quite so.  But David Crowe’s column can be judged by its first inaugural sentence – on some occasions at least.  But first some background.

David Crowe’s last Age/SMH column for 2022 was headed: “My world tour: 52 books in 52 weeks”.  Apparently, he believed that readers (if readers there were) would be interested in the fact that his daughter challenged her old man to read “52 books from 52 countries in 52 weeks”.  And he did. Groan. And then he wrote about this in his column. Zzzzzzzzz.

It turned out that on 23 December 2022, Crowe cited the titles of the 22 books that he had read. Does anyone care?  At least he read – or, rather, re-read – Flann O’Brien’s At Swim-Two-Birds and cited the following stanza:

A wise old owl once lived in a wood

The more he heard the less he said

The less he said the more he heard

Let’s emulate that wise old bird.

The binge reader of Nine Entertainment then reflected: “Nonsense, or life advice?  I’m still working through that”.  Really.  Perhaps someone at Nine should tell its chief political correspondent that Flann O’Brien (1911-1966) was a satirist, not a philosopher.  That’s why MWD’s hugely popular “The Flann O’Brien Gong for Literary or Verbal Sludge” is in existence. See MWD passim ad nauseam.

Believe it or not, David Crowe gave the literary dice another throw with his final Age/SMH column for 2023. Groan squared.  It was titled “My Tour: 52 countries via 52 books”.

Here’s how Crowe’s column on 22 December 2023 commenced:

The moment al-Sayyid Ahmad walked across his courtyard in Cairo, with his wife holding a lamp at the top of the stairs, I knew I was at home.

What a load of pretentious literary sludge.  Pity Flann O’Brien is not around to deal with it.  This will surely be short-listed as the worst opening sentence in a Nine Entertainment newspaper in the calendar year.

It turned out that Crowe’s daughter’s old man cited the names of 16 books he read in 2023.  This time your man Crowe asked himself, “Did I cheat?”  Well, he admitted that he “ripped through one Scottish novel in record time so I could flee its turgid prose”.   How about that?  Crowe is complaining about the turgid prose of others.

And then there is this:

No offence to our nation’s leaders, but I sorely needed this escape from federal politics by reading my way around the world.

Turn it up.  Does Comrade Crowe really believe the likes of Anthony Albanese, Penny Wong and Peter Dutton give a toss about how many books he reads (give or take a cheat or two) in a calendar year?

And then there was this confession:

 I tended to persevere with bad choices early in the year, so I learned over time to make merciless decisions about a book’s opening pages. In one case, the first sentence was enough: “I’m a literature graduate and seek oblivion in drink.”

Crowe doesn’t mention it. But the sentence is from The Spies, a novel by Brazilian writer Luis Fernando Verissimo which was originally published in Portuguese.  MWD reckons this is a great first sentence for a novel.  But, then, Hendo read it at Gin & Tonic time a decade ago. Moreover, what would Ellie’s (male) co-owner know?

In any event, David Crowe bagged the first sentence of a Verissimo novel while commencing the column in which he rejects The Spies with his very own turgid literary sludge.

Verily, A David Crowe Moment.

[Perhaps this should have found a place in your hugely popular “Can You Bear It?” segment or given the out-of-touch Nine comrade the Flann O’Brien Gong. Just a thought. – MWD Editor.]

 

 

David Crowe’s 2019 book Venom can be best judged with reference to its two covers – the one on the left was junked before publication when the Liberal Party did not “break” at the 2019 election.

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THE LAST BORING BEAT OF THE (BORING) DRUM

 Once upon a time humans, animals and organisations were wont to die. Now, however, they simply “pass”.  And so it happened that ABC TV’s The Drum passed (aka died) on Friday 15 December 2023.

