May 24, 2018

As government ramps up Howard-style attack on the ABC, where’s Milne?

The Turnbull government is reenacting the Howard government's assault on the ABC during the Iraq war. Except this time there's no Donald McDonald to lead the defence of the broadcaster.

Bernard Keane — Politics editor

Bernard Keane

Politics editor

We've been here before with the government's attacks on Emma Alberici and the ABC. It's a replay of the Howard government's assault on the ABC over its Iraq war coverage in 2003/04. There's one key difference: the absence of the ABC chair from the debate.

Richard Alston's catalogue of nearly 70 complaints about the ABC in May 2003 -- which dragged out until Alston left politics -- now looks absurd. Few conservatives can even bring themselves to defend the greatest policy mistake of recent decades anywhere in the world. We now know that the war was based on lives about Saddam's weapons of mass destruction, that it would cost hundreds of thousands of Iraq lies, destabilise the entire region and dramatically empower Iran, lead to the formation of Islamic State and dramatically increase the level of terrorist attacks in the West. Even if the ABC coverage was as sneering as Alston claimed -- which it certainly wasn't, and found independently not to be -- that would have been entirely justified by the tragedy that began unfolding from March 2003.

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15 thoughts on “As government ramps up Howard-style attack on the ABC, where’s Milne?

  1. Saugoof

    That highlights something that I think is a real problem, that people like (back then) Howard, Reith, Alston, or now Abbott, Bernardi, Abetz, etc. can make completely unfounded, wrong and clearly politically motivated claims, and yet there is no damage to them when they are found to be wrong. For example, children overboard, the ABC’s Iraq war coverage, ludicrous claims of what the Safe Schools program does, and so on.

    All of these should be career-ending missteps, instead nothing happens. But stupid mistakes like Barnaby Joyce’s mistress, Bronwyn Bishop’s chopper or Sam Dastyari’s China connections, all cost them their job even though these sorts of mistakes are, in the grand scheme of things trivial when you compare it to the disasters of the Iraq war or our refugee policy which actually cost lives.

  2. graybul

    Is the difference between ‘then and now’ Saugoof; simply, our parliamentary system has been knackered? That between political ‘hard rightists’ and ‘corporate behemoth carpetbaggers’ Australians no longer have a functional platform from which to fight back? Like invasive white ants, our institutions are being dismantled from within. There is no longer accountability, transparency or societal values against which transgressors actions/inactions may be held to account?

  3. brian crooks

    Even ardent conservatives should be appalled at the ongoing destruction of the ABC and the stacking of all government boards,authorities and most commissions by their stooges, this is the end of political democracy in Australia if this is allowed to go on, surely there are still a few decent human beings left in today`s rabid liberal party that will show some political courage and stand up to these cowards that hide behind the power of the government to rape and pillage whats left of the political decency that was once the badge of Australian society, even the morons that follow Hanson must be starting to worry about what is happening, just a look at the growing number of empty shops and homeless people walking the streets,not to mention the million children that are going hungry every day should be cause for grave concern, just how far into total poverty do these lying thieves have to us before the penny drops.

    1. graybul

      “Ardent conservatives, a few decent human beings . . . will show some political courage and stand up to these cowards that hide . . . ”

      Brian, can you agree; the rabid liberal party (and sections of ALP) control. Yes, in fullest sense of the word they control the edifice; that once housed democracy. As for rabid; that description now awarded to us, the social media ‘resistance’ that clamours, rants and rages on the one remaining platform available to us. We are the cancer of new media. Despite all means by the ‘anointed’; their distain, penalties and overwhelming abuse of power falls short. Our influence, honesty, chaos, frustration grows. Only expression of exultation, accountability, transparency and the common values of community, will satisfy the hunger.

  4. Arky

    I didn’t even know Justin Milne was the chair of the ABC, that’s how absent he has been from all ABC-related discussions. Guess the Libs learned from their mistake appointing a friend of Howard who actually took the job seriously; this time the primary qualification seems to have been someone who will keep quiet.

  5. Suzie_darling

    Bernard Keane’s article is depressing reading. ABC Chair Justin Milne is obviously just a figurehead and seat warmer (no doubt on quite a nice little salary to boot) whilst Managing Director Michelle Guthrie is either unwilling or not game enough to stand up to this government and defend what is happening to the organisation she is supposed to be leading. I am appalled at both of these people’s lack of loyalty to the staff and the organisation as a whole. It makes me wonder why they took on these jobs in the first place.

  6. pjp

    It will never happen here in Australia, but look at the situation in Europe: in many countries, all households have to pay an extra levy to fund publicly-owned television and radio. At €390/year Switzerland is one of the most expensive. But earlier this year, a popular referendum rejected a suggestion to end this form of funding.
    In Germany, the constitutional court is currently considering its verdict on whether or not a similar model is unconstitutional or not. During the last 60 years, this same court has ruled again and again that the existence and on-going development of pubic television and radio is guaranteed in the German constitution. When the current case went before one of Germany’s federal courts, the judges ruled that the financial independence of public television and radio must be guaranteed, anything else would be placing public television and radio on the dog-leash of politics.
    And what do we have here in Australia? Conservative politicians and their undignified attacks on the ABC, senior management remaining complicit in undermining the ABC’s functions and justifying this with their corporate-speak (do they know no shame?), and a workforce stretched to breaking point on the rack of wacky conservative and corporate ideology.
    The European model will never happen here – but imagine if it did.

  7. bref

    As Trump is toward ‘fake news’ CNN, so our govt is increasingly trumpean, not only toward our ABC, but also in their view of the world. Politics is increasingly polarised, policies are increasingly favourable toward the ‘haves’ of our society, ‘doublespeak’ has become the norm for politicians, all the time fuelled by Murdoch Inc. They have no sense of the role of an independent ABC in our democracy, little sense of history and certainly no sense of the legacy they leave behind.

    1. Bill Hilliger

      Just remember what the LNP is doing to our ABC come next election and vote accordingly. Do to LNP what they are doing to ABC.

      1. leon knight

        The LNP deserve a solid electoral flogging over this hideous campaign against the ABC (and other issues of political damage to our society), but we still need to see a firm commitment from Labor that the ABC funding and independence will be fully restored as a priority when they take power.

        1. bref

          Yes, I expected a more overt effort in their budget. I hope its just a case of keeping their powder dry, but I fear the worst.

  8. klewso

    The ABC is withering – right beside just about everything Turnbull has said he stood for.

    1. klewso

      Now the smart-arse’s crack marks are all over the date of these by-elections (9 weeks hence? Seriously? In the middle of Labor’s conference and “can’t be held in school holidays” : like Bennelong was) – as if he was sitting on the “option”?

  9. AR

    The BBC licence fee is irksome and widely avoided, despite quite sharp penalties including imprisonment, approx 40 people banged up each year.
    There was once some sense to this or the German system with its separate, dedicated levy, when radios were glass tubes and a kilo of copper & solder.
    Just legislate a fixed amount, linked to CPI, then full speed ahead and damn the political torpedoes.
    Given that the ABC is the most trusted ‘brand’ in the nation – consistently around 2/3, and politicians, equally consistently wrestling for bottom of the trust scale with used cars sales & lawyers, it would seem to be a vote winner.
    Maybe the Greens campaign on that, as soon as they ditch the Bleak W(r)iggle, and return to base.

  10. mikeb

    It’s all part of the narrative. Cast unfounded shit at the ABC and some will stick. It can be trivial like the wedding business (not) class trip which was never retracted by News Corpse, or substantial like this sustained attack on an ABC journalist doing her job. The anti ABC brigade don’t want the truth, they want confirmation.

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