Conservative journalist and former Institute of Public Affairs fellow Tom Switzer will debut his new ABC Radio National show on January 29.

Between the Lines will air at 7.30pm on Thursdays and be repeated on Sundays at 10am. According to a recently unveiled Twitter account, it will focus on “interpreting the world with original, insightful and challenging perspectives”.

“You could say the show will aim to put contemporary political events in a broader historical and international context,” Switzer told Crikey from Chicago, before referring us to his series producer Melanie Christiansen. She said the show would be informed by Switzer’s writings and interests, giving an example of a recent Sydney Morning Herald piece he wrote on Russia’s long-term relationship with the West as an example of the type of topic the show would explore. “Tom’s studied history, and he’s very interested in putting events into their historical context,” she said.

While planning for the show is in early stages, the plan is for most of the program to be a longer discussion with either a single guest or a panel. “The aim is to provide some alternative, insightful challenge to some of the accepted wisdoms of our time,” Christiansen said.

The addition of Switzer to Radio National follows perennial urging by conservative politicians for the public broadcaster to showcase a greater diversity of voices. John Howard famously called for a “right-wing Philip Adams” in 1996, and Aunty has over the years commissioned several shows that fit this mould. The Continuing Crisis, for example, aired 10 years ago with former News Corp journalist Imre Salusinszky and columnist Tim Blair. The ABC currently airs Counterpoint, presented by former Howard minister Amanda Vanstone.

The addition of Switzer to the ABC’s lineup appears a response to concerns the ABC is too left-wing, though ABC managing director Mark Scott regularly bats down the suggestion when the issue is raised. At Senate estimates last year, he said he wasn’t in the business of running a network of opinion. “I do not agree with the analysis of [ABC critic Gerard] Henderson and others who seem to want to put a label or badge on everyone. The test is not how people vote, but how they do their job, and how they exercise their responsibility as a journalist. If they can’t, we have independent review mechanisms to check that,” he said.

Switzer is a former opinion editor of The Australian and of Spectator Australia, and is a fellow at the libertarian IPA. He’s famous both for his close ties to John Howard and as being the editor who discovered Oz culture warrior and ABC board nominations panel member Janet Albrechtsen.

Speaking to Crikey’s Quality Journalism Project in 2011, which surveyed leading Australian journalists on their own reading and viewing habits, Switzer decried the soft-left backgrounds and instincts of many of Australia’s journalists which he said led them to miss out on good stories and perspectives.

“At many ‘quality’ media organisations – and not just the ABC – there is a strong ‘group think’ mechanism at work. So on many of the big political issues of recent times – the republic, Iraq, multiculturalism, border protection, anti-terror laws, same-s-x marriage, carbon tax, Rudd’s apparent omnipotence – the instincts of journalists all too often is to embrace a progressive, small-l liberal view. No conspiracy is necessary; it just happens … ”

“As the great Bob Bartley, the long-time editor of The Wall Street Journal, argued: ‘Opinion journalism, by not following consensus group think, can find a lot of news’.”

Peter Fray

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