Reframing Freedom

Posted on Posted in ABC, Government Policy and Regulation, News Corp, Public Broadcasting, Public Interest

“Members of the Gillard government think the `top legislative priority’ should be to overhaul media laws, Attempts to control how news is reported and analysed will undermine freedom of speech by restricting the freedom of the media. This is a dangerous step to take as often it is the media that is the public’s advocate for the right to know and its guardian against abuses of power.” – The Australian, Feb 27, 2013

“The ABC has now reached the point where it is prepared to believe the word of asylum seekers, who have every motivation to exaggerate and manufacture claims of mistreatment in order to secure Australian relocation, over the word of our navy and government. Rather than being evidence of navy brutality, these latest claims are evidence that the ABC is out of control.” – The Daily Telegraph, Jan 23, 2014

What a difference a year, and a change of government, makes to the over-cooked freedom rhetoric. Those two quotes from the News Ltd stable tell you everything you need to know about how contingent the support for journalistic independence is at the most dominant media company in the country.

A year ago, it was outrage at “the Gillard government” stamping its jackboot of oppression into the freedom-loving faces of the Australian people. Now the outrage is directed at journalists of the publicly funded ABC daring to question “our government” over alleged mistreatment of asylum seekers. It’s that familiar cocktail of cant and affected piety disguising commercial self-interest that seems endemic to News Corp globally.

And we know the origin of self-interest in this case. Just as his son James did in the UK with the BBC, accusing it of a “land grab”, Murdoch sees the public broadcaster in Australia as camping on his lawn in the fiercely contested, fast-growing, but still low-yielding digital space that eventually will replace his loss-making Australian newspapers. Yes, folks, this isn’t about Voltaire or JS Mill or Thomas Jefferson. It’s about moolah. As usual. Murdoch wants not to just dominate the Australian media market, he wants to own it completely. And he’s prepared to invest big to secure that end.

It’s why his newspapers gave their fawning and nakedly partisan support to the Coalition in last year’s election campaign, photo-shopping Rudd as a Nazi (imagine the ABC doing that to, say, George Brandis?), printing ritual distortions and outright lies and running as a virtual PR agency for the challenger, stopping just short of polishing his shoes.

But having sunk so much (or so little) remaining editorial credibility into engineering a change of government, Murdoch is now calling in the bill. So we see the PM dutifully castigating the ABC for doing what it is supposed to do – being an independent check on power and asking tough, but necessary, questions. He specifically accused the broadcaster of “poor judgement” over joining The Guardian in publishing the leaks from whistleblower Edward Snowden about Australia spying on the Indonesian president and his wife. Now he has accused the ABC of being unpatriotic in its coverage of asylum seekers. (One wonders how The Australian would have responded had the Rudd government castigated its editorial writers for not helping to fight Australia’s corner at the Copenhagen climate talks.)

In the wake of that appearance on talkback radio, out come the ritual leaks about imminent cuts to the ABC’s budget (including canning the Asian broadcast contract that News Corp has long coveted)  and a renewed round of the now familiar complaints about perceived “leftist bias” by the broadcaster. Oddly, the critics of the ABC never seem able to provide actual examples of this raging leftism. Indeed, to this former journalist, the public broadcaster would appear to bend over backwards, with a pike, in its determination to be seen to walking the middle of the road. And, of course, for all the whinging by the culture warriors about a discredited and unprofessional ABC, survey after survey show the national broadcaster is the nation’s most trusted media outlet, clearly ahead of commercial television, radio and, running last, the Murdoch tabloids.

Lest I be accused of being an ABC-lefty-luvvie, it is completely defensible for the government to ensure taxpayers are getting value for money out of the national broadcaster. And for its part, the ABC has a responsibility to ensure the highest possible editorial standards, including a commitment to airing a wide range of views ( which is why the smarmy army of the IPA are part of the furniture at Harris St) But you don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to see the broadcaster’s critics, led by the Murdoch press, are out to kick away Aunty’s walking stick without waiting around for the inquiry.

