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A conservative host for Aunty? Mark Scott faces bias grilling

Questions of bias dominated Senate Estimates yesterday, with ABC managing director Mark Scott facing familiar criticisms. Would a conservative host placate the Liberals?

It was Senator Zed Seselja asking the questions yesterday, but it could have been The Australian, with the Liberal ACT Senator leaning heavily on the paper’s analysis to grill ABC managing director Mark Scott at Senate estimates.

Coalition senators peppered Scott with claims the ABC leant left-wing, or anti-government. But Seselja did see one ray of light, asking Scott whether the rumours he’d heard that the ABC was considering a new show hosted by a prominent, right-wing commentator were true.

Scott responded: “It’s pretty important not to flag our intentions too early… Wait and let the chefs cook. We’ll see if it passes muster. But as I said here before, audition tapes are always welcome.”

Seselja asked if Daily Telegraph columnist Tim Blair’s name had been floated. Scott was enigmatic. “I couldn’t possibly comment.”

Otherwise, the estimates hearing honed in on criticism of perceived bias. Is Paul Barry, a “savage” critic of Rupert Murdoch, too biased to host Media Watch? Is his Twitter feed, famously analysed by the Oz, evidence of a hatred of News Corp? Has the ABC gone after News Corp commentator Chris Kenny in an attempt to silence its critics? Did it release to journalists a letter sent to Kenny’s lawyers in an attempt to “bully him” into a settlement? And why does the ABC have no discernibly conservative hosts? Observers of the Oz’s ongoing feud with the national broadcaster would recognise all as pet topics of the paper.

Asked about criticisms from the Sydney Institute’s Gerard Henderson, of Media Watch Dog fame, that the ABC does not employ a single conservative in a prominent position, Scott said he wasn’t in the business of running Fox News. “I do not agree with the analysis of Henderson and others who seem to want to put a label or badge on everyone. The test is not how people vote, but how they do their job, and how they exercise their responsibility as a journalist. If they can’t, we have independent review mechanisms to check that …”

But Scott’s protestations aside, questions of the ABC’s supposed left-wing, or, indeed, anti-government bias dominated the last few hours of the hearing, with Seselja leading the charge.

Liberal Senator Anne Rushton wanted to know if the ABC thought it appropriate that he go on the Australia Network the day after the budget and give an interview criticising the government for cutting the network. Scott said the Australia Network has always been about allowing public debate, with no one expecting it to be a government mouthpiece; “this is a contentious decision”. Rushton said she got that, but that the Australia Network has a specific purpose: to present Australia in a favourable light to its neighbours. “You went on there and had a whinge about it,” she said, asking again whether Scott thought it was appropriate.

I didn’t [have a whinge],” he responded. “I explained the background to the decision, explained the reasons for its termination, and said as CEO I was disappointed by that and I didn’t think it was consistent with what was happening around international broadcasting [in other countries].”

Liberal Tasmanian Senator David Bushby wanted to query the ABC’s Fact Checker site, and in particular, a verdict that found Abbott was not correct when he said 74,000 hectares of Tasmanian protected forest should be delisted as it was no longer “pristine” because it had already been logged. Bushby wanted to know how the topics were selected. “So, it’s a subjective choice by editorial,” Bushby said, earning an exasperated sigh from Scott as he said everything was a subjective choice by editorial.

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  • 1
    MJPC
    Posted Thursday, 29 May 2014 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

    Is the grilling of the ABC and the need for some right-wing commentator as a result of the public not believing News Limited rags, and the usual suspects on radio (such as the parrot) and turning to the ABC for the facts on any issue.
    Poor old Alan Jones, he told his pensioner blue rinse listeners Tony was the new messiah and, now, after parting the waves to get into power has shown he is not quite that saintly in shafting them mightily.
    Of course any criticism of this crew by the ABC has to be left wing, because virtually all of the comenmtators outside the ABC are middle to rabid right wing in their support of this government (Lies et al), and their influence on the proletariat has waned after the budget horrors perpetrated against them.