The death – er, passing – of The Drum was commented on by Debi Enker in her “Hindsight” column in Nine Entertainment’s The Guide (which appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald on 15 January 2024 and The Age on 18 January 2024). The piece commenced as follows:

The recent demise of The Drum leads one to ponder the priorities of the national broadcaster and its future direction. In the same vein, I have to say that I still miss Lateline. Nothing produced since its 2017 axing has filled its space in the ABC’s current-affairs coverage: detailed discussion of local, national and international events featuring contributions from experts drawn from around the world. Now it’s reasonable to fear that The Drum will leave a similarly unedifying legacy and another gaping hole.

But then Ms Enker conceded that, in fact, The Drum will not leave a “gaping hole” in ABC TV’s current affairs output – since it had too many faults.  Here they are, according to Ms Enker:

The Drum was patchy, its quality reliant on the topic and the guests. While one might quibble about the choice of contributors, the balance of opinions and who was the best host, the idea of a discussion program that could consider a range of topical social, political and economic issues from a diversity of perspectives seems to be exactly what the ABC should be doing.

So, there you have it.  According to Debi Enker, The Drum is exactly what the ABC should be doing.  Except that the program – under presenters Julia Baird, Ellen Fanning and Dan Bourchier – was “patchy” in that “one might quibble about the choice of contributors, the balance of opinions and who was the best host”.    Ms Enker also conceded that The Drum had a “dedicated” and “loyal” audience –  but “not a huge one”.   Which means that it rated poorly – not satisfactory for any program which leads into the main evening news bulletin. In this case, the main ABC TV news bulletin at 7 pm.

Moreover, contrary to Enker’s claim, The Drum did not feature a “balance of opinions”. Like the taxpayer funded public broadcaster of which it was part – The Drum was essentially a conservative free zone which “cancelled” or de-platformed many political conservatives.  In short, The Drum was a manifestation of the ABC’s problems – not a solution.

On 20 December 2023, the Sydney Morning Herald ran a number of letters about Jenna Price’s defence of The Drum (see “Can You Bear It?” segment). Half supported The Drum, half did not.  This is what Stephen Matthews had to say:

For many viewers The Drum had lost its way. The Drum became too mono-thematic and inspired nightly pre-broadcast predictions of the subjects to be covered and the culture of those who would be corralled into discussing them. First Nations, and what were portrayed as women’s issues, were on the agenda most nights. And the emphasis was nearly always on the bad news, rarely on the good (or at least positive) news. It wasn’t just the ratings that killed The Drum. It was a lack of subject diversity, too few people whose views we could thoughtfully consider, and bias.

In her piece, Debi Enker acknowledged the challenge facing “heritage broadcasters” like the ABC is “to offer content that attracts additional viewers while retaining the existing ones”.  Over the years, ABC has lost many of its politically conservative viewers and listeners without gaining an equivalent number of new viewers from among the young.

The Drum Needed a Boring Detector

What fans of The Drum will not accept is that the program failed essentially because it was boring, lacked political diversity, focused on intellectually fashionable left-wing causes and had panellists who had little of importance to say – and, in many instances, scant knowledge about the issues they were invited to discuss.

Yet The Drum’s presenters, producers and the like would not accept that they were presiding over a dud.  This is evident in the final comments of its trio of presenters – all of whom seemed of the view that, despite falling ratings, the taxpayer funded program should have been continued until, say, the Twelfth of Never – and, as the song goes, that’s a long, long time.

  • Dan Bourchier

On Tuesday 12 December 2023, it was announced that The Drum would be discontinued as of 15 December. Here is how Dan Bourchier introduced the program:

Dan Bourchier: And before we begin tonight, a little news of our own. Sadly, the ABC has announced this very program won’t continue next year.  The director of news, Justin Stevens, paid tribute to the program today calling it “groundbreaking in championing diversity on air and leading the way in finding new voices”. But he says the difficult decision was based on changing audience habits. We’ll reflect on that with our panel later and in the days ahead….

Forget the hypocrisies. Justin Stevens’ reference to “changing audience habits” was a soft way of saying that The Drum’s  ratings were poor and getting worse. Yet Bourchier implied that it should not have been wound up. How self-indulgent can a TV presenter get?