In this debate, you can bet the Murdoch boosters and the IPA will run the line that News Corp is a commercial organisation accountable to the market, unlike the publicly funded ABC. But this ignores the long and shameful record of Australian governments of both political persuasions doing anything to appease Murdoch or to at least keep him off their backs (think Keating and the Herald and Weekly Times deal in the mid-80s). And it ignores that as judged by the market, Murdoch’s Australian print properties are an utter failure, loss-making institutions that are among the worst performing assets in his global empire. By comparison, the ABC gives very good value for money.

This all wouldn’t matter so much if we were talking about a battle over the breakfast cereals market. But this is about information. It’s about the right of people in a democracy to truthful, tough reporting, a multiplicity of views and voices and of the right of the Fourth Estate to hold the powerful to account independent of the vicissitudes of the commercial market.

Ultimately, it is not the job of any media organisation, publicly or privately owned, to be a cheerleader for the government, any government – left or right. But don’t let me get all JS Mill on you….

Elsewhere:
‘A Patriotic State-Owned ABC Would Not Serve Australia’s Best Interests’ – Margaret Simons
Clarke and Dawe

24 thoughts on “Reframing Freedom

  1. You are right Mr Denmore.

    The piper is at the door with an itemized account.

    What has the Lucky Country become?

    A Murdochracy or a dystopic oligarchy?

  2. You are right Mr Denmore.

    The piper is at the door with an itemized account.

    What has the Lucky Country become?

    A Murdochracy or a dystopic oligarchy?

  3. What I hate most is the Fox-ification of political debate. We've always known the Murdoch media has only ever looked out for Murdoch, but they have stopped bothering to even try to veil their hypocrisy, figuring they've dumbed their audience down enough to either not notice or not care.

    I'd like to think there was a time when, in the land of the fair go, it didn't matter how much you hated someone, you wouldn't accept an accusation about them that you knew to be bullshit (or should know, if you were mature and intelligent enough to tie your shoelaces unassisted).

    In the current climate, you could call Sydney radio or write to a Murdoch paper or website claiming that Julia Gillard ate babies for breakfast and washed them down with the tears of diggers and the host/editor would say, “You're probably right. Thanks for the contribution.”

  4. What I hate most is the Fox-ification of political debate. We've always known the Murdoch media has only ever looked out for Murdoch, but they have stopped bothering to even try to veil their hypocrisy, figuring they've dumbed their audience down enough to either not notice or not care.

    I'd like to think there was a time when, in the land of the fair go, it didn't matter how much you hated someone, you wouldn't accept an accusation about them that you knew to be bullshit (or should know, if you were mature and intelligent enough to tie your shoelaces unassisted).

    In the current climate, you could call Sydney radio or write to a Murdoch paper or website claiming that Julia Gillard ate babies for breakfast and washed them down with the tears of diggers and the host/editor would say, “You're probably right. Thanks for the contribution.”

  5. Well written Mr D, the ABC could be in for a tough time, I hope that the management has the balls to continue doing what they do best, that is report the news fairly. I for one get sick and tired of the IPA shrills on just about all of ABC commentary programs and they are usually NOT balanced by a more progressive voice. In many ways the ABC has a tilt to the right.

    In my opinion if the Abbott government goes hard on the ABC it is likely to backfire on them in the long run.

  6. Well written Mr D, the ABC could be in for a tough time, I hope that the management has the balls to continue doing what they do best, that is report the news fairly. I for one get sick and tired of the IPA shrills on just about all of ABC commentary programs and they are usually NOT balanced by a more progressive voice. In many ways the ABC has a tilt to the right.

    In my opinion if the Abbott government goes hard on the ABC it is likely to backfire on them in the long run.

  7. Mr Denmore,

    It is good to see you firing on all 12 cylinders. We need every person of good sense to analyse and denounce far and wide the appalling behaviour of both PM Blood Oaf's gummint and the Moloch-dominated “fourth estate” in Australia.

