SO the self-proclaimed Friends of the ABC are having another whinge, this time about the Abbott government’s decision to appoint Janet Albrechtsen and Neil Brown QC to the nominations panel that oversees appointments to the ABC and SBS boards.
Albrechtsen and Brown will join Ric Smith (chairman) and David Gonski in providing Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull with a shortlist of at least three for any ABC or SBS board vacancies. The panel is required to make comparative assessments of the recommended candidates. That’s all.
The Friends of the ABC’s Glenys Stradijot has described the decision as “alarming” and declared that it totally undermined the integrity of the ABC board appointment process. This is nonsense. Albrechtsen and Brown are at least as well qualified as the panel members they are replacing — namely Allan Fels and Leneen Forde.
Moreover, as anyone who has followed the ABC across the past decade or so will know, the ABC board does not run the ABC. If it did, then John Howard’s appointments of Ron Brunton, Albrechtsen and Keith Windschuttle to the ABC board would have changed how the ABC operates. This did not happen.
As anyone who understands corporate governance knows, boards do not run companies. Nor should they. The role of a board is that of oversight. Chief executives run companies and, in turn, they report to their boards. The only significant role of the ABC board is to select the managing director and editor-in-chief.
In 1996 Howard said that the ABC should employ what he termed a “right-wing Phillip Adams”. Just one. Close to two decades later, the ABC still does not have one conservative presenter, producer or editor for any of its prominent television, radio or online outlets.
ABC managing director Mark Scott’s position is that this does not matter and that anyone who says it does is being “absolutely simplistic”. So there.
In his first speech as managing director in 2006, Scott promised to oversee a greater plurality of views on the ABC. He also declared that he would be an active editor-in-chief. Two broken promises. Scott’s failure to exercise an active editor-in-chief role has led to a situation where various cliques continue to control sections of the public broadcaster.
The leftist stack of the ABC began some four decades ago under the tutelage of declared left-winger Allan Ashbolt (1921-2005). This led to the appointment of what even the ABC’s sympathetic biographer KS Inglis has called “Ashbolt’s kindergarten”. These left-wing kinder-types grew up and appointed their successors.
The fact, eight years into Scott’s term, the ABC remains a conservative-free zone is not the result of a deliberate conspiracy. Rather, it is a product of like-minded appointing other like-minded to key positions. Hence the recent ABC recruitment of the likes of Waleed Aly, Chip Rolley and Jonathan Green.
Presenting ABC Radio National’s Sunday Extra, last weekend, Green handed over the program to the ABC’s Robyn Williams, who introduces the Ockham’s Razor segment each week. According to the ABC’s website, “Ockham’s Razor is a soap box for all things scientific, with short talks by researchers and people from industry with something thoughtful to say about science.”
Last Sunday, however, Ockham’s Razor had nothing whatsoever to say about science. Instead Williams introduced author and playwright Roger Pulvers, who delivered a leftist account of Australian involvement in various conflicts.
Pulvers initially threw the switch to sneering, declaring that “in anticipation of the celebration of victory (in 1945) and to mark the 70th anniversary this year of the D-Day landings, an album of songs by Dame Vera Lynn is to be issued … to remind us that the Blitz had as many hits as it did misses”. Funny, eh? Well, not to the victims of Germany in the early years of World War II when Britain plus the Commonwealth nations stood virtually alone against Adolf Hitler and Nazi totalitarianism.
The science-free analysis of the Ockham’s Razor essayist ran the familiar line that in 1914-18 Australia waged war against the Ottoman Empire. Not so. In 1915 the Australian Imperial Force invaded Turkey since the Ottoman Empire was an ally of Germany with which Australia was at war. The aim of the Dardanelles campaign was to attack Germany from the rear, away from the Western Front.
According to Pulvers, the 1914-18 conflict was “another man’s war”. However, as historian Joan Beaumont has pointed out in her book Broken Nation, this is not how Australians viewed the war at the time.
In any event, Germany was a Pacific power in the early 20th century and a victory for the Kaiser would have adversely affected Australian security. This is well explained in volumes such as The Great War edited by Craig Wilcox and The German Empire and Britain’s Pacific Dominions 1871-1919 edited by John A. Moses and Christopher Pugsley.
Pulver’s Ockham’s Razor diatribe even extended to the Pacific war. He referred to “the classes ruling us” at the time. This happens to have been the Labor government headed by former journalist John Curtin.
Pulvers went on to argue that the Americans did not “save Australia from the Japanese” since the emperor did not intend to occupy Australia.
In his historical ignorance, Pulvers seems unaware that Japan would have effectively conquered Australia by interdicting both sea-lanes and air-lanes. Ockham’s Razor last Sunday did not refer to the crucial Battle of the Coral Sea (May 1942) and Battle of Midway (June 1942) in which the US Navy, with the support of Australia, effectively stopped Japan’s advance in the Pacific.
No one in Australia in 1942 regarded the conflict as “another man’s war”.
The problem with the ABC is its engrained political culture. This cannot be resolved by the ABC board but it could be reformed by a managing director and editor-in-chief who is genuinely committed to pluralism and possesses the will to bring it about.
Meanwhile, expect to hear another non-scientific, left-wing rant on the supposedly scientific Ockham’s Razor. After all, as the saying goes, it’s their ABC.