A Labor staffer in Canberra writes:
I think your claim (May 5 sealed section) that the ABC has a left wing bias is no longer objectively true. The 7.30 Report now has a fairly conservative, at best centrist, political correspondent. Insiders is stacked with right wing and centre commentators – no lefties get to sit on the couch.
Years of ABC bashing by the government has seen the ABC rounds reporters hugely reluctant to criticise the government – the David Flint case is the one recent exception but that was simply too outrageous to ignore.
We now break most of our anti-government stories in the commercial press and the ABC often don’t run with it. The specialist business programs regularly do soft interviews with government ministers and rarely interview shadow ministers.
Influential ABC local radio commentators are now more often right than left.
About the only thing “left”, left at the ABC is Phillip Adams who I don’t think draws much of an audience and to a lesser extent Media Watch, although I would call that more small ‘l’ liberal than left.
It’s about time the media woke up to the fact that the ABC is anything but left these days.
CRIKEY: We don’t buy this line and struggle to think of any ABC local radio hosts who are genuine right wingers. Yes, many ABC critics of the government have been beaten into submission, but the national broadcaster is still more left than right. Your views to [email protected] crikey.com.au
I am responding on behalf of Radio National to some of the points in “Labor staffer claims ABC no longer left wing”.
1. Is Radio National Left, Right, Green, Centrist?
It needs to be pointed out that Radio National has a number of commentary programs as well as several commentators. Some have regular spots on programs like “Breakfast with Peter Thompson”, some with their own program like Phillip Adams, i.e. “Late Night Live”. In total you hear a wide variety of viewpoints.
Commentary programs, like “Perspective” which invites opinion makers to talk about an issue in the news, canvass a variety of views from all points of the political spectrum. The producers of “Late Night Live” with Phillip Adams go to great lengths to get a variety of viewpoints on the program. People often seem to mistake the content of Phillip’s columns in The Australian with the content of “Late Night Live”. Also, by focussing on Phillip’s program (one of 60 programs on Radio National) and linking it to the views he expresses in The Australian, Radio National is often painted as being left-wing and this ignores the actual content of this and other programs, and the viewpoints and commentators that we have.
Radio National has always been interested in expanding the variety of viewpoints broadcast and has always welcomed vigorous and intelligent debate on political and other issues from new sources. Our listeners regularly praise the quality, depth and research that typify our programs and it is this that makes Radio National distinct from other radio stations, and indeed most of the media, in Australia.
We have just added Michael Duffy to the list of commentators with their own program on Radio National. See what Errol Simper wrote about this in The Australian here.
2. Re Audience of “Late Night Live” with Phillip Adams.
Phillip’s audience is actually very strong. If you look at the 2003 figures his average weekly ‘reach’ was 211,000 in the five regularly surveyed cities. His audience ‘share’ at 10pm is extremely high – well over 5% – compared to the Radio National overall share which is currently 2.3% nationally.
Also, Radio National’s national audience ‘reach’ is also very strong – around 1 million different listeners each week – which means that we have more total listeners than any commercial talk radio station, admittedly because we are national and they only operate in one market. This fact seems to be ignored, mainly by our detractors. Our ‘share’ – a measure usually more of concern to advertisers – is low because of the variety of program styles on Radio National. Listeners tend to drop in and out to their favourite program on Radio National rather than keep the radio tuned to it all day. Whilst they tend to listen for fewer hours per week compared to commercial talk stations, we have lots of different listeners tuning in to different programs. Even though Phillip’s program has a large and loyal following, you would probably find that just as many listeners hear Gerard Henderson when he appears on “Breakfast with Peter Thompson”, to use one example.
ABC Radio National
Sally Loane is no lefty
You say you struggle to think of any ABC local radio hosts who are genuine right wingers. Either you’re not struggling very hard or you never listen to local radio in Sydney.
While perhaps not an ideological hardline right winger, 702’s morning host Sally Loane is no bleeding heart Liberal either. Her perspective on the world is undeniably conservative, particularly on moral issues such as gay law reform. In political interviews she is much softer on conservative politicians (of both parties) than those who might be described as tending leftward.
What perhaps makes her more dangerous than the right wing shock jocks is that her style is much more subtle.
Of course Radio National is left wing
I find the suggestion that the ABC is no longer biased to be hilarious. I listen a lot to Radio National because I find picking the bias to be great sport. My father used to call AM “The Labor Party Half Hour” and it remains almost completely composed of left wing sentiment. Even funnier is “Australia Talks Back” where the left talk to the left in joyous concert. On Wednesday night this week some idiot mistakenly rang Australia Talks Back to suggest that perhaps Philip Adams was biased to the left. The moderator almost choked and pulled the plug the moment the caller took a breath. All hilarious stuff and a joy to the bias connoisseur.
Have you noticed Sally Loane’s catchcry is “right across Sydney” and “right across NSW”? For my money this pearl wearing 702 gal is very anti-feminist and conservative.
What about the right wingers in Perth?
Can’t think of any genuine right wing radio hosts on the ABC? Bollocks. You’re betraying your east coast bias again, Crikey!
720 in Perth leads out with Eoin Cameron at Breakfast, a former Liberal MP (and no, being on the left of the Liberal Party in WA doesn’t make you left leaning), and follows it immediately with Liam Bartlett, who clearly can’t decide whether he’d rather fawn over Liberal Shadow Ministers or put the boot into the Labor State Government.