At the end of the program, Bourchier returned to the topic – claiming that The Drum was about “opening up the conversation” in that it was “curious about all aspects of life in Australia: gender, diversity, perspective, race, socio-economic status, age, creed, religious inclination – we’re about inclusion and respect, not both-siderism or bi-partisan spats”.  He added: “It’s all about enriching our understanding of each other. Having these big frank conversations, where we can disagree respectfully, is more important now than it ever has been….”

Talk about self-denial. There was little disagreement on The Drum (respectful or otherwise). Invariably presenters and panellists agreed with each other in a fashionable leftist way on all the fashionable left-wing causes.  Or, as  Comrade Bourchier would put it – it was not into “both-siderism” but, rather, proclaimed one-siderism.

  • Ellen Fanning

On the day the demise of The Drum was announced, Ellen Fanning and Julia Baird wrote articles for ABC News. Ms Fanning praised the program and declared that it differed “from the Punch and Judy of traditional panel shows that put one ‘side’ against the other towards a nuanced, complex grassroots conversation that is authentically Australian, reflecting the spirit of this country and our enduring capacity to listen and learn from one another”. Whatever that might mean.

Fanning concluded: “Let’s not lose that”. However, what happened was that The Drum lost its audience.

On Thursday 14 December 2023, presenter Ellen Fanning had this to say:

Ellen Fanning: This is my last edition of The Drum. I’ve sat in this studio since 2018, with many of the 800-plus panellists on our books. Over the past two days, hundreds and hundreds of those panellists have told us what the show has meant to them. And that would never have been possible without our small but extraordinary team of producers. They’ve identified those amazing panellists in the community. Some already known on the public stage, many not. They sought them out, encouraged them, convinced them to come on the telly.

What was missing here was any understanding that The Drum was supposed to exist for its audience – not for the emotional well-being of its 800 or so panellists. And that it was expected to exude information by well-informed panellists.  This rarely occurred on The Drum.

  • Julia Baird

 In her article in ABC News on 12 December, Julia Baird praised The Drum.  Quelle Surprise!  She claimed that “our priority has been diversity”. But overlooked the fact that there was scant political diversity on The Drum.  Baird wrote: “At the end of this long stretch, it seems clear to me now that The Drum has been primarily about hope”.  Accompanied by respect.  It seems that it took her over a decade to work this out.

 Julia Baird presented the final edition of The Drum on Friday 15 December. The panel comprised Adam Liaw, Catherine Liddle, Amy Remeikis, Toby Ralph and Annabel Crabb.  All centre-left or leftist types, even though Ralph has some different views on some issues.  There was not a political conservative anywhere to be seen or heard.  In other words, it was a typical (boring) Drum program lacking political diversity.

In spite of the fact that it had been a very busy news week, Dr Baird (for a  doctor she is) decided that the topic for the day was – wait for it – “The importance of maintaining and nurturing hope”.  Yes, hope. Yawn.  All the panel, in turn, addressed the issue of Hope.  Zzzzzzz.  There was no time to get around to Faith and Charity.

Towards the end, Annabel Crabb praised Julia Baird and her leadership and added that hers was a “great and immortal achievement”.   Then it was over to the doctor in The Drum house:

Julia Baird: But just before we finish, I’d like to finally thank the guests on this, our very last, show – all of whom have helped make this show what it is…. And on behalf of my team and co-hosts – Ellen Fanning and Dan Bourchier – thank you, our loyal viewers who all this was for. We hope you felt heard. We hope you found something to make you think, to make you laugh, even to give you hope. Now, friend of the show, author Richard Flanagan, says, “despair is always rational but hope is always human”. And perhaps it’s the essence of being human. And I think he’s absolutely right. I want to thank you for sticking with us for 13 years. It has been an absolute honour and a marvellous ride. Good night.

