Well that didn’t take long did it?
The Abbott Government has only just reached it’s 100 day milestone and already they’re at war with the ABC. The Government that promised ‘no suprises’ has indeed surprised no one by getting stuck into the national broadcaster and just as predictably their ideological bedfellows at News Corp Australia have joined in the fight.
The reason for this re-opening of the culture wars is ostensibly the ABC’s decision to partner with the Guardian Australia in reporting leaked cables from U.S whisltleblower Edward Snowden which showed Australia had spied on Indonesian President Susilo Bam Bam Yuyono and his wife. As embarrassing and difficult as it was for the new government to deal with, the revelations none the less were an important story that was clearly in the national interest. But as is now standard practice when the operations of the security services become news, The Abbott Government and its barrackers in the Murdoch press did their level best to distract from the details of the story by shooting the messenger and given one of those messengers was the ABC it presented them with a perfect opportunity to kill two birds with the one stone: to try and kill the spying story and to declare war on the ABC.
The invective isn’t confined to the Coalition Government however. Their friends over at News Corp Australia are if anything, even more hostile to the ABC than the Coalition are and thus have used the Snowden revelations as an opportunity to ramp up their usual anti-ABC campaign into a full blown jihad. Their gang of right-wing culture warriors such as Andrew Bolt and Piers Ackerman in the tabloids and Janet Albrechtson, Nick Cater and Chris Kenny at The Australian, have gone from criticising Aunty to variously calling for Managing Director Mark Scott to be sacked and for the whole Corporation to broken up and sold off (with the valuable bits presumably going to Murdoch himself).
But really we shouldn’t be so surprised. While no doubt music to Rupert’s ears, the message was also a clear salvo at the new Prime Minister; this was what was expected of him; that the price for all that fawning political coverage, which helped him reach the highest office in the land, was the removal of an organisation, which for reasons both ideological and financial, the Murdoch’s detest.
It’s not surprising though that Abbott is resistant to take the ABC on. However much the Murdoch media may bag the national broadcaster, the fact remains that the general public simply don’t share their hostility to it. While commercial stations like 9 or 7 may achieve higher ratings, no television station, no media outlet and very few organisations full stop, attract the sort of affection, regard and respect which is afforded to Aunty. It is consistently rated the most trusted source of news in the country ( the least trusted tag is usually reserved for Murdoch’s rabid Sydney tabloid, The Daily Telegraph).
This hasn’t deterred the lunar the right however, who in anticipation of an Abbott Government, have been whipping themselves into a frenzy over the ABC for some time. Since late last year Murdoch’s The Australian has been running what can only be described as a jihad against the national broadcaster. Almost daily, one of its band of far right culture warriors such as Nick Cater, Janet Albrechtson or Alexander Downer’s former handbag carrier Chris Kenny, fire off missives accusing Aunty of all manner of ills. Kenny in particular has been emboldened in his anti ABC crusade thanks to a tasteless and profoundly unfunny skit produced by The Chaser crew on their latest ABC show The Hamster Wheel, which photo shopped Kenny having anal sex with a dog. Offensive only in its lack of humour, the skit nonetheless outraged Kenny and further inflamed his conservative colleagues in News Ltd and elsewhere to pile in on the national broadcaster.
Not that they need much encouragement. Hatred of public broadcasting is par for the course for conservatives both here and abroad. They resent its existence for many reasons, but the main one is bias.
They’re biased against the ABC because it’s a taxpayer funded body that is run independently of government and doesn’t carry commercial advertising, which in short, means they can’t control it. They resent the fact that as a result the ABC doesn’t slavishly follow the socially conservative neoliberal agenda that characterises much of the commercial media, especially the Murdoch press and commercial radio. They don’t like how it gives air to opposing voices and viewpoints that if it weren’t for Aunty would be completely ignored or ridiculed. And what really pisses them off is that it does all this with the help of their own taxes. With Murdoch owning 70% of all print outlets, commercial TV and Radio resolutely conservative and Gina Rhineheart circling an ailing Fairfax, the ABC is the only barrier preventing the right from completely controlling debate in this country. This above all is why they want to knock it off.
Of course they can’t come out and say as much; people would think they’re mad (quite rightly). So instead of admitting they’re biased against the ABC, they turn the tables and charge that the ABC is biased against them, that it’s too left wing. This argument is based on the idea that all of the ABC’s producers and presenters across both radio and television are a bunch of bleeding heart pinkos whose sympathies lie with the ALP or even worse, the Greens. This is a particular bugbear of Sydney Morning Herald columnist, Gerard Henderson who’s been arguing this point for years. In fact Henderson’s been moaning about ABC bias for so long once suspects he was doing so even before the broadcaster came into existence in 1932. Gerard never tires of telling his readers that the ABC doesn’t have one – not one – conservative among its legion of presenters and producers across both radio and TV. This is a remarkable statement. Apparently Gerard, via some unexplained supernatural power, has examined the political leanings and voting intentions of the ABC’s hundreds of presenters and producers nationwide and determined that all of them – every single one - are left-wing. As Gerard himself might say ‘fancy that’.
Perhaps suspecting that the ‘everyone at the ABC is a communist’ line was getting a bit tired, lately the anti-ABC crowd have come up with a more sophisticated argument against the national broadcaster. Seizing upon the upheaval being experienced across traditional media and in particular at Fairfax, the right have now decided that the ABC is responsible for these difficulties and that privatising it or, even better, getting rid of it altogether, would alleviate them. Unfortunately this argument has one major flaw.
The reason why companies like Fairfax are downsizing is because the business model which relies on classified advertising providing the revenue to support journalism, is fundamentally broken. Those classifieds which once filled The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald are now done cheaper and better on online. The whole problem is essentially a result of a change in the advertising market, which has nothing to do with the ABC due to the inconvenient fact it doesn’t carry commercial advertising.
One of the main proponents of this argument is the Institute of Public Affairs, a right wing think tank for whom breaking up and selling off the ABC is holy writ. Prior to the election there were revelations that the IPA and the Victorian Liberal party were behind a push to have a future Abbott Government sell off both the ABC and SBS because they were no longer relevant in the 21st Century. Being ever the pragmatist, the then Opposition Leader had to reject the idea out of hand for fear of it giving ammunition to a desperate Labor Government.
The role of the IPA here is a peculiar one. While obviously opposed to the very idea of public broadcasting, (selling the ABC is a key part of the IPA platform along with the sale of just about every other public asset), they are not at all opposed to the idea of appearing on it. In fact it’s difficult to turn on ABC radio or television these days and not find a talking head from the IPA sprouting their usual brand of corporate PR dressed as free market liberalism. They’ve become so ubiquitous on Aunty that it wouldn’t surprise to one-day find John Roskam hosting Playschool.
With all this free publicity you would expect the IPA to be whole hearted fans of the national broadcaster. After all, they don’t even bother to ask who’s funding them? But no, their position on the ABC defies common sense in favour of strict adherence to ideology. The question is whether a new Prime Minister, under enormous pressure from his powerful supporters, will do the same.