Bias is in the eye of the beholder, unless the beholder is just trying to win a political argument. Kath Wilson pens an open letter.
Dear Dick Smith,
There are people who, with a straight face, accuse the ABC of left-wing bias. Not just the usual reactionary bigots, but good-hearted people like you, who have campaigned for social and environmental justice.
There are also people who gleefully ridicule your muddled politics, but I don’t want to do that. I think you’re a decent bloke who’s fallen in with the wrong crowd.
Recently, you teamed up with shock-jock Alan Jones to protest left-wing bias at the ABC. On your website, you attributed the ABC’s failure to cover your anti-population-growth campaign to its left-wing bias.
Your current campaign — conflating immigration rates with the growth fetish at the root of our environmental problems — is evidence-averse and plays into white supremacist agendas. That’s sickening, and it’s how the black arts of populism operate, but this isn’t what I’m writing to you about.
Politicians, you say, have told you they would lower immigration rates, but are too scared of the ABC to do so.
Mate, you’ve been played. All the evidence suggests that since the Howard era, poor Aunty has been more scared of politicians than the other way around, and data accrued in recent years debunks every claim of ABC bias.
Audits from varied sources — Newspoll, Essential poll, ABC Committee Review Panels — have found ABC coverage even-handed. According to a Gans and Leigh study: “The only statistically significant slant” was ABC2’s bias towards “Coalition-favoured intellectuals in their reporting. This suggests the ABC news has a right-wing bias”.
That’s right. Guy Rundle’s report in Crikey recently showed how the ABC’s recently-departed political editor Chris Uhlmann’s weird set of biases were “white, Christian and right wing… ABC journos who co-operate with this fix, are being complicit in the use of the public broadcaster as a government megaphone”.
Which is what you’re doing, Dick. You’re complicit. In his 2004 Overland lecture, David Marr described the years of conservative government campaigning that intimidated ABC editorial staff.
Marr described how then-Communications Minister Richard Alston’s office generated “public complaints” against the ABC and after Media Watch exposed this tactic, the government appointed Rehame, a market-research company, to run “a stopwatch over the ABC’s political coverage” to “assess whether it’s ‘favourable, neutral or unfavourable to the political parties and/or candidates being reported’.”
But this analysis was “not measuring fairness, professional excellence and good judgement. When a government deserves a drubbing, concern for Rehame‘s kind of mechanical balance — a balance of favourable and unfavourable mentions — always skews reporting in that government’s favour”.
Even so, the ABC emerged as even-handed. And a subsequent leaked analysis from KPMG, an outfit that aids and abets the big end of town, found: “The ABC provides a high volume of outputs and quality relative to the level of funding it receives.” This debunked the claims of the politicians who spent public dollars commissioning it, as part of their strategy to intimidate and smear the ABC as an excuse to defund it.
So if anything, Dick, the ABC has been bullied into a bias toward the status quo. In the media profession, this counts as a right-wing bias, because as any first-year journalism student will tell you, surveys of public expectations of journalism show that people want it to hold truth to power, to grease the wheels of democracy, and to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable”.
As media academic Julianne Schultz has put it, journalism is expected “to have a moral as well as material existence” and to “represent the interests of the disadvantaged and down-trodden”.
This doesn’t automatically translate to reporting Dick Smith’s latest views. So when you claim “left wing bias” it’s like complaining that doctors are biased against disease. If all these ideals are left-wing, than journalism is by its nature left — a label hurled at any vaguely humane or environmental perspective these days.
Dick, look at Aunty’s content. Is the finance-market report at the end of the ABC News in the public interest, or is it in the interests of well-heeled viewers with private-sector portfolios? Why don’t we have social welfare indices ending the news hour? Or equality, public health and environment audits?
Is Insiders about the proletariat? Does The Gruen Transfer celebrate ideas outside the market economy? Does The Business discuss wealth redistribution, wage inequality and the end of the neoliberal State? Does Short Cuts To Glory represent animal welfare advocates, fair trade campaigners and the undernourished? Does The Home Show speak for the homeless?
And look who’s been on the ABC Board over the years. Mostly people with private-sector backgrounds, not to mention arch-reactionary megaphones including Keith Windschuttle and Janet Albrechsen.
So Dick, like mainstream media generally, many of the ABC’s agendas are set by the powerful, not by the people. That’s not left-wing. Mark Davis once wrote in Overland that, “Thousands of people have attended the ABC rallies, attracting relatively little media coverage. Fewer than 40 people, including speakers, attended a recent IPA-sponsored anti-ABC conference, but the event generated coverage in almost every Australian newspaper.”
You have a noble goal to help the environment, but the propaganda you’ve parroted (you’ve even called the ABC “treasonous” — another specious nationalist slogan) is generated by politicians and their media shills. It has no basis in evidence.
So Dick, it’s time you batted for the other team. Let’s join our collective fingers, point them at poor Aunty, and accuse her of right-wing bias. It’s only fair and balanced.
In solidarity, Katherine Wilson