The opinion pages of The Australian are always open to anyone who wants to take a swing at the ABC. Today we were favoured by a strange diatribe attacking the Australia Network from Judith Sloan (bylined as the paper’s “contributing economics editor”). It seems she’s had some spare time during a visit to Asia and watched the AN service in her hotel room.

And what did she find? “Repetitive, pointless tosh.” News services that are “ponderous and unsatisfying”, or “patchy, unreliable and boring”. The offending material? All of the programming Sloan cites would be familiar to local viewers: Play School, The Wiggles, Sea Patrol, Packed to the Rafters, The Gruen Transfer, live relays of AFL football and composite versions of the daily ABC news and current affairs output. In other words — gosh! — Australian television. (In any case, Sloan is apparently ignorant of the programming requirements placed on the Australia Network by its client, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. AN must show a set number of hours of children’s material, entertainment, contemporary Australian drama and documentaries every day.)

From there, Sloan stumbled into laughable error by declaring that “Sky News Australia is widely available in Asia and this would surely be the preferred outlet”. No, it’s not. What the undiscerning Sloan was watching was Sky News UK — the local version of Sky News isn’t available in Asia. Undeterred, she ploughed on to tell us there is “no cause for the continued existence” of the Australia Network, and that it is “very likely that Sky News would have produced a more interesting and vibrant range of programs”.

She also paused to refresh our memories about the Australia Network’s history, recalling “it got going in the early 2000s”. There was no acknowledgment that she had been a Howard-appointed director and deputy chair of the ABC during the same period. Didn’t she ever bother to take a look at its output? Nor was there was any disclosure that News Limited (publishers of The Oz) had a direct commercial interest in the failed Sky News bid for the Australia Network contract. Who’s being “patchy” and “unreliable” now? 

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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