Nov 22, 2016

ABC Radio’s deliberate step to the right

The ABC has appointed right-of-centre hosts to several high-profile metropolitan radio gigs, as part of a campaign to broaden the ABC's political diversity.

Myriam Robin — Media Reporter

Myriam Robin

Media Reporter

Notice anything, well, right wing in the latest round of appointments at ABC Radio? The ABC has embarked on a highly public push for cultural diversity in its staff, including through expanding its indigenous team. But, more quietly, it has also been pushing other types of diversity.   Several new ABC radio presenters have come from commercial -- and conservative -- media. ABC watchers are pondering if the new appointments are part of a deliberate strategy to counter claims of left-wing bias at the public broadcaster. For example, Ali Clarke was appointed to the mornings slot in Adelaide last year. Clarke had been as a sports and parenting columnist with News Corp, and as well as hosting a variety of shows on Adelaide's commercial radio networks. ABC Perth hired Jane Marwick, also from a commercial radio background. From next year, Chris Bath, formerly of Channel Seven, will host statewide Evenings in NSW and the ACT. On Radio National, Patricia Karvelas, previously of The Australian, has headed up the drive slot on Radio National since the start of last year. Joining her on RN next year will be Tom Switzer -- whose resume includes long stints at The Australian, Spectator Oz and the Institute of Public Affairs -- and Kim Williams, the controversial former head of News Corp. [ABC Radio sheds staff, mulls major changes at Classic FM] For the most part, these appointments are not culture warriors in the mould of Andrew Bolt (which is all that would satisfy some critics of the ABC, who go on about the need for a "right-wing Phillip Adams"). But they are high-profile hosts with long experience working in more right-wing parts of the media. ABC radio boss Michael Mason shies away from pigeonholing presenters as "left" or "right" wing. But he doesn't disagree that different life experiences can inform how a presenter approaches the job. "It’s our role to reflect contemporary Australia, so we need to be diverse in every way," he told Crikey. "Everyone brings with them their own diversity in terms of background -- ethnicity, gender, education, previous work and life experience, and political beliefs -- all factors that inform one’s view of the world.  We’re looking for diversity in many ways: more women on air, both as presenters and as talent, broader cultural diversity -- again, presenters and talent -- and in making sure that, particularly on Local Radio, our presenters can relate to and engage with the everyday issues that affect busy, working families, from housing affordability and utility costs through to the availability and cost of education and childcare." "Working towards that diversity could on one level be seen as appointing presenters with right-of-centre political leanings." But he's quick to add that's not always a helpful way to find new talent. "Pigeonholing anyone according to their perceived political affiliations can be fraught, and for ABC Radio it’s really no more than just one measure of diversity of thought and experience," he said. "What is important, though, is that ABC Radio programs reflect the political and ideological spectrum by airing 'a diversity of viewpoints', which our editorial standards demand." [Speaking of media independence, how does Aunty fare?] Critics of the ABC's alleged ideological homogeneity have not all been far-right culture warriors -- at least one comes from very solid ABC pedigree. In April, former Media Watch host and Four Corners alumn Jonathan Holmes drew attention to the ABC Radio hosts in the major capitals, who he said could not realistically do compelling radio without letting their personalities -- and their political leanings -- influence their programs. These hosts, he wrote, "undeniably" leaned more to the left than right (ABC regional hosts tend to come across as more non-partisan or even conservative, Holmes wrote -- an opinion reflected by many others Crikey has spoken to). ABC managers have largely dismissed Holmes' concerns. But they dovetailed with thoughts previously expressed by the ABC's own chairman, James Spigelman, about the public broadcaster as a whole. In 2013, the former judge told the National Press Club "the allegations of bias are, I believe, more often a function of the topics chosen for reporting, than of the content. Journalists -- all of you, not just those at the ABC -- tend to have a social and educational background, perhaps particularly in Canberra, Sydney and Melbourne, that may make them more interested in, say, gay marriage than, say, electricity prices." [Sport and pop music? What it would mean for the ABC to reach 100% of Australians] Mason says most critics, including Holmes, don't understand "how radio actually works". It's a team affair, Mason says -- presenters guide discussion between guests, who offer a far greater variety of viewpoints than any one person could hope to bring forth. "The reality is that if we were the hotbed of leftie sentiment that many of our critics say we are, we’d be breaching our own very rigorous editorial standards, and we’d be found out every single time, not only by our audiences, but by the ABC’s independent Audience & Consumer Affairs unit and the ACMA, which investigate complaints about bias," he said. "Radio is focusing on real, contemporary Australia where the vast majority of us live, work and play, and while presenters occasionally add their own perspective to any given debate, they do so within the confines of the ABC’s editorial policies. With this approach our presenters bring to the conversation a wealth of real life experience. "In appointing some of the newer ABC 'voices' -- Ali Clarke, Jane Marwick, Chris Bath, Kim Williams, Tom Switzer, Patricia Karvelas -- we’re looking to add to the depth and breadth of that lived experience, understanding that we are all ultimately greater than the sum of our parts, regardless of, and not just because of, our personal views." Maybe this isn't all so very radical. Peter Wall has held many management positions in ABC Radio, including 14 years managing ABC 702 in Sydney, before going on to start his own media management business. He lauds the current appointments, particularly of Chris Bath. But, he told Crikey, in his experience, the ABC has always aimed for many types of diversity. And he points to more practical reasons behind why the ABC's presenters have often veered more left than right. "When I was running 702, I constantly looked for right-wing women. And I approached several. And the problem for me was, they were all successful , often in business or other media. They earned a whole lot more money than I could pay them, and they didn't want to work five days a week all but six weeks a year, day in day out on the radio. "There were four or five women I really wanted to get on the air. I got close, but I couldn't get them. People don't ever think of this part of the equation." Perhaps with the broader media sector in turmoil, some of these people can now look to the ABC as a relative haven of stability. "I do think the ABC needs to be far more diverse and reflect society more than it has in the last 20 years -- and I do think they're trying to do it," Wall said. But he adds a caveat. "People don't care that much about whether its left or right wing -- they want good company, people they want to have over for dinner. If someone's banging the table, people get annoyed with it."

