ABC managing director Mark Scott sees part of the taxpayer-funded public broadcaster’s role as projecting Australia’s “soft power” into the Asia-Pacific. By this, he means that the ABC is well equipped to tell residents of the Asia-Pacific about Australia.
Yet anyone who happened to watch Monday’s Q&A program on ABC 1, and who believed what they heard, would have obtained a quite distorted view of this country.
Q&A invited three participants from the Sydney Opera House’s All About Women festival held last Sunday, namely Egyptian-born columnist Mona Eltahawy, Somalia-born human rights activist Ilwad Elman and British journalist Lucy Siegle.
The rest of the panel was made up of the American executive of Human Rights Watch, Ken Roth, and the newly appointed Australian Human Rights Commissioner, Tim Wilson. As usual, Tony Jones was in the presenter’s chair.
It was soon evident that Peter McEvoy, Q&A’s executive producer, had provided a platform for four left-of-centre foreigners to have a rant against contemporary Australia. Roth described the Coalition government as “anachronistic” and went on to declare that “Australia is looking ridiculous to the world”. He called Tony Abbott “disgraceful” and bagged Foreign Minister Julie Bishop.
Elman claimed that Australia was “regressing” and falsely alleged that the Abbott government ministers were “talking about how Australians should be bigots”. Jones did not correct this wilful falsehood. Siegle joined in the chorus, declaring that Australia is “sounding pretty toxic”.
Eltahawy described the Prime Minister as “a walking anachronistic” and declared that Australians “are scared of brown and black people coming into your country”. She seemed blissfully unaware of the ethnic composition of Australia’s net annual 250,000 migration intake and the intermarriage statistics.
Wilson did his best to provide balance to the debate. It was not an easy task.
Scott is much loved among the Left intelligentsia, who dominate the social science departments within Australian universities. So it came as no surprise that he was invited to deliver his second AN Smith Memorial Lecture in Journalism at Melbourne University’s Centre for Advancing Journalism last Tuesday.
When Scott gave this lecture in 2009, he bagged News Corp’s Rupert Murdoch — depicting him as a one-time “emperor” who believed that because he “once controlled the world” and “once set the rules” he “can do so again”.
This was mere hyperbole concerning a successful media proprietor, which went down well in front of an essentially university audience at a taxpayer-subsidised academy.
The ABC managing director returned to the theme in this year’s lecture. He foreshadowed the retreat of Fairfax Media to producing weekend-only print editions of its products and expressed concern that, outside Perth, there could be a News Corp newspaper “monopoly through the week” in Australian capital cities.
Scott sees fit to offer gratuitous comments on the commercial media while presiding over a public broadcaster that does not employ one conservative presenter, producer or editor for any of its prominent television, radio or online outlets. One ABC board member has said privately that board members have been advised that there are no qualified conservatives for such positions.
This is a bit like saying there are no eligible females suitable for roles in the corporate sector.
In this year’s AN Smith Lecture, Scott once again went into denial — boasting that the ABC remains the most trusted and respected source of news and information in the country.
This simply ignores the recent opinion polls that demonstrate that a significant proportion of Coalition voters regard the ABC as biased or politically imbalanced: 35 per cent according to Newspoll and 46 per cent according to AC Nielsen.
This is a serious problem, which Scott refuses to acknowledge. Not surprisingly, Greens voters are the most supportive of the ABC.
Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull told The Australian on Monday that the ABC board “must take responsibility” for the public broadcaster’s impartiality and accuracy. However, this is a part-time body that meets six times a year.
The ABC board is not involved in appointing key ABC presenters, producers or editors. And it has no role in determining the guest list for such programs as Q&A. In short, the board does not have the capacity to determine that ABC news and current affairs programs are balanced.
Scott is the ABC’s well-paid managing director and editor-in-chief. It is his responsibility to ensure impartiality and accuracy.
Last month, ABC chairman Jim Spigelman released two commissioned reviews into the ABC content. The first, by one-time ABC operative Andrea Wills, cleared the ABC of any breaches of editorial policy in the way the prime minister and opposition leader were interviewed during last year’s federal election campaign.
This is hardly a surprise, since the ABC is invariably balanced with respect to the two main political leaders during election campaigns.
The second review, by one-time ABC operative Gerald Stone, essentially clearedLateline and 7.30 over their handling of the asylum-seeker issue between the middle of 2012 and the end of last year. However, the four instances of bias identified were all at the expense of organisations and individuals supportive of a strong border-protection policy. This is consistent with the criticism that many ABC programs run a green-Left agenda.
Or, as the Prime Minister told journalist Miranda Devine in December, the ABC tends to criticise both the Coalition and Labor from the Left.
Currently, the public broadcaster tends to project the ideological clout of the green-Left — not the soft power of Australia.