The Mediaby John StylesNews Weekly
, November 4, 2000
What's news ... what's not
Lynton Crosby, the Federal Director of the Liberal Party, has over recent weeks accused the ABC of "biased reporting" and "double standards" over a number of issues. He detailed his concerns in a series of letters to ABC Managing Director Jonathan Shier in which he cited the reporting of the Philip Ruddock Le Monde and Washington Post newspaper stories (News Weekly, October 21).
The most recent letter, dated 13 October, raised the issue of double standards in the ABC's reporting of Aboriginal affairs, comparing the treatment of former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser's Vincent Lingiari memorial lecture with that of a recent speech delivered by former Governor General Bill Hayden in Tasmania.
Mr Fraser's address in Darwin on August 24 conformed to the "black armband" version of Australian history, replete with guilt for the "S Generation". Mr Hayden's speech on October 11 also concerned the "S Generation", but challenged the validity of the "guilt industry". (For "S Generation", read "Stolen", "Separated" or "Saved", depending on your personal point of view.)
Mr Crosby wrote: "The day following Mr Fraser's speech (Friday, August 25, 2000) it was the lead story on AM, with comments from Evelyn Scott. No story ran on AM the day following Mr Hayden's speech.
"There were multiple postings on the ABC website regarding the Fraser story, and subsequent follow up, yet limited coverage on the website of Hayden's story."
Mr Crosby noted The World Today and Lateline each ran two stories on Mr Fraser's speech but none on Mr Hayden's. Similarly, PM and The 7.30 Report each ran a story on Mr Fraser's speech but totally ignored Mr Hayden's.
The Liberal Party federal director wanted to know why. He wrote: "I ask you to explain why it is that your news organisation saw fit to give blanket coverage to a speech delivered by Mr Fraser yet did not gives similar coverage to a speech by Mr Hayden on the same general subject but with a different perspective.
"Could it be that Mr Hayden's speech was not reported because it was not in line with the particular stand taken by the ABC on these issues or is it because he was a former Labor leader?
"This episode occurs at the same time that your organisation appears to have withheld and distorted interviews with Minister Ruddock to achieve a particular angle in the reporting of aboriginal issues.
"Why was the decision made to give 'lip service' coverage to Mr Hayden's speech, with limited postings on the website and minimal news coverage, in comparison with the coverage given to Mr Fraser?
"How can one be confident that a fairer approach will be taken to the reporting of all viewpoints on aboriginal issues in the future?
A week later, Lynton Crosby was still waiting for a reply.Talking back
With the imminent announcement of Jonathan Shier's prescription for ABC news and current affairs, at least two ABC radio programs were recently devoted to the topic.
One of them, the 16 October edition of Australia Talks Back on Radio National, took the familiar form of many ABC debate-type shows. A lone dissenter up against three advocates for the cause or victim in question. In this case, a single ABC critic, Australian newspaper columnist Frank Devine, was outnumbered by three ABC supporters - Quentin Dempster, a former staff-elected member of the ABC board, Alan Knight - ex-ABC, now Professor of Journalism at Central Queensland University - and the program's presenter Sandy McCutcheon.
While the program was ostensibly devoted to the question of ABC funding, the question of bias inevitably arose. When it did, Frank Devine effectively tackled one of the ABC's commonly used bias rebuttals. Sandy McCutcheon asked Mr Devine how much of the ABC bias perception is in the eye of the beholder?
"It's in the actuality of the ABC's culture, I'm afraid to say," Mr Devine said.
"It's not a matter of people being deluded by the perception of bias because the ABC doesn't agree with them. On the contrary, the ABC has been for all the time I've been back in Australia, now almost 10 years, not leaning but plunging into left-liberal positions on everything and quite often distorting their reporting and commentary as a result of this semi-ideological or semi-social ingrained position."
Mr Devine referred to the ABC coverage of the Royal Commission hearings into South Australia's Hindmarsh Bridge which he attended.
"I could barely recognise when I tuned into the ABC that the same proceedings that I'd observed from the Royal Commission were the ones that the ABC had sent the reporter to. And the relentless bias in favour of people who were in fact engaging in a hoax was greatly to the discredit of the ABC."
He described the ABC as "fraught with bias of a general kind". Challenged by Quentin Dempster to substantiate such a