Last
week during his AN Smith Journalism Lecture in Melbourne, Queensland
premier Peter Beattie made the point that in Brisbane’s small media marketplace
it’s rare for one outlet to criticise or correct mistakes and
bias in another. And after some reshuffling of line-up at ABC radio, it
seems things in Brisbane are about to get worse.

The
long-anticipated announcement that Brisbane’s only daily newspaper is
finally shifting to a tabloid format came as no surprise to media
watchers in the Sunshine State. But what is surprising is that the
local ABC network has chosen to follow the Murdoch camp down the
tabloid track.

The well-regarded and mildly leftish local
Brisbane morning announcer Steve Austin was suddenly removed from his
shift a few weeks ago without fanfare and without any real explanation
from ABC management.

The ABC’s local programming in Brisbane
has been sliding in the ratings for some time. So what to do about this
problem? Well, it seems that the Queensland management decided to
examine the strategies being discussed across town at the Snail.

And lo and behold, a saviour appeared on the horizon – in the form of Courier-Mail
columnist, former 4BC announcer and author Madonna King. King is no
stranger to tabloid news values, she’s a former deputy editor of that
prince of tabloids, Sydney’s Daily Telegraph.

But there’s another twist: Madonna King is married to Courier-Mail
editor David Fagan. How will King separate her ABC persona from her
tabloid background? King will apparently be allowed to keep her column
in the Snail, when she jumps behind the microphone early next
year. This is despite ABC guidelines which have been used spectacularly
against other announcers in the past.

Her husband, Fagan, is also renowned for his thin skin when it comes to
even mild criticism and it seems that the appointment of Madonna King
to the ABC will allow him to take revenge on at least one regular
critic who gets under his skin with good humour, wit and intelligence.

University
of Queensland communications academic Dr John Harrison has been a
regular on the “Spin Cycle” segment on ABC 612 for the past year or so.
On a couple of occasions he has criticised the Snail over
fairly minor matters. The first time, Fagan wrote a stinging letter to
Harrison’s boss at UQ questioning his comments
about lack of objectivity in the paper.

The letter, which
Crikey has seen, berates Harrison for quipping that the “Fourth Estate”
model of journalism ethics is passe. Fagan jumped on this
to suggest that the UQ journalism program should ensure students get a
good dose of commercially sound ethical instruction. Just like the News
Limited cadets, perhaps? A couple of weeks ago, after a similar comment
by Harrison, Fagan sent an email to the head of journalism at UQ again
putting the boot into Harrison.

Now it seems that King has told
her ABC producers is not prepared to have Harrison on
“Spin Cycle” any more. This illustrates precisely the Premier’s point –
the media in the river city is totally beholden to the powerful
interests of the Murdoch empire. The Snail sets the daily agenda and the electronic media slavishly follows it.

The ABC has rarely attacked the Snail in the past. With King sitting in the powerful morning slot, it is now likely to be never.

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