    More power to your keyboard.

  8. Mr Denmore,

    It is good to see you firing on all 12 cylinders. We need every person of good sense to analyse and denounce far and wide the appalling behaviour of both PM Blood Oaf's gummint and the Moloch-dominated “fourth estate” in Australia.

    More power to your keyboard.

  9. Of course, if the ABC hadn't spent the last several years parroting Murdoch/Liars slogans and propaganda, they may not be under threat from that unholy duopoly.

    It's a bit late and hypocritical, to piously start holding the Liars to account; it should have been happening for the last 6 years.

  10. Of course, if the ABC hadn't spent the last several years parroting Murdoch/Liars slogans and propaganda, they may not be under threat from that unholy duopoly.

    It's a bit late and hypocritical, to piously start holding the Liars to account; it should have been happening for the last 6 years.

  11. Listening to the news this morning about the Egyptian gov's reason for detaining the al Jezeera news team, it struck me that it could have come from Abbott's mouth. And may yet do.

  12. Listening to the news this morning about the Egyptian gov's reason for detaining the al Jezeera news team, it struck me that it could have come from Abbott's mouth. And may yet do.

  13. Mr Denmore, you highlight precisely the pretence of virtue and principles as well as the real motives behind all that pretence.

    The duplicitous nature of the treachery and patriotism comments is evident in the PM's denigration of previous Australian government policy to overseas dignitaries, thereby denigrating the electorate who voted for the government that delivered those policies.

    There is nothing patriotic or nationalistic about the Government serving the interests of an FIFO American citizen, with dual Australian “business-ship” by deriding his Australian competitor, funded by Australians, with a view to expanding the media corporation of the USA citizen to the detriment of Australians.

    Meanwhile, James Spigelman's excellent speech to the National Press Club, defending the work of the ABC was ignored in the controversy – a calculated strategy by the Government.

  14. I have two glimmers of hope in what is otherwise a gloomy scenario of rapid decline in Australia's ethics, economy, society and environment.

    One is that the fact that Abbott's COALition performers are so obviously incompetent, fumbling, and incoherent that enough voters will learn that lesson more or less permanently and fewer people will naively trust them in the future.

    And secondly the near absolute rightist bias of our mass media, ABC included, is becoming so transparent as to be accepted as such by enough voters to generate the necessary scepticism of a misinformed public to demand as their right a better media than that which we have at present. ABC included.

    Wishful thinking?

    ps Maybe a third hope – that social media etc will prove to be a meaningful alternative on a large scale.

    fred

  15. I have two glimmers of hope in what is otherwise a gloomy scenario of rapid decline in Australia's ethics, economy, society and environment.

    One is that the fact that Abbott's COALition performers are so obviously incompetent, fumbling, and incoherent that enough voters will learn that lesson more or less permanently and fewer people will naively trust them in the future.

    And secondly the near absolute rightist bias of our mass media, ABC included, is becoming so transparent as to be accepted as such by enough voters to generate the necessary scepticism of a misinformed public to demand as their right a better media than that which we have at present. ABC included.

    Wishful thinking?

    ps Maybe a third hope – that social media etc will prove to be a meaningful alternative on a large scale.

    fred

  16. Sadly,

    probably true. A turn around is probably still 10-20 years away. Too many people in this country have no real commitment to the land.

    I know change will come but will it be soon enough, will it be effective?

    Bill

  17. Sadly,

    probably true. A turn around is probably still 10-20 years away. Too many people in this country have no real commitment to the land.

    I know change will come but will it be soon enough, will it be effective?

    Bill

  18. North Korea is still waiting for a popular reaction to blatantly biased reporting. That's not how the game works. Nothing comes to those who wait – you either get it or your give up.

  19. North Korea is still waiting for a popular reaction to blatantly biased reporting. That's not how the game works. Nothing comes to those who wait – you either get it or your give up.

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