  • 2
    Mark Duffett
    Posted Thursday, 29 May 2014 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

    You can home in on a topic. You can even maybe hone a line of questioning. But never, NEVER ‘honed in’. #pethate

  • 3
    klewso
    Posted Thursday, 29 May 2014 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

    Is this Zed Seselja related to Charlie McCarthy?
    Imagine how his branch of the political tree would cope if they were subjected to the sort of “gerbilism” Murdoch dishes up to Labor?

  • 4
    klewso
    Posted Thursday, 29 May 2014 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

    If only the world was edited to suit Murdoch and the Limited News Party - the way they do?

  • 5
    paddy
    Posted Thursday, 29 May 2014 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

    Actually, I thought Zed Seselja looked out of his league trying to nail Mark Scott.
    While I’m no great fan of Scott, he knows how to handle estimates.
    Looking at the socmed gossip from last night & today, the fate of Peppa pig is rating far higher than Paul Barry or even dog love.
    Then again, I don’t read the Murdoch media, so I’ve probably missed a lot.

  • 6
    Bob's Uncle
    Posted Thursday, 29 May 2014 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

    the ABC does not employ a single conservative in a prominent position..”

    I’m sure Chris Uhlmann, previously host of the ABC’s flagship TV current affairs program, and currently hosting it’s flagship radio current affairs program, would be glad not to be considered “prominent”.

    In the same way Ray Martin was never “prominent” at Channel 9, no doubt.

  • 7
    Liamj
    Posted Thursday, 29 May 2014 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

    We should properly corporatise the ABC, then could bill the tax-dodging parasites from IPA & CIS for all the free airtime they get.

    Or even full privatisation - let News Corpse buy the ABC, they’ll run it into ground as is their talent, then next Lab-Green govt can launch a new version of same. It needs a new 21C name anyway, why not cash-out the brand?

  • 8
    jason kidd
    Posted Thursday, 29 May 2014 at 10:47 pm | Permalink

    Is the Senate estimates for the benefit of Australians or personal interests and the NLP?

  • 9
    bushby jane
    Posted Friday, 30 May 2014 at 10:24 am | Permalink

    Fairfax on the whole provides unbiased coverage of news, except the views of our local editor at The Examiner in Launceston who should get himself a job at News in my opinion.
    This govt’s attacks on ABC are disgraceful especially the cutting of Australia Network, which has more far reaching ramifications for our overseas reporters etc.

  • 10
    Electric Lardyland
    Posted Friday, 30 May 2014 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    the ABC does not employ a single conservative in a prominent position”?
    Well, I suppose that to the current crop of rabid right wingers, former Liberal party staffer, Mark Scott, has a bit too much grasp on reality, to be really considered a conservative.

  • 11
    Dogs breakfast
    Posted Friday, 30 May 2014 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

    The key question is “Are there any conservative commentators that aren’t self righteous bores?”

    I’d be interested in a dissenting voice on ABC if one could be found that would actually address arguments and provide interesting commentary rather than just recite neocon slogans.

    There are very few conservative commentators that actually think well, understand how to put a case and avoid non-sequiturs, like ‘the trickle-down effect’ and other supposed economic theories that have been shown to be rubbish.

  • 12
    klewso
    Posted Friday, 30 May 2014 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

    Conservatives and their Enosiophobia?
    Imagine if they’d been born progressive - copping what they have to, from Murdoch?

  • 13
    Michael Packman
    Posted Saturday, 31 May 2014 at 10:07 am | Permalink

    unfortunately aunty is already looking and sounding sick. Forced onto a diet of a plethora of right wing panelists for shows like “the drum” and “insiders”. Contributions from the likes of Nicki Saava (makes my skin crawl cos she looks like a reconstituted corpse with a Cleopatra fascination) and Gerard Henderson who is so one eyed calling him a dick is an accurate description, have ruined these iconic shows cos you have outrageous bias not considered discussion as a result. The LNP have defiled my aunty and I’ll never forgive then for it.

  • 14
    Matthew Willis
    Posted Saturday, 31 May 2014 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

    Maybe it’s the facts that have a left-wing bias.

  • 15
    zut alors
    Posted Sunday, 1 June 2014 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

    How about one of the Abbott kiddies hosting an ABC current affairs show, surely the conservative senators wouldn’t question that?

    At the same time it would be a tremendous boost for all alternative political parties. Win-win.

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