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28 thoughts on “ABC Radio’s deliberate step to the right

  1. Robert Smith

    Radio presenters first need a talent for radio. The few times I have listened to Tom Switzerland my impression was that the content was ok but it was just dull and I was not attracted back.

    1. Robert Smith

      Autocomplete has done me in. It should read Switzer.

      1. zut alors

        Remember the good ol’ days when ABC radio announcers had voices rich with timbre?

        1. graybul

          I remember when going camping we said “out bush”. Now “in the woods.” Or “garbage” instead of ‘trash.’ etc etc Not too far off . . . . ABC ‘American Broadcasting Commission’.

        2. Tinatoerat

          “rich with timbre” = men?

          1. zut alors

            ‘Timbre’ does not apply only to male voices nor does ‘rich’.
            Perhaps you prefer ‘well modulated’.

  2. Itsarort

    Will the same procedural rules and policy for bias that is applied (ad nauseam) to the so called Lefties, be also applied to the neo-farcical Righties at Aunty?

  3. Novocastrian

    Aunty needs to take a leaf from Charlie Skinner …

  4. paddy

    ” our presenters bring to the conversation a wealth of real life experience.

    Hmm. I believe the technical term for that is… frogshit.

  5. AR

    I’m glad to be rid of the muzak on RN and will wait to see what the effect the new appointments have, if any.
    However 702 Sydney is an utter wasteland, from the alleged comedienne, Wendy Hamer – ‘dumberer than soup’- in the morning to the egregiously incompetent Christine Anu in the evening.
    The rest of the schedule is tired retreads like Valentine, Glover and 3 time loser Philip Clarke in what was once the only beacon of light on the station, Nights with del Roy.

    1. Bill

      AR – give us some examples of “muzak” on RN.
      Then let us know what you would replace the alleged muzak with.

      1. AR

        Late nights made intolerable by Dreary Oceans and the afternoon infuriating by Ragged Sleeve.
        Replace with 2FC type progs. or just R4 – though it died the death of John Birt cuts in the Thatcher era, it still manages 10 times the output of RN.

        1. Bob the builder

          Dreary Oceans is it, it’s a mystery how his rambling, forgetful self has kept a job at the national broadcaster so long. Don’t mind the Inside Sleeze though, but the RN re-hash that is Afternoons needs to go. Michael McKenzie’s done the best he could with a poisoned chalice, but if I wanted to hear small re-hashes and snippets of upcoming shows I’d first get a lobotomy – the whole thing is a glorified two-hour advert and needs the heave-ho.
          And what’s with the excellent documentaries being in the late morning – unless RN (mis)management is going to ditch broadcasting and expect everyone to podcast, it makes absolutely no sense to have nuanced, complex, challenging radio documentaries on at a time when almost the entire population is not sitting down quietly and reflexively.

