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Issue #1692      July 8, 2015


Defend the ABC!

The campaign against the editorial independence of the ABC has reached a climax in the fortnight following the appearance of Zaky Mallah on the Q&A live-to-air program. Far from subsiding in the course of an ever-quickening news cycle, the shrillness of commentary from Coalition political figures and the corporate press about the controversial exchange between Mallah and parliamentary secretary Steve Ciobo has escalated dramatically. This is despite the announcement of a probe by the Department of Communications and the apologetic findings of an internal ABC investigation.

The latest blast comes from Nationals’ Federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce. He is complying with the Coalition’s boycott of the program. He puts forward a number of reasons. One is to drive home how inappropriate it was to allow a person of Mallah’s supposed reputation to put a question before a national audience. If this were allowed to stand, the minister claimed, “Nazis or Stalinists” might be allowed to appear. Another reason offered is that there is a review currently underway into the “incident”. That excuse might sound prim and proper but fails to conceal the hostile agenda being pursued by the Abbott government.

The Murdoch press has been championing the latest offensive, backing the Prime Minister’s demand that “heads should roll” and every right-wing accusation made against the ABC. In an editorial on July 1, The Australian launched an attack on everything it hates about the broadcaster. Radio National’s Fran Kelly gets a swipe along with fellow journalists Paul Bongiorno and Barry Cassidy. The ABC’s “green-left” bias is evident in its interest in climate change, same sex marriage and alleged hostility to the US and Israel. The “bias” of the ABC is likened to that of Australian Human Rights Commission President Gillian Triggs. Her “failing” (and that of the ABC, presumably) is to remain focused on the rights of asylum seeks and the human cost of the government’s internationally condemned policy of “stopping the boats”.

The wild spray would be amusing except that its extremism reflects the attitudes of people with considerable political influence. We’ve seen this power exercised in recent times. SBS journalist Scott McIntyre lost his job within 24 hours of tweeting a comment critical of extravagant and propagandist ANZAC commemorations. The ABC was obliged to hold an inquiry into the interview by ABC 7:30 host Sarah Ferguson of Federal Treasurer Joe Hockey following last year’s budget. She was caned for what most people would regard as her professionalism. Under political pressure, it was deemed “too adversarial”.

Now it’s the turn of Q&A’s executive producer Peter McEvoy to bend over. The ABC’s inquiry headed by SBS managing director Shaun Brown and former Channel Nine TV journalist Ray Martin. They found that, given Mallah’s backgound, insufficient precautions were taken to control what he might say. The program was not censured on the bogus issue of the safety of the studio audience. It turns out Mallah had been in the audience on Q&A and SBS programs on a number of occasions without any dire consequences. Justice Wood, who handed down judgement in the now famous case involving threats Mallah made against two government officials, said Mallah lacked any genuine intention to take lives.

No amount of abject apologetics will save the editorial independence of the ABC. Obviously, neither will another round of self-censorship following the latest fabricated “crisis”. Clearly, conservative forces would rather the “controversy” and “debates” in the media be limited to the narrow differences between the two parties serving capitalist interests. The stage is being set for a final assault on the very existence of a national broadcaster, muzzled or not. The ABC does its work despite funding and staffing cuts. It is by far the most trusted mainstream media source in the country. It is no bastion of “left” political causes. In fact there has been a drift to a more conservative editorial position in recent times but there can be no denying the media landscape would be far more barren without it. It must be vigorously defended.

Next article – Corporate takeover of education

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