Yep, a marvellous (self-indulgent) ride – except for the fact that many passengers fell off the ride along the way. Something that Julia Baird, Ellen Fanning and Dan Bourchier did not want to talk about.

More Panellists Than Viewers?

None of the trio of presenters reported that, in advising ABC staff of The Drum’s demise, Justin Stevens (Director News, ABC) wrote that the program had been watched by “comparatively small and declining audiences in recent times” (see Jenna Clarke’s article in The Australian, 12 December 2023).   It would seem that the likes of Bourchier, Fanning and Baird would have been happy to preside over a program which had more panellists than viewers.  But it was not to be.

The Drum and The Voice Referendum

The problem with The Drum was (unintentionally) revealed by the ABC itself.

In December 2023, the ABC released its Voice to Parliament Referendum Report of the Chair – which was presented to the ABC chair Ita Buttrose.  It was written by Mark Maley (ABC Editorial Policies Manager).

This is standard practice.  When there is a Commonwealth election or referendum, the ABC puts a stop-watch on news and current affairs to ensure that various mainstream political views are balanced.  This lasts for a period of the official election campaign – usually about six weeks.  It does not cover the rest of the usual three-year electoral term.

In presenting the report, Mr Maley advised Ms Buttrose that “The Drum made a major contribution to the referendum coverage”.  But he acknowledged a problem. Here it is:

In terms of balance of voices, the program found early that a large number of regular non-Indigenous panellists were more readily prepared to identify as “Yes” than “No” and several constants of the program told producers they would not be available for the period because they didn’t want to identify as “No” publicly.

How about that?  Despite a list of some 800 panellists, The Drum could not find enough “No” supporters to match “Yes” supporters over a six-week period.

And then there was the disdain shown by members of The Drum team to those with whom they disagreed.  Take Dan Bourchier’s final program as presenter, for example. Much of the panel discussion turned on the 14 October referendum on The Voice.   It was one of those panels where everyone agreed with everyone else in supporting the “Yes” case – which had been defeated by 60 per cent to 40 per cent. Bourchier, who identifies as Indigenous, was a strong Yes supporter.  The panel members were Roy Ah-See, Craig Chung, Jenna Price and Lisa Jackson Pulver.

The “star” of the show was Professor Lisa Jackson Pulver of Sydney University. The learned professor told viewers (if viewers there were) that she was disappointed with her fellow Australians. Really. Let’s go to the transcript:

Lisa Jackson Pulver:  I have to say I’m very disappointed in the Australian people.  People are just too lazy or too disinterested or just felt it didn’t involve them – so they’ll just check the box for “No” because that’s simple.

Somewhat elitist, don’t you think? Yet neither Comrade Bourchier nor any of the panellists objected when Professor Pulver effectively said that some 60 per cent of Australians were lazy, ill-informed idiots. And Dr Baird and Ms Fanning maintain that The Drum was tops for respect.

In time, The Drum’s viewers became disappointed in the program and its panellists.  The ABC junked The Drum because it was a failure.  Whatever current affairs TV should be – it shouldn’t be boring.


CORRESPONDENCE

This overwhelmingly popular segment of Media Watch Dog usually works like this. Someone or other thinks it would be a you-beaut idea to write to Gerard Henderson AC (Always Courteous) about something or other. And Hendo, being a courteous and well-brought-up kind of guy, replies. Then, hey presto, the correspondence is published in MWD – much to the delight of its avid readers.

There are occasions, however, when (the late) Jackie’s (male) co-owner decides to write a polite note to someone or other – who, in turn, believes that a reply is in order. Publication in MWD invariably follows. There are, alas, some occasions where your man Henderson sends a polite missive – but does not receive the courtesy of a reply. Nevertheless, publication of this one-sided correspondence still takes place. For the record – and in the public interest, of course.

