Emma Alberici (Image: Supplied)

A journalist lost their job yesterday, one of hundreds to go this year, and thousands in the past decade.

But the departure of Emma Alberici from the ABC is not just a story about another job lost. It’s a story of how those job losses are remaking Australian journalism — for the worse. It’s sign of the growing conformity in traditional media, including the ABC.

On the surface, Alberici’s departure is just another of the 250-odd jobs (most of them journalists) gone from the ABC as part of the cut backs forced by the federal government’s budget cuts. But amidst all the job losses, both at the ABC and in the media at large, the Alberici departure has taken on the power of metaphor.

For the right — particularly News Corp — it’s a culture war win, with an outspoken woman cancelled from the public broadcaster.

For ABC critics, it’s another signal of the organisation’s preemptive buckle, of its uncanny ability to hear and act on the demands of the government before they’re even articulated.

For feminists, it’s a case of the strong women who gets tagged as “difficult” for refusing to go along to get along, in this case with the ABC’s attempts to mollify complaints about her reporting or to shift her sideways..

Maybe some. Maybe all. There’s unlikely to be any smoking gun that will prove them one way or another. All we have are the handful of facts that emerge from the murky waters of the ABC deliberations, much like shark fins in schools of bait fish.

Back in 2018 when Alberici was still the universally respected chief economics correspondent for the ABC, she posted a piece using global research to challenge the idea that corporate tax cuts would drive employment. (Radical, I know, but at the time, these corporate tax cuts were the centrepiece of the Turnbull government’s “Jobson Growth” strategy that it had taken to the 2016 election.)

About a week later, after government complaints (including, reportedly, from then still PM Turnbull), and an internal review the piece was edited to remove “passages that could be interpreted as opinion”, although the core argument remained. The piece is still up on abc.net.au, including the write-off: “Emma Alberici is the ABC’s chief economics correspondent and is a respected and senior Australian journalist.”

This week, Turnbull was suitably vague about it all, telling The Australian’s front page celebration of Alberici’s departure: “I do recall Emma Alberici wrote an article for the ABC on corporate tax in February 2018 which was publicly and widely criticised at the time for many basic errors and misunderstandings … my concerns about the ABC have always been about maintaining high standards of accurate journalism.”

Later that year, in the post-Turnbull sacking of ABC managing director Michelle Guthrie, an email emerged from then ABC chair (and Turnbull ally) Justin Milne to Guthrie saying the government hated Alberici: “We are tarred with her brush. I think it’s simple. Get rid of her. We need to save the ABC — not Emma. There is no guarantee they [the Coalition] will lose the next election.”

In this year’s redundancy round, her position as chief economics correspondent was targeted for redundancy and, after extensive negotiations in the Fair Work Commission, Alberici confirmed her departure from the ABC (and from the media) in a Twitter thread this morning.

Whatever your metaphor of choice, the ABC is left weaker as a result. Expect the right (and the government) to bank this as a win, and, encouraged, go looking for more.

Peter Fray

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