Criticising the shambling incompetents in the WA Ministry is easy pickings at the best of times, but Bartlett swings into it with a shameless gusto that gives credence to the rumours that he’ll be chasing Liberal Pre-selection just as soon as he thinks they’re likely to win an election.
And of the pair of them, Eoin Cameron does by far the better job of avoiding the appearance of partisan bias. Bartlett does articulate the odd leftist sentiment, but only if he can make the Government bad in doing so. And you hear sod all criticism of the Federal Libs….
The only old-style ABC lefty on ABC Perth was John McNamara in Drive (who was never particularly soft on any sitting Government), and he’s been shifted out in favour of former Vi Capri front man Todd Johnston.
I don’t know much about ABC Radio on the east coast, but over in WA it’s right wingers in the morning and fluff in the afternoon.
Even Howard is giving interviews to Radio National
Left wing bias is a really difficult thing to measure as the benchmarks are conservatism of the populist media outlets or the fairy floss which masquerade as current affairs on the other channels.
Seems to me that ABC could be perceived as being tough on the Howard government – but I sense that is mostly due to the depth of its coverage – it is the only TV station that actually drills down into government pronouncements or doesn’t allow ministers to slide away with glib announcements. That’s not left-wing bias.
BTW – heard John Howard on Radio National yesterday at 7:30am (my headset nearly popped out of my ears) – how long since he’s been on ABC morning radio in Sydney? Think that’s rates a little speculation!
702 is more Right than Left
Any idea of the ABC as “left” belongs with the dinosaurs. Take 702 ABC radio in Sydney. If you could put aside your understandable partiality towards her, (and you really should for the sake of your credibility), you would recognise that morning personality Sally Loane is a conservative.
Prior to her at breakfast Angela Catterns presents as a giggling know-nothing. So nought out of two “lefties” so far. Top of the afternoon, James Valentine seems a social democrat, an old-fashioned “fair go” type, sceptical of business, seeing a role for government, someone you might have found years ago, but not now, Crikey, in the ALP right. (But not now, Crikey, not now.) Anyway, mild as he is, let’s score James for the “Left”.
That’s 1 “Left”, and recognise that I’ve given you a real concession, there. Then there’s Richard Glover in “drive”. More intelligent – or perhaps more calculating – than Sally, he definitely hoes the conservative line, just listen attentively any afternoon. So in Australia’s biggest metropolis, ABC “Left” scores 1 (half really, or a quarter) to the rest 3. A smashing defeat for the notion of a “Leftwing” ABC.
Left and Right labels are redundant
Does left or right really matter any more? ABC radio commentators simply tap into local community feeling. If you’re not in tune with your ‘audio radiance’, relevance simply doesn’t radiate its way back into ratings, in terms of listeners who are choosing to tune in to that particular station.
For crying out loud, can we stop labelling people in such simple terms as ‘left’ and ‘right’? You certainly can’t carve up the community in those terms anymore. Can we have an agreement that there should be a ‘cease and desist’ order on using such terminology?
Aunty floats comfortably across the middle ground
Your uncharacteristically strident assertion that the ABC is leftist is more worthy of the less even handed media than Crikey. And it really does not stand up to serious scrutiny.
Firstly, it would be impossible for any objective and fair media organisation NOT to be to the left of News, Fairfax, PBL, 2GB, 2UE and their compatriot stations in other states.
So calling the ABC leftist in that context is simply fatuous.
Secondly, the line between left and right shifts over time as the views of the population and indeed the Government changes. There is nothing absolute about what constitutes left and right views – except at the extremes. And not even the PM is accusing the ABC of having extreme left views, or I am sure he would have appointed another buddy to fix it.
On your woolly criteria you would have to characterise the more than 50% of the population now said to oppose the war in Iraq as leftist. Equally you would have to agree that to now criticise the war in Iraq is to reflect majority opinion. Ergo you are saying that there is something wrong with a media organisation that reflects the opinion of the majority of the population – another fatuous point.
Of course that will not always be the case, just as News can no longer be said to reflect majority opinion – in Australia, UK or US.
The very fact that there is strong disagreement about whether or not the ABC has a left bias is simply proof that in fact it floats comfortably through the middle ground, following and reflecting the views of that large group of swinging voters.
Privatise and be done with the lefties
About the only thing right wing about the ABC is it’s right in the middle of a dangerous slide into anonymity.
Leading up to a very crucial election, there is naturally a lull in bias at the ABC to position themselves to be relevant enough to at least be granted an interview or two with a right winger, even if their true reason is to rip the guts out of them once in the studio.
The ABC has never in the last twenty years, with the exception of one story by Paul Barry ten or so years ago, which accurately reported the true Communist face, ever spoken for the majority of Australians.
The day it unshackles itself from this ‘so last century’ genre, the better. Privatise it and see how long they remain left wing? Sell the damn thing off now, get rid of it, be gone with it, and then we will have a commercial bent which wont favour lefty clap trap. The likes of Phillip Adams, who I have never heard say anything good about anything or any person except himself, I doubt would find an audience on a soap box outside Myers let alone elsewhere.
The ABC faces extinction. It is time, if it truly wants to be an independent broadcaster and voice for the Australian public, for Aunty to rid herself of her outdated and lacklustre performances, reporting and shed those left wing pounds for a healthier heart!