Dec 16, 2013

Bias and the ABC: a never-ending story with some concessions

The News Corporation attacks on the ABC are as frequent as they are predictable. But there are some concessions Aunty could make to reduce perceptions of bias.

David Salter

Journalist and former Media Watch executive producer.

We should all count ourselves fortunate that we have News Corp to explain for us the ABC’s manifold deficiencies. Even better, Rupert Murdoch’s minions have the remedies instantly to hand. Friday’s lead editorial in The Australian solved the whole problem at a stroke: “What the ABC needs is leadership.”

Presumably this is the type of leadership that turns a blind eye to phone hacking and bribing the police, and to trading in your citizenship for profit. Or maybe it’s leadership that comes in the form of overnight tweets from the proprietor to his senior executives laying out the preferred editorial line on the issues of the day. (Mind you, ABC boss Mark Scott does Aunty no favours with his own brand of compulsive Twitter twaddle. It can only be a matter of time before he thumbs something careless that compromises both himself and the corporation.)

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17 thoughts on “Bias and the ABC: a never-ending story with some concessions

  1. mikeb

    Some really useful suggestions in this article which on reflection are very accurate. Hope ABC management note them. The best thing the ABC can do is to differentiate itself as much as possible from the commercial pap. Given time more & more people will see the Bolts and Devines and Ackermans of this world for what they are – mindless and conflicted drones.

  2. Michael Jones

    The ‘face off’ debate style may look moderate, but all it does is entrench the idea that it’s partisan spin that matters, as opposed to the facts. It’s a classic example of what many more outspoken journalists and commentators recognize as a major failure of journalism.

    For instance. Jay Rosen makes note of the ‘he said she said’ approach, which keeps the established partisans happy, at the expense of real insight.

    ‘Grilling’ and ‘hectoring’ is what journalists should do, must do, to drag things closer to reality, instead of keeping them within the bounds of the false field of party approved viewpoints and responses.

    There are plenty of panel shows on the ABC perfect for the reigning parties to lay out their talking points and studiously ignore the issues. We don’t need more of that from the more serous formats.

    What kind of insight can be gained over an issue like asylum seekers, or climate change, if the focus of a segment is on the two, mostly interchangable non-answers which the parties have to offer on the matters?

  3. klewso

    Too true on trends, we expect certain standards from the ABC but in this race for ratings/relevance we seem to be getting more tabloidisation. Lowest common denominator stuff.
    If they’re going to look seriously at these allegations I hope they line up a series of interviews by employees and compare and contrast demeanour, attitude, and apparent preformed conclusions, as reflected in questions asked and the degree of scepticism on show – between members of the various parties.

    Of course the one thing Murdoch and his employees can’t stand is criticism – against themselves or the party they tout to the electorate a “Most Fit to Govern”, from their lion’s share of the image market – especially the sort they think it their Right to use on their preferred targets.

  4. drmick

    Wouldn’t worry too much. The toilet beckons for the paper and its contents. Its “churnalists” and their pathetic bias will wallow in amongst the blind mullet where they belong. Just a matter of pulling the chain really and the irony is it will be their chief who will do the job, so to speak.

  5. Electric Lardyland

    It is always interesting to analyse the bogeymen constructed by the likes of Andrew Bolt and Miranda Devine. I suspect that there are two main reasons for this. Firstly, if you have a quick perusal of the comments section of Bolt’s website, possibly the first thing that you’d notice, is that many of the readers of that type of journalism, are sad, bitter and angry individuals. Unfortunately, this mental state, tends to make them eager consumers of the tabloid and talkback tripe. That is, instead of looking to their own personality flaws as the basis of their problems, they are more keen to find somebody else to blame for those problems. It is here that Bolt, Devine, Jones, Ackerman, Price, Albrechtsen, etc, etc, ply their wares, by giving their audience an ever expanding list of people to blame. In fact, the overwhelming majority of that type of production, is identifying a minority and then claiming that these people are to blame for whatever ails the nation. Secondly, much of the talkback and tabloid dialogue, is shameless conformity to the opinions of their corporate masters, such as Rupert Murdoch and Gina Rinehart. But of course, where much of the advertising industry sells us a picture of Australians as rugged, egalitarian individualists, a reality of non-thinking conformists to a strictly hierarchical model, doesn’t have much commercial appeal. So instead, what Bolt, Devine, etc, etc, do, is inflate the power of the groups that they rant against. So in this twisted world, slavishly and unthinkingly regurgitating the opinions of genuine elites, is rebranded as something akin to freedom fighting. That is, your not abjectly supporting the commercial and political interests of Rupert Murdoch, but hey presto, what you’re really doing, is boldly taking on those, “green, left, inner city elites that control the culture.”

  6. Merve

    Just a WAG here, but I think that pollies tend to avoid debates. They can’t control the situation as much.

  7. leon knight

    Insiders is a classic case of how impossible it is to satisfy the blood-lust of the rabid right…they have ample opportunity to put their best and brightest forward for the panel, but when the muppets they do offer make fools of themselves (with very little goading from Barry)the howls of indignation go on for weeks.
    Now they don’t even bother to put anyone forward most weeks – hard to see it is anything other than gutless and childish.

  8. zut alors

    Agree with Michael Jones’s comments.

    The world’s ventriloquists must be in awe of Murdoch: without so much as sticking a hand up News Corp journos’ jackets the dummies clearly utter his words. Look, Ma, no hands!

  9. Keith Thomas

    There was a shot at an objective methodology for assessing BBC bias published August this year.

    The implementation of the methodology was flawed in this British case, but we can learn from the mistakes made there to develop something better.

  10. The Pav

    The biggest mistake the ABC could make is to assume that Bolt?Divine et al are fair & reasonable and that you can have a meaningful debate founded in reason & fairness.

    This isn’t the case.

    They have abandoned any values

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