THE MEDIA by John StylesNews Weekly
, December 16, 2000
Shepherdson Inquiry double standards
Missing from much of the media coverage of the Shepherdson Inquiry and the ALP electoral fraud scandal in Queensland has been the kind of journalistic outrage that was present during other notable political furores.
It was there throughout the recent Reith telecard affair. It was there in the 1997 travel rorts affair. But in the Queensland electoral rorts saga, well, there has been plenty of coverage, on some days a frenzy even, but little real outrage.
The absence of outrage at the admitted perversion of Australian democracy by some in the Queensland ALP could be one of the reasons why Federal Opposition Leader Kim Beazley was able to predict confidently that the electoral fraud issue would not live forever in the mind of the Australian electorate.
When things at the Shepherdson Inquiry really began to warm up during the last week of November, and Beattie Government members began to fall, some journalists seemed more interested in attempting to find equivalent transgressions on the Coalition side.
On 27 November, Kirsten Aiken of ABC Radio told us on AM that "Queensland Premier, Peter Beattie, is trying to start the week with a clean slate, announcing plans to reform the State's electoral system and his party." A clean slate? Give us a break.
One of the interesting things about the scandal is how, going right back to the start of the whole affair, some media coverage has managed to portray Labor Premier Peter Beattie as the victim.
As though it were proof of the ABC's political balance, ABC insiders often claim that the organisation receives complaints from both sides of politics.
Recently, Sydney Morning Herald journalist Anne Davies reported that the newspaper used freedom of information laws to ask the ABC for all the complaints, federal and state, it had received from political parties over the past three years. The ABC gave the SMH details of more than 80 complaints, "of which 76 per cent were from the Federal Liberal Party", Ms Davies wrote.
Most of the Liberal Party's complaints were penned by Federal Director Lynton Crosby. The SMH revealed there were complaints from individual ALP and National Party politicians, but only one from the ALP organisation and none from the National Party.
Far from providing evidence of ABC balance, the number of complaints indicates quite clearly which party feels most aggrieved by ABC political coverage. In its 4 November issue, News Weekly reported that Mr Crosby had written to the ABC about an apparent recent double standard in the treatment of lectures delivered by Malcolm Fraser and Bill Hayden at different times and at different venues on the issue of the so-called stolen generation. Mr Crosby noted that the Fraser lecture received wide coverage on ABC current affairs shows, while Mr Hayden's speech, critical of the Aboriginal "guilt industry", was ignored by those programs.
At the time the News Weekly report was written, Mr Crosby had not received a reply. He has since received a response from Gary Linnane, the ABC's director of Corporate Affairs.
Mr Linnane wrote that the Hayden lecture was covered by ABC radio and television News in Tasmania (where the lecture was delivered), that it ran "sporadically throughout the day in radio news bulletins in all other States and the Northern Territory and in radio news bulletins on Radio National and Triple J". It was also reported, he said, in the 7.00 pm news bulletin in the Northern Territory and was included in the ABC's Online bulletin.
However, Mr Linnane acknowledged the main point of Mr Crosby's complaint. Mr Linnane wrote: "You are correct in observing that Mr Hayden's speech was not covered by any of the ABC's radio and television current affairs programs. Editorially, the story should have received greater coverage in television news bulletins."
He also reiterated that stale old ABC chestnut: "Balance is to be achieved over time."