Before his political career, Human Rights commissioner-turned-Liberal candidate Tim Wilson was once considered to fill in for Jon Faine on the ABC.

The iconic Melbourne ABC Mornings host revealed the snippet at a gathering held by viewer lobby group ABC Friends held at Melbourne’s Fed Square on Wednesday. He said the audition had occurred shortly before Wilson became a Human Rights commissioner in February 2014 (presumably when he worked at the libertarian Institute of Public Affairs). Wilson was at this point a regular guest on Faine’s show.

Faine was responding to comments by Media Watch-host-turned Fairfax media columnist Jonathan Holmes in The Age that perhaps the ABC was indeed too left wing. In terms of metropolitan radio, Holmes concluded, the ABC did lean left, but perhaps understandably, because this is where the market gap is: conservative listeners opt for commercial talkback. In regional areas, where the ABC has no competition, its presenters play things more politically neutral than they do in the cities, he wrote:

“If the ABC wasn’t funded by taxpayer dollars, no one would mind this situation. After all, the population is split roughly in half over politics, and both sides deserve to hear their views expressed.

“But the ABC is publicly funded. It does have a legal obligation to not favour one point of view over another.”

The comments were welcomed by News Corp columnist and ABC critic Andrew Bolt today, though he wrote on his blog that Holmes didn’t go far enough:

“Holmes won’t concede that the ABC bias extends to TV as well. He seems to think this institutional failing miraculously ends somewhere around a TV camera.”

Faine, one of those mentioned by Holmes in his piece, dismissed the criticism of his former colleague. “Jonathan’s views are Jonathan’s views”, he is quoted as having said in a ABC Friends release. Faine added that the ABC “bend[s] over backwards to make sure there are all sorts of voices heard”.

“We were putting some time into Tim Wilson being a fill-in host, so to say that we don’t do those things is demonstrably not true.”

Faine dismissed the notion that politics had any effect on how he did his job. “I’ve got to think of the toughest questions I can of every guest — that’s my job and that’s what the audience expects of me,” he said.

Faine’s comments are broadly in line with how ABC executives answer questions of bias. As Mark Scott recently told Media Watch:

“We don’t do that kind of journalism. We don’t ask questions about our journalists’ voting pattern and where their ideology are. We look at the journalism that they put to air.”

Peter Fray

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