Two words explain the ABC’s current predicament; namely, diversity and denial. That’s about it.

Unlike the commercial media at a time of increasing competition and declining advertising revenue, the taxpayer-funded public broadcaster is guaranteed more than $1bn annually for the next five years. In this sense the ABC has no real problems. But it is conscious of declining ratings on its radio and television platforms and it has lost so many of its one-time politically conservative audience without replacing them with a younger generation. Which partly explains the success of subscription TV service Sky News Australia.

The ABC remains a conservative-free zone without one conservative producer, presenter or editor for any of its main news and current affairs programs. ABC management and many ABC staff are in denial about this. But no one has been able to name a conservative in any of these roles.

In other words, the ABC’s main studios in Ultimo (Sydney) and Southbank (Melbourne) are bubbles in which essentially everyone essentially agrees with everyone else on essentially everything – and alternative views are simply not heard. This leads to problems.

The most recent ABC controversy turned on comments made by Laura Tingle at the taxpayer-funded 2024 Sydney Writers Festival last month. The ABC TV 7.30 chief political correspondent – who was a panellist with the ABC’s permission – declared that Australia is and always was “a racist country”. Describing Australia as racist is standard fare for the alienated left. No surprise, then, that her comment was greeted with acclaim by the overwhelmingly leftist audience.

It would not have mattered so much if Tingle’s view had been challenged – this would have led to a lively discussion. The panel was hand-picked by former ABC TV Insiders presenter Barrie Cassidy. He chose four current Insiders panellists: Bridget Brennan (ABC), Amy Remeikis (Guardian Australia), Niki Savva (Nine) and Tingle. Tingle’s comment about Australia’s (alleged) racism was stated in a stream-of-consciousness manner critical of Liberal Party leader Peter Dutton. All members of the panel are Dutton antagonists to a greater or lesser extent. In short, no one was likely to stand up for the Opposition Leader at such an event. And no one did.

As ABC managing director David Anderson made clear at Senate estimates on May 30, Tingle was not counselled by Justin Stevens (the ABC’s director news) for declaring Australia to be racist. But, rather, Anderson said this was related to her “broad, unqualified statements with regard to the opposition’s budget reply speech”, which was delivered by Dutton.

This related to Tingle’s claim that Dutton had said words to the effect that “everything that’s going wrong in this country is because of migrants”. She said for Dutton “to give licence” for Australians to say this is “profoundly depressing and a terrible prospect for the next election”. This was a clear indication that, in Tingle’s view, the Coalition should not be elected under Dutton’s leadership.

In fact, she had made an almost identical statement a week earlier. Appearing on Insiders on May 19, Tingle stated: “You know, the hot buttons he’s (Dutton’s) pressing there, I think, are very dangerous for our community.” This was an even more serious warning about the danger to Australia of a Coalition victory. Instead of contesting this controversial view, Insiders presenter David Speers merely commented: “Let’s come back to the budget itself.”

Again, the failure of Insiders to come up with an alternative viewpoint contributed to the resultant controversy. When Liberal Party senator Sarah Henderson raised this matter at Senate estimates, the ABC managing director said: “I did not see the Insiders program.” He had almost two weeks to do so.

As a senior ABC journalist and the staff-elected member of the ABC board, Tingle has a special duty to act in accordance with section eight of the ABC Act and behave with a degree of impartiality when speaking on ABC programs or at functions where the ABC has given her permission to appear. This is more likely to happen if her views are challenged.

Six months ago ABC TV’s The Drum was axed. It has since been replaced with re-runs of Tom Gleeson’s Hard Quiz. No loss here since The Drum was insufferably boring and Gleeson is a rarity at the ABC – a funny comedian.

Watching Anderson at Senate estimates, it seems that ABC TV’s Q+A is headed for a similar fate. Liberal Party senator Dave Sharma raised the Q+A program of May 27 titled Gaza, Ukraine and the Public Square. Four of five panellists were highly critical of Israel, the other was somewhat critical of the Netanyahu government.

Sharma said he had questions “about the balance of the panel and the diversity of views that were expressed on the show”. Anderson responded that “sadly” he “didn’t see it”. Gavin Fang (ABC editorial director) then said “Ditto”. The Q+A episode was a rare occasion on which the ABC did not publish a transcript on its website. Enough said.

At Senate estimates, Anderson denied that the ABC deplatformed “other people”. However, it is widely known that many political conservatives have been “cancelled” while others will not appear – especially conservative women – in view of the unprofessional behaviour they experience from leftist audiences and sometimes presenters.

Anderson also declared “we make sure that we have a diversity of perspectives”. He seems blissfully unaware that one of the problems with The Drum (of recent memory) and Q+A turn on a blatant lack of political diversity.

In recent times former ABC presenters/executives such as Quentin Dempster and Alan Sunderland have told Nine newspapers there is no lack of balance or diversity at the ABC.

But a dissenter has emerged. Melbourne businessman Joe Gersh (a Sydney Institute board member) was on the ABC board between 2018 and last year. Gersh was described by Anderson as a “fantastic” ABC board member. Writing in The Australian Jewish News on May 30, Gersh described the ABC as so “captivated” by its leftist staff that it cannot properly report the emergence of anti-Semitism in Australia. But the ABC is also in denial about this lack of viewpoint diversity.