Calling all members of Ashbolt’s kindergarten. Where are you, what are you doing? Are you now, or have you ever been, a Marxist? Are you now, or have you ever been, controlling the ABC?

I have been trying to fact check Keith Windschuttle’s claim that Marxists employed and influenced by “maverick broadcaster” Allan Ashbolt have captured the ABC. It’s been an interesting task. To be fair to Windschuttle, what he said has been is oversimplified. He can be understood as talking about a social class capturing the ABC, rather than any identifiable group of individuals.

Nevertheless, Ashbolt and the group of people known at the time as “Ashbolt’s kindergarten” are clearly in the gun. Those who don’t know the history should read this obituary by David Bowman.

Did Ashbolt capture the ABC? Is it still captive to his influence? It’s hard to see the evidence. Recently departed managing director Russell Balding was a managerialist not a Marxist. None of the current crop of executive directors were members of the kindergarten. So who were they?

The ABC’s historian, Ken Inglis, identifies “a group of young people to whom Ashbolt was mentor and protector, among them Jon Cassidy, Peter Fry, Malcolm Long, Gillian Waite and Marius Webb”. David Bowman says Liz Fell, Mark Aarons, and Paul Brennan could be added to the list “and no doubt more”.

Malcolm Long is now director of the Australian Film Television and Radio School, and is on the board of the Macquarie Bank’s Communications Infrastructure Group. From 1992 to 1997 he was managing director of SBS and before that, deputy managing director of the ABC. There is no doubting his influence, but if he is a Marxist someone might like to let his colleagues at the Macquarie Bank know.

Mark Aarons’ history is here. He was a member of the Communist Party of Australia at the same time as he was an ABC broadcaster. But in recent years he has worked as a political adviser, and has been writing books about Nazis being given sanctuary in Australia. He is not running the ABC.

Peter Fry is harder to track down. One informant suggests he is sailing around the world. Jon Cassidy has changed his name to Darce, and is involved with this online civil liberties group and the Friends of the ABC who have been anything but friendly to current ABC management. Gillian Waite is no longer involved in broadcasting so far as I can determine. Marius Webb was involved in setting up what became Radio JJJ 30 years ago, but is now said to be living in Italy. Liz Fell is a journalist, and does sometimes appear on the ABC, but doesn’t run it. Paul Brennan is a lawyer. His focus is said to be ” advising small to medium size businesses to meet the challenges of doing business in Australia and overseas”. Doesn’t sound like a Marxist.

The best you can say is that Windschuttle is out of date. Ashbolt’s kindergarten were influential, though never unopposed, but they and the ABC have moved on. But I am not pretending to have tracked them all. Responses please to [email protected]

Peter Fray

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