ABC News journalist Chris Uhlmann

Chris Uhlmann strikes again. The ABC’s political editor, who warned us that a bunch of eggheads known as the “Frankfurt School” had ruined fine upstanding Western culture with their virus of critical notions, and Greenie-backed wind farms had destroyed the energy security that Judeo-Christian coal mines had given us, has come out swinging in favour of ASIS chief Nick Warner. Warner, a public servant, is getting criticism for showing clear support for Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, a leader who has endorsed extrajudicial killing on a mass scale. Allegedly directed at drug dealers, Duterte’s vigilante wave has left at least 7000 dead, many of them wholly innocent people targeted for retribution, gang warfare, or theft, with the drug dealer crackdown used as cover. It’s not for a head of ASIS to be seen endorsing any leader, but especially a thuggish one such as this.

Uhlmann’s defence is everything we’ve come to expect from this Christian happy-clappy and ex-trainee priest — sentimentalist and engorged with fantasy. He presents an earlier Warner operation — part of our military/police operation in the Solomons — as an unquestioned success, when many have seen it as stoking the very tensions it was allegedly sent in to assist in quelling. It gets worse. In defending co-operation with Duterte, mentions some scene in 1992, in Cambodia in 1992, when he saw a CIA station chief and a Khmer Rouge officer breaking bread together. Here’s how Uhlmann puts it:

“Many images are burned in my mind from that visit to war-ravaged Cambodia in 1992, particularly children who had lost their limbs to mines. But one moment lingers. It was when an Australian official pointed out two men having lunch in a Phnom Penh restaurant.”

‘That guy is from the CIA,’ he whispered. ‘And the other one is a Khmer Rouge leader.’

Making peace in Cambodia meant enlisting the devil.”

Two possibilities arise from this construction. Either Uhlmann is so ignorant of Cambodia post-1979 that he shouldn’t be political editor of the ABC, or he is so willing to misconstruct events to suit his purposes that he shouldn’t be political editor at the ABC. The plain fact is that after the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia in 1979, and the toppling of the Pol Pot regime, the West’s backing of remnant Khmer Rouge forces extended the misery and violence in Cambodia for more than a decade, for no purpose other than realpolitik — the KR was China-aligned, the Vietnamese were Soviet-aligned. The West backed the KR to retain Cambodia’s UN seat; British special forces trained KR forces, who maintained a reign of terror over the provinces they held, similar to the terror they wielded over the country as a whole in 1975-1979. Some peace. Every sentence of Uhlmann’s article is saturated in the worst sort of foreign policy journalism — the journalist who doesn’t want to expose power and duplicity, but to suck up to it, be a handmaiden to it, for the sake of feeling like he’s playing with the big boys. It’s a pathetic desire, and characteristic of those two other Christian warriors, Tony Abbott and Greg Sheridan.

They all enter the seminary, or think about doing so, attracted by the idea of cosmic battles of Good v Evil. They find that the Christian path is about humbly ministering to the weak and benighted, and renouncing glory. They all go to journalism or politics and betray an attraction to the resolute hard cases, the men of violence who can supply a sense of purpose they lack. It’s the worst reason to be a journalist, the desire to be a simpering, blame-free courtier, trading on reflected glory. (Inevitably, there’s an out-of-context Orwell quote, to bless the act of being a PR agent for a murderous thug.) Well, if Uhlmann wants to sell this farrago on his own time, fine. But what the hell is he doing with the post of ABC political editor? Does Uhlmann have actual say over who is chosen to be on specific news and current affairs shows? Because if he does, it’s a disgrace, and a betrayal of the ABC’s mission. Worse, it’s what a state-run public broadcaster can always fall into being: an arm of the state, with sycophantic staffers seeing their mission as nothing other than PR for the government of the day.

Uhlamnn’s continued role as political editor needs to be questioned. He is not appropriate for the role — or the role is just ABC correspondent and writer, and he should be titled as such. The continued grace under which he operates throws into ever sharper perspective — if it were needed — the racist treatment of Yassmin Abdel-Magied for one mild Facebook post. Uhlmann is getting a free pass because he’s white, Christian and right wing. ABC journos who co-operate with this fix, are being complicit in the use of the public broadcaster as a government megaphone. Uhlmann needs to go. If the ABC needs a cross-show political editor, it should be a neutral and pluralist figure. If it’s not that role, then ditch it, so Uhlmann can be seen for what he is: one point-of-view, and a wacky one at that. In the meantime: do we need ASIO to stop the Monash Uni cultural studies department putting poison in the wells — a special ABC investigation.

Peter Fray

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