The ABC: You Know You're Doing Something Right When Even Nauru Hates You

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For years, Australian media personalities and politicians have tussled over whether there is a problem with the ABC. As average Australians have looked on with exhaustion, and audits continue to combat claims of editorial bias, the glorious culture wars have raged unabated.

All the while, ingenious News Corp hacks have found endless ways to say the same thing: some of them think Aunty is a bit left wing. (Never mind that left wing journalists have their own critiques).

But now, finally, the painfully repetitive debate can be put to bed, as a source with untainted independence steps forward to bookend the discussion.

The Nauruan government has issued a blistering statement attacking the ABC for its “biased left-wing agenda”, echoing Tony Abbott and News Corp in denouncing the national broadcaster.

In a statement issued earlier this week the tiny Pacific nation jumped aboard the Abbott government’s wave of fury and said it was not surprised the broadcaster had been marred in controversy after allowing Zaky Mallah to appear on Q&A.

The release started on the Mallah incident, but quickly segued into a broader attack.

“The [Nauruan] Government recently complained to ABC managing director Mark Scott over an edition of the 7:30 program but received no reply. The program aired unsubstantiated and false accusations that Nauruan Justice Minister David Adeang, a single father of seven, attempted to hinder investigations into the death of his wife,” it said.

So will the intervention of a foreign government finally help the ABC’s critics rein the organisation in?

There’s a small problem.

7:30 didn’t actually air the allegations Adeang claims it did. The program did, however, point out the following facts: when the Justice Minister’s wife burned to death on her own front lawn no evidence was collected from the scene, and the police said they were too scared of Adeang to investigate.

Oh, and the nation’s coroner was kicked off the island by Adeang before he could investigate.

According to the government press release, Adeang was left "offended and speechless" by the program, which he described as "a new low in Australian journalism".

"It is clear the ABC is conspiring with the Nauru Opposition to destabilise the Government of Nauru,” he was quoted as saying.

There’s also the problem that, in spite of the insinuations of the press release, the troubling facts about the death of Adeang’s wife weren’t actually at the heart of 7:30’s story.

The program also revealed that the Australian Federal Police are investigating and close to laying charges in relation to Nauru’s president Baron Waqa, as well as Adeang, over serious corruption allegations to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

According to leaked emails obtained by the ABC, Adeang and Waqa took bribes from a mining company and then let the company buy up their country’s dwindling phosphate resources at a substantially discounted rate.

But if there’s one thing the government of Nauru has learnt from Australia’s tabloid media it’s that beating up the ABC shouldn’t be constrained by reality.

And as a result the Daily Telegraph and the Herald Sun, who compared the ABC to ISIS this week, have some new allies in their war on Aunty. Allies who, aside from betraying their nation’s interests for personal gain, happen to be intolerant of a free press, and an independent police force and judiciary, according to the magistrate chased off the island.

The state has also banned Facebook, exiled MPs for insulting the President, and enacted severe anti-free speech laws with long jail sentences. Three MPs are currently facing court after attending a protest.

They also charge journalists around $8,000 for an application fee to enter the country, with no guarantee it will be permitted.

In a speech defending the ABC, managing director Mark Scott said the institution must remain a public broadcaster not a state broadcaster, and that free speech should be defended even when it was unpleasant. http://about.abc.net.au/speeches/annual-corporate-public-affairs-oration/

The underlying message was that government attacks on the public broadcaster, fanned by commercial rivals and ideological enemies, enable a form of government censorship, the kind of which we would hope not to see outside of ‘rogue states’ like Nauru.

This defence was laughed off by the same commentators who so recently trotted out to defend Andrew Bolt’s right to vilify Aboriginal people, and who supposedly fret about big government and the power of the state.

 

 

Furious though they are, these heroes of free speech have had nothing to say about the curtailment of civil liberties on Nauru. The Abbott government likes to play culture wars at home, but has no problem when a subservient foreign government outlaws free speech, so long as it keeps locking up the asylum seekers who would otherwise call Australia home.

With that in mind, we can only hope the editors of the outlets currently bleating about Aunty soon take up residency on Nauru. It’s exactly the kind of refugee incarcerating, civil liberties detesting, dissent squashing, corporate donor dictated state they’ve been hoping we’ll become for years.

New Matilda

New Matilda is independent journalism at its finest. The site has been publishing intelligent coverage of Australian and international politics, media and culture since 2004.

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