          But to the main point – commercial / corporate elites being more “in touch” with “everyday” people? Good joke, that one. Don’t management think that the ABC consistently being rated as one of the most trusted Australian institutions gives a clue to how “everyday” people think presenters represent issues? No, no, let’s listen to highly-paid elites in the commercial media, the judiciary and the corporate world to tell us how us “everyday” people think!

    2. Tinatoerat

      del Roy is (dare I hope ‘was’) a good reason for abandoning night time radio. Just listening to his drivel was dreadful, infuriating and the reason I’ve become a Classic FM lover.

  6. Interrobanging On

    “…reflect the political and ideological spectrum by airing ‘a diversity of viewpoints’, which our editorial standards demand”

    At best, that sounds like a recipe for the ABC ‘false balance’ to me. Meaning they will give a stump to the nutter One Nation Senator Roberts and his conspiracy theories, because they legitimately report *news* or even *facts* about climate change, for example. Of course, that is generally only one way, with only the right being given the ‘balancing’ opportunity, or the far loony right being ‘balanced’ with someone in the centre, rather than the real left, e.g. Bolt versus Burney.

    Most likely the hurtle right is willing and it isn’t really about balance, however false or misguided (e.g. Bolt and Burney). Remember the tech editor Nick Ross told to write anti-Labor story to counter a factual story about the NBN the reflected badly on Turnbull’s mule of an NBN? Remember Chris Uhlmann’s clear slant on renewable energy? It’s pretty ingrained.

    In both cases, the ABC denied any issue *at all*, which is a pretty good indication there is a problem. The evasive and highly disingenuous response to Uhlmann complaints seems pretty well echoed in the justifications from the ABC here.

    Lastly, a tip for the ABC: If you are trying to mollify your attackers, it pays to remember that giving in to a bully just means more bullying. The Liberal Party/IPA and Murdoch (with added commercial interest) have no stake in removing pressure on the ABC, even if and when it becomes a Pravda outlet for them (pretty close already, looking at 7.30, say), so will not stop.

  7. Bill

    There are time when I wonder what people are talking about. The example of Jane Marwick (720 Perth) is one. I listen most days. Sometimes she does mention her past association with commercial radio. But right wing? Does that mean the everything on commercial radio is to the right.

    Jane is about as neutral as could be unless I have failed to notice where left stops and right begins. She’s just a brilliant presenter. Thats enough for me!

    1. tonysee

      I agree, Bill, not because I know anything about Jane Marwick*, but because I don’t think the case was made at all. The premise of the article is a ‘shift to the right’, yet the examples given are characterised as ‘For the most part, these appointments are not culture warriors’.

      Well, if they’re not ‘cultural warriors’ is it reasonable to characterise them as ‘right’ just because they’ve worked for commercial media? Very tenuous!

      * If Jane Marwick is anything like Ali Clarke, who I have heard a few times, the argument is even weaker. Clarke seems a thoroughly pleasant personality with no particular axe to grind and has one of the most important attributes you can have in radio: a good voice.

  8. Nota Bene

    Public servants generally incline to promoting the public interest. This means that their collective views are largely contrary to LNP governments. The easy solution is to outsource all public interest matters to the highest bidder – preferably in the form of a monetisable monopoly.

  9. Urban Wronski

    It’s about speaking the truth to power; holding the government to account. Right wing commentators on ABC merely add yet another serving of the government’s media saturation and propaganda already available elsewhere. The right represents vested interests who already have huge resources and means to advance their own publicity.
    Some of us still expect some truth from our national broadcaster, not the mindless craven repetition of government talking points.

  10. Roger Clifton

    I am pleased to note that every one of those “six new voices” grew up in Australia, so we can expect them to be speaking in clear Australian English. This is a welcome break from a previous practice, hardly diverse, of favouring accents from the backwoods of Britain. The ABC is the de facto custodian of the educated Australian voice, which has come to be understood and respected throughout Southeast Asia and the rest of the world. It’s a national asset, let’s keep it healthy.

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