GERARD HENDERSON & MARK MALEY RE THE ABC’S DE-PLATFORMING OF FRANK BRENNAN AND GERARD HENDERSON WITH RESPECT TO THEIR BOOKS ON THE PELL CASE AFTER THE HIGH COURT DECISION

Launching the New Updated Edition of Gerard Henderson’s Cardinal Pell, The Media Pile-On & Collective Guilt in Sydney on 24 January, Fr Frank Brennan SJ agreed with the author that it was “mere intellectual cowardice” for the likes of the ABC, Nine newspapers and The Guardian Australia to have avoided discussion on the Pell Case following the High Court judgment in Pell v The Queen.

All three outlets gave substantial coverage about the lead-up to Pell’s conviction for historical child sexual abuse.  But all completely ignored books by Brennan and Henderson which were published after the High Court quashed Pell’s conviction – in a unanimous seven to nil joint judgment.

The censorship continued when the ABC, Nine and The Guardian Australia did not cover the recent criticism of the Victorian legal system by Archbishop Anthony Fisher with respect to the Pell Case.  This received Front Page coverage in The Australian on 12 January in an article by Dennis Shanahan.

Gerard Henderson wrote to Mark Maley – Editorial Policy Manager, ABC News – on 10 January about the ABC decision to cancel books on the Pell Case by Frank Brennan and himself.  He wrote again on 12 January – this time taking in the failure of the ABC to report the Catholic Archbishop of Sydney’s comments.

Mr Maley, who had been on leave, responded to Henderson – but said that the correspondence was “Confidential – Not for Publication”. This seemed an unusual request since the email contained no commercial or personal information – and it was written by a senior manager at the taxpayer funded public broadcaster.

At Mr Maley’s request, his email of 15 January has neither been published nor quoted.  However, Media Watch Dog is of the view that Australian taxpayers have a right to know what Henderson wrote to the ABC about its non-coverage of one of the most important cases in the history of Australian criminal law.  Now read on –  s’il vous plait, as the French are wont to say:

 

Gerard Henderson to Mark Maley – 10 January 2024

Dear Mark

It was good to meet you – albeit briefly – at The Sydney Institute last year when I spoke about the ABC.  As I recall, you attended as a guest of Geraldine Doogue.

During the question/discussion period, I answered a query about the ABC’s apparent decision to “cancel” the likes of Frank Brennan and myself – who had written about the Pell Case following the High Court’s unanimous decision to quash the Cardinal’s convictions.  I have attached a transcript of the exchange.

I do not expect that the ABC will lift its censorship with respect to this matter.  However, I wish to draw attention to an endorsement of my book by former High Court judge Michael Kirby AC CMG which appears on the cover of the New Updated Edition. Here it is:

A very good read. Even if one did not study more than the time interval taken to cross the Cathedral, a very serious doubt was raised as to Cardinal Pell’s guilt. Thank you for writing this book. It is an important contribution to the efforts to establish a Criminal Cases Review Commission – as in the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Canada. Effective protections against miscarriages of justice in Australia must be there for all serious cases, even for a cardinal.

So there you have it.  Michael Kirby believes that my book is important.  But not one ABC television, radio or online outlet will discuss the book.  By the way, Frank Brennan (another recipient of ABC censorship in this instance) will launch the third edition later this month.

Best wishes – and Keep Morale High.

Gerard

 

Gerard Henderson

cc: David Anderson; Justin Stevens

 

[Gerard Henderson’s address given at The Sydney Institute on 14 June 2023 is published in The Sydney Papers Online Issue 60].

 

Gerard Henderson to Mark Maley – 12 January 2024

Good afternoon Mark

I refer to my (unacknowledged) email of 10 January concerning the ABC’s total cancellation of books on the Pell Case by Frank Brennan and myself.

The front page of The Australian today carries an “exclusive” by Dennis Shanahan titled “Pell a victim of Victoria’s ‘corrupt legal system’: archbishop”.   The reference is to comments made by Anthony Fisher, the Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, on the evening of Wednesday 10 January.  He referred to Cardinal George Pell’s conviction – which was quashed by a unanimous decision by the High Court of Australia – as a result of the “corrupt Victorian legal system” following a media, political and police witch hunt.

