The Murdoch press campaign against what it calls left wing bias at the
ABC raises a number of interesting questions, not least the issue of
self-interest and a possible conflict of interest.

As a former ABC staffer and a critic of Australia’s corporate media
system I am bemused by the constant complaints of Murdoch hacks that
the national broadcaster exhibits an overwhelming left-wing attitude.
In my view the ABC only appears to be leftist because the rest of the
media is so conservative.

You only need a passing familiarity with the regular parade of neo-con
commentators – Akerman, Albrechtsen, Bolt, Pearson, the Shanahan
family, Daniel Pipes and the other bought-in opinions that emanate from
right-wing American think-tanks – to see there is a consistent
ideological pattern in the Murdoch papers.

The fact that very few dissenting views are ever given space in
Murdoch’s tightly-controlled op-ed pages is not seen as problematic.
The property rights of private ownership are presumed to give Murdoch
the right to set the ideological tone – slavish support for the war on
terror; attacks on progressive teachers; sneering and snide swipes at
anyone who has a contrary opinion.

On the other hand, the publicly-funded ABC bears the brunt of the
ideological backlash because it does try to present a fair and balanced
set of views.

The editorial in the Weekend Australian (21 January) once again
attacks the so-called coterie of ABC staff who are accused of promoting
an anti-Howard agenda and wallowing in self-referential stories about
tree-huggers, feminists and asylum-seekers.

I can’t help but wonder if the unsigned editorial was written by the Herald-Sun
columnist Paul Gray who twice in the past three months (3 November 2005
and 16 January 2006) has been given around 2000 words to launch bitter
and personal attacks on Lateline host Tony Jones, the Glass House comedy show, the musical game show, Spicks and Specks, John Doyle’s mini-series Changi
and the whole ABC news and current affairs division. His main criticism
is that the ABC denigrates Australia’s Christian values and that his
young family was offended by a gay kiss joke on Spicks and Specks.
Paul, you and your family need to get out more!

The Australian (and presumably other Murdoch papers) has also
carried numerous stories outlining (mostly frivolous and
unsubstantiated) allegations of ABC bias from (in quick
succession) former Communications Minister Richard Alston, Queensland
Senator Santo Santoro and most recently Foreign Minister Alexander
Downer.

Downer complained about a throw-away line from Radio National’s Stephen
Crittenden about the Federal Government’s “bloody-mindedness” over the
ongoing detention of David Hicks in Guantanamo Bay. In perhaps his last
act as managing director, Russell Balding wrote an apologetic letter to
Downer saying that Crittenden had been spoken to about the matter and
that his comments were inappropriate. Leaving aside the question of
whether Government ministers should be wasting their time and taxpayer
funds on such trivial pursuits, Crittenden’s comments were mild and
posed in the form of a question. So what? Strong opinions are
tolerated in the privately-owned commercial media, so they should be at
the ABC.

Never mind the uncomfortable fact that what Crittenden said is probably
true – it seems that ABC presenters, unlike their commercial
counterparts, are not allowed to have opinions.

The hypocrisy of News Limited’s relentless and bloody-minded campaign
against the perception of bias at the ABC is palpable. Anyone who dares
to criticise the conservative bias in the Murdoch press is labelled a
politically-correct do-gooder, or worse. I fully expect the delightful
Andrew Bolt to make a fuss about this op-ed piece, for example.

But more importantly, I think that the Murdoch campaign creates a
massive conflict of interest for conservative commentator and ABC Board
member Janet Albrechtsen. How can she serve the public interest of ABC
stakeholders, the general public, while she’s also a fully-paid up
member of the Murdoch commentariat. Which hat is she wearing in Board
meetings when groundless and spiteful allegations of bias are being
discussed? How can she participate in such discussions when her
employer is actively pursuing an anti-ABC agenda? Janet Albrechtsen
should come clean and resign from the ABC Board; either that, or she
should renounce her well-salaried position as one of Murdoch’s favoured
neo-con attack dogs.

It’s an open secret that the Murdoch clan wants to buy more Australian
media assets and it’s also been rumoured that Channel Nine may be up
for sale. By drawing a reasonable-length bow and putting two and two
together, it’s not too far-fetched to think that News Limited’s attacks
on the ABC are a form of self-interested favour-banking by Murdoch.
He’s likely to be rewarded sometime soon when the troublesome and
unworkable media ownership laws are finally dealt with by the Howard
Government.