August 26th 2000

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: “Stolen Generation”: where to now?

EDITORIAL: Indonesia falls apart?

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Why Howard’s IVF hand-grenade rattled ALP

NATIONAL AFFAIRS: Protests to confront World Economic Forum

DRUGS: Victorian Liberals reject injecting rooms

Straws in the Wind

HEALTH: Ways to shorten hospital waiting lists

HEALTH: US-style Managed Care comes to Australia

'Fair trade' or 'free trade'


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by John Styles

News Weekly, August 26, 2000
ABC’s big tent

On 20 July, Amanda Meade of The Australian triumphantly reported that a recent event had debunked the theory of ABC left wing bias. In her “Diary” column in the paper’s weekly Media lift-out, Ms Meade wrote that ABC journalist Cathy Job had “astounded” the Canberra Press Gallery by resigning from the Lateline program to become media adviser to federal Education Minister David Kemp.

The decision left the press gallery “gobsmacked” Ms Meade declared. She wrote: “Whatever the reason [for the move], it makes a mockery of the ABC’s supposed left wing bias”. Really?

Amanda Meade left a fairly obvious question unanswered.

She did not explain why the move would astound Ms Job’s gallery colleagues and leave them “gobsmacked” if her new position in the Liberal minister’s office was viewed as a natural ideological fit. If that had been the case, the move surely would have been unsurprising.

Catherine Job in her role at the ABC could not be accused of giving Howard Government ministers an easy time in interviews.

On one memorable occasion on ABC Radio’s The World Today, Ms Job engaged Senator Amanda Vanstone who was then the Minister for Employment. An increase in unemployment of 55,000 over the previous month had just been announced and Catherine Job demanded answers.

In a confrontational encounter, Ms Job insisted that Amanda Vanstone nominate a precise time when coalition policies would begin to bring the unemployment rate down. In particular, she focused on the impact of impending public service job cuts and their effect in Canberra.

Senator Vanstone tried to explain the need for reforms to be put in place and appealed to the Senate to facilitate the structural changes advocated by the coalition.

At the end of the interview, Ms Job said: “So you’ve got nothing to tell us today about what you hope for, what targets you might have, what the impact [of] public service cuts will be. Simply, have faith, we’ll put the long term changes through and it’ll be better by the time we go back to face the public in three years’ time.”

Journalists are required to hold politicians to their promises and the coalition had promised to lower unemployment. But that feisty interview occurred on 11 April 1996. The Howard Government had been in office just five weeks!

Amanda Meade, who used the Catherine Job appointment to dismiss the idea of ABC left wing bias, actually acknowledged the existence of political correctness at the ABC in her 10 August column. Reporting the apparent departure of the Sydney Daily Telegraph’s politically incorrect columnist Tim Blair, Ms Meade noted that “ABC types and left wingers everywhere are rejoicing”.

Unemployment blues

Australia’s ongoing economic growth continues to create problems for some journalists. The dilemma: how to report the positive economic news without making the Howard Government look good.

When the monthly unemployment figures were announced earlier this month, the ABC’s 7.30 Report found time for a story about urine samples for mine workers in Queensland, but chose to ignore the best employment result in a decade.

On ABC Radio’s PM program, finance correspondent Narelle Hooper pushed the “Olympics theory” — that the excellent employment result could be attributed in some degree to the number of part-time jobs generated by the Sydney Olympics.

It was a proposition supported by a soundbite from Craig James, Chief Economist at Colonial Limited. “Most of the jobs were created on the eastern seaboard, most of them were created in part-time positions so fingers are clearly pointed at Olympic effects which are driving up employment in the month of July,” he said.

What the PM story did not reveal was that Narelle Hooper had explored the Olympics theory with another expert earlier that day and obtained an altogether different assessment.

Other gains

In an interview with the ANZ Bank’s chief economist, Saul Eslake on The World Today, Narelle Hooper explored the relationship between the unemployment result and the job creating power of the Olympic Games. At one point, Saul Eslake told the journalist: “It’s certainly not Olympics driven. There were actually larger gains in employment in Victoria and Queensland than there were in NSW.”

As if not hearing what the ANZ Bank’s chief economist had said, Narelle Hooper later asked: “To what degree would the Olympics contribute to this though, do you think?”

So Mr Eslake explained again: “Well probably not very much. As I say, there were bigger gains in absolute terms and hence proportionately in Victoria and Queensland than there were in NSW. So it’s very difficult to attribute much of the strength in these figures to the Olympics. Even though the unemployment rate in NSW is the lowest for 18 years, it’s been low by historical standard there for quite some time. The Olympics may have contributed something to the relative strength of NSW over the past 12 months but I don’t think they are a significant factor in this month’s figures.”

But when the unemployment report went to air during PM that evening, the Saul Eslake interview had disappeared. However, Ms Hooper continued to push the theory that the ANZ’s chief economist had dismissed. “A closer look at the state breakdowns show there’s a strong Olympic factor. All states, bar Western Australia, saw their jobless queues fall. New South Wales, the Olympic state with its lowest rate in nearly 20 years at 5.4 per cent,” Ms Hooper said.

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