As with all ethical media, the ABC must be as objective as possible in the presentation of news, and comment must be identifiable as such. What distinguishes the ABC from commercial media is that it cannot have an editorial line – it is funded by and exists for all Australians.
But this is precisely where the ABC fails, and fails monumentally. When it comes to politics, whether it be in current affairs, Media Watch or even comedy – those paid by the ABC remain concentrated in one part of the political spectrum.
Insiders is held up as a great achievement. It is mainly for the fact that it is a vast improvement – it seems to be the only programme on ABC TV where there is a discernible conservative voice among the paid commentators. Even then, the dice is loaded. Only 25% of those voices can be said to be conservative, and that is not every week.
Mark Scott is probably justified in claiming the new editorial policies (still not accessible on the web) are the most significant statement of values the ABC has made in many years.
Why previous boards did not do this is beyond understanding. Unreformed, the ABC risks government intervention, even dismantling. This is more likely not so much from the conservative side, but from some future right wing Labor Government.
If you don’t believe me, just recall what happened here during the first Gulf war, who dismantled the NZBC, and under which government the BBC was purged. Only the new policies, meticulously applied, will head this off and restore to the ABC the integrity it once had. And while they are at it, couldn’t they give up trying to compete with commercial TV and talk back radio? – They do it much better and the ABC is supposed to be different.
There is one part of the policy which was apparently changed under staff pressure, and should be changed back. Political balance should be normally provided in the same programme, and not over time, a weasel term to cover up bias.
There is no good reason why balance cannot be provided in the same programme. And it makes for better TV. It is a dull Insiders programme indeed when they are all singing form the same hymn sheet, just as it is a dull Media Watch when the same party line is broadcast every week.