I would have thought that a vehement criticism of the Victorian legal system, by Australia’s most senior Catholic prelate, was newsworthy – especially on the public broadcaster. However, Archbishop Fisher’s comments did not make it to the main ABC TV 7am news bulletin.

This was preceded by ABC TV’s News Breakfast show this morning when Michael Rowland (who is criticised in my book Cardinal Pell, The Media Pile-On & Collective Guilt) and Bridget Brennan interviewed Josh Taylor – a reporter for the left-wing Guardian Australia – in the “Newspapers” segment.

Josh Taylor ignored the Archbishop Fisher story.  Like the ABC TV News’ 7am bulletin, he also avoided Dennis Shanahan’s report that Michael Kirby had provided an endorsement for my book – describing it as “an important contribution to the efforts to establish a Criminal Cases Review Commission” in Australia.

I would have thought that when a highly respected former High Court judge like Michael Kirby criticises the outcome in the Pell Case – one of the most important criminal law cases in Australian history – then this would be regarded as worthy of coverage on the public broadcaster. But, no.

So, there you have it.  ABC TV News Breakfast  between 6am and 7.05am totally ignored the Archbishop Fisher and Michael Kirby stories.  More evidence of the censorship practised by the ABC in regard to the late Cardinal Pell which I referred to in my recent email.

I do not expect that ABC senior management will do anything about the refusal by ABC journalists to cover considered speeches/articles/books about the Pell Case. Moreover, I do not anticipate that you will respond to this correspondence – preferring to throw the switch to denial via evasion.

Needless to say, any reply made by you would be appreciated and respected.

As you will be aware, for over a decade, the ABC gave extensive coverage to critics of George Pell – which is documented in my book. However, there has been total silence today concerning Archbishop Fisher OP and Michael Kirby AC CMG querying Cardinal Pell’s conviction by the Victorian legal system, which was then overturned by all seven judges of the High Court.

I call this unprofessional behaviour. I  do not know what term the ABC management would use.

Best wishes

Gerard Henderson

cc: David Anderson; Justin Stevens, Michael Rowland

 

Mark Maley to Gerard Henderson – 12 January 2024

Hello Gerard

Allow me to acknowledge it now. You may have noticed that Matt and I are on holiday with auto replies on our emails. I’ll give your emails proper consideration next week when I’m back at work and will reply.

Regards

Mark.

cc:  David Anderson; Justin Stevens; Michael Rowland

 

Gerard Henderson to Mark Maley – 12 January 2024

Hello Mark,

Thanks for your prompt response. Alas, I did not notice that you were on leave, but I did notice that Justin was.  I look forward to your response in due course. There is no hurry.

Best wishes

Gerard

 

Mark Maley to Gerard Henderson – 15 January 2024

This letter was marked “CONFIDENTIAL – NOT BE PUBLISHED”. Consequently, it has not been published by MWD nor quoted from. However, MWD believes that it is in the public interest that correspondence to the ABC should be published and that the ABC has no prerogative in preventing publication of such correspondence. – MWD Editor.

 

Gerard Henderson to Mark Maley – 17 January 2024

Mark

I refer to your email of 15 January 2024 which was marked “CONFIDENTIAL NOT FOR PUBLICATION”.

I appreciate that you responded to my emails of 10 and 12 January. However, I was surprised that a highly remunerated manager at a taxpayer funded organisation should insist that an email (which contained neither commercial nor personal information) should not be published.  Even though the communication was sent during office hours on a working day from the ABC which is a prominent member of Australia’s Right To Know coalition.   But there you go.

In response to your email, I make the following points:

  • I don’t claim to be a prophet.  However, I correctly predicted the response you might make when I wrote the following to you on 12 January:

I do not expect that ABC senior management will do anything about the refusal by ABC journalists to cover considered speeches/articles/books about the Pell Case. Moreover, I do not anticipate that you will respond to this correspondence – preferring to throw the switch to denial via evasion.

