“It’s a bit like the Palestinian
elections”, a journo mate opined last Friday, talking about the ABC board. “Put
Hamas in charge and see if they can run the show”.

Good call. All the obvious suspects –
Crikey included – have bewailed the appointment of historian Keith Windschuttle
to the board of the national broadcaster. Very few people, however, have
actually looked at ABC culture.

John Roskam had it right in The Age, on

Windschuttle’s appointment to the ABC board is not the final victory of the
conservatives in the culture wars… Instead, it is an admission of defeat.
Having him on the board of the national broadcasting will do little to redress
the bias of the ABC’s coverage of news and opinion.

By stacking the
board full of conservatives – a board that has little influence to change the
broadcaster’s day-to-day policy – advocates of reform can wash their hands,
thinking the job has been done.

After ten years
in government, the Coalition has not managed to budge the ABC’s culture one
bit. Assuming that we will continue to have a government-owned broadcaster
funded by taxpayers, it is clear by now that the only way to improve the ABC is
a massive change – commercialisation, a cull of the middle management, and the
genuine embrace of a diversity of opinions.

Glenn Milne hints at a crucial issue today,
talking about ABC Chairman Donald McDonald:

McDonald, a
friend of John Howard’s, suffers the media equivalent of the Stockholm
Syndrome. When he was originally appointed chairman the reaction among the
usual suspects was as vocal as the response to Windschuttle.

though, became a captive of the ABC and fell in love with his captors. As a
result, the same usual suspects are now his finest defenders…

The government’s
first contentious appointment to the board was Victorian Liberal Michael Kroger
in 1998. He came and went after throwing up his hands in exasperation at his
inability to change the ABC’s direction. So much for political and cultural

Indeed. One could also point to the example
of dry economist Judith Sloan as the perfect illustration of a hardliner who
went native.

The government’s appointees to the board of
the ABC don’t seem actually to have any ideas about broadcasting. The Hamas
administration we now see might make plenty of noise in various columns and
articles, but it’s unlikely that they’re going to be able to rule – let alone
implement serious changes.

And as for the cries about political
interference, well, that’s almost always been so. Club Troppo have some
choice quotes on that topic.
Hilariously, they come from a 2001 submission to a Senate Committee from the
Friends of the ABC.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey