New Matilda


Surprise! Lifestyle economy hits the wall. World’s best everything an illusion. Treasurer blames crook shipping terminal.

Some Australians will remember when the Labor government were unfailingly flogged for much smaller current account deficits than the present one. The same Australians will recall that, recognising the CAD meant policy failure, Labor also flogged itself.

A sustained effort was made to expand Australian skills and manufacturing and reduce the country’s dependence on natural resources. The Howard government gave up the project and soon after the media gave up holding them to account. The decline was staggering. But when Peter Costello pulled that one about the bottleneck at the shipping terminal being to blame the gallery issued not a single guffaw. Remember, it was the government which said at the last election that only they could run the economy – and Labor the party under which interest rates would rise.

Thanks to Peter Nicholson

Thanks to Peter Nicholson

It’s almost enough to make Labor veterans wish Paul Lyneham were alive and back on the ABC doing to the Howard government what so often he did to them. But they may as well wish John Curtin would turn up at this year’s national conference. Hard to imagine how the ABC would respond.

On Monday night prime time the national broadcaster showed Andrew Denton’s bland-as-butter interview with the Danish royal couple. On Tuesday night prime time, after Denton’s ratings went through the roof, they showed it again.

Our princess from Tasmania sells more women’s magazines in this country than Princess Di, and we now know they are welcome to stay with the Dentons any time and that the poor girl misses Fruit Tingles. Why should your taxpayer-funded national broadcaster miss out on a marketing opportunity?

Fairfax, meanwhile, is claiming a significant climb in market share over its competitors in Sydney and Melbourne. These ‘Readers who count’, as the Age headline had it, are people in the ‘AB’ demographic: ‘the most sought-after influential readership segment based on education, income and occupation’.

Presumably these are the same people who make up the ABC audience the government is so keen to protect from biased broadcasting. These are the people David Flint says demand not fearless, disinterested investigation and reporting in the public interest, but balance. Fakery and dissimulation will be given the same respect as the truth. Self-interest will not be exposed on behalf of the public interest. Shallowness will be compulsory. One balance however will always be struck: both sides of politics dislike the ABC when they’re in office and in opposition are silent in the face of government interference and under-funding.

Foolishly, Labor governments also appoint cronies and sympathisers to the Board of the ABC, but they are never people who are actually hostile to the broadcaster. The Howard government no longer observes this nicety. Janet Albrechtsen is the latest in a line of appointments whose politics and readiness to spruik the government line are the sole reason for their appointment. What else qualifies her? Minister Helen Coonan attempted to talk up the columnist’s talent and experience but only succeeded in reviving the exchange between Media Watch and Albrechtsen. David Marr’s impeccably substantiated claims were not answered by Albrechtsen and abruptly terminated when she brought in the lawyers. (Media Watch)

Ron Brunton was called to the Board from the same ideological fold, but at least he resigned from his column with the Courier Mail. Not so Albrechtsen, who says she is an independent contractor and not an employee of News Limited, as if that made a difference.

The role of the Board of the public broadcaster is to ensure the organisation is running according to its charter, that the staff have the resources they need, that the organization is run at arms’ length from government and that the role of public broadcasting in a democracy is promoted – not least to the government.

On all these counts the Board of the ABC has failed. It has been appointed as a government catspaw and acts like one. If the wheels are indeed coming off the Australian economy, don’t expect your ABC to be asking why. Well…not very loudly.

And don’t expect Labor to learn from the folly and make an independent board a firm part of their policy.

Australia economy in the doldrums: The Age , 2 March, 2005

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.