You did respond to my correspondence – but only by throwing the switch to denial via evasion.

  • I have never said that the ABC has made an official decision to cancel or ban Frank Brennan or myself with respect to our books on the Pell Case.  The taxpayer funded public broadcaster would not be so foolish.

As you know, decisions about who will, or will not, be invited on to the ABC are made by ABC presenters and/or executive producers.  There is no official “Index” on which individuals who do not fit the intellectual fashions which prevail at the Conservative Free Zone that is the ABC are cited.  Such people are simply not invited on to programs. It’s called de-programming.

Convenient, eh?  Since it makes it possible for ABC management to deny that such persons have been cancelled, censored or banned – since they are merely overlooked.

In the attachment to my email of 10 January, I referred to comments I made at The Sydney Institute on 14 June 2023 – a function which you attended. They were as follows:

One well known ABC journalist said to me that the book [Cardinal Pell, The Media Pile-On & Collective Guilt] was a great book but added that it was not possible to interview me about it due to what would be strong opposition from ABC staff, ABC management and ABC listeners and viewers. Another well-known journalist told me that the unwillingness of the ABC to discuss books on the Pell Case by Frank Brennan and myself was of concern but added the situation was “tricky”. It was not clear to me why a discussion on considered and documented books on the Pell Case after the High Court’s unanimous decision should be tricky.

There were a number of senior ABC personalities in the room when I made this comment – including yourself.  No one challenged my statement. You also ignored this in your recent email.

By the way, Frank Brennan has told me that he received a similar response to that outlined concerning me in the first example cited above.

What you are asking me to accept is that, over a period of more than two years, not one ABC TV or radio or online outlet throughout the land was of the view that there was either news value or audience interest in Frank Brennan’s book (which is in its second edition) or my book (which is in its third edition).

However, over the years, the ABC chose to give widescale coverage about Cardinal George Pell to such ABC employed Pell-antagonists as Louise Milligan, Sarah Ferguson and Tony Jones – along with such ABC faves as David Marr and Suzanne Smith, both of whom are former ABC employees.

  • I note that you are comfortable with the assessment of news value made by literally hundreds of ABC journalists – but unimpressed with former High Court judge Michael Kirby’s opinion that my work is an “important book”.  Yet none of the ABC journalists have Mr Kirby’s legal qualifications – and nor do you.
  • I also note that you do not regard statements made by Archbishop Anthony Fisher about the “corrupt Victorian legal system” (as reported by Dennis Shanahan in The Australianon 12 January) as news or audience interest.  A strange judgement, I would have thought.  You obviously disagree with Fisher – but this should not prevent his views being reported on the public broadcaster.

By the way, contrary to your claim, Archbishop Fisher did not use the word conspiracy – as reference to Shanahan’s story will attest.  You appear to have just made this up.  Sure, on 28 July 2016, Cardinal Pell was critical of “elements” of Victoria Police leaking material to the media, including the ABC.  I trust that you are not suggesting that there are no leaks from Victoria Police to journalists or to others who, in turn, contact journalists. I doubt that you are so naïve.  Also, many  individuals would hold the view that, over the years, Victoria Police has not been without the stain of corruption.

  • In conclusion, the new edition of Cardinal Pell, The Media Pile-On & Collective Guiltquotes Michael Rowland as making a totally false claim on ABC TV News Breakfast about Cardinal Pell after he had died and was unable to defend himself.  Mr Rowland obviously did no fact-checking. It’s certainly helpful to Michael Rowland’s reputation as a journalist that this matter will not be discussed on his ABC TV News Breakfastprogram where the falsehood could have been corrected by Frank Brennan or myself. But it is an example of the public broadcaster’s unprofessionalism.

Best wishes

Gerard Henderson

 

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Until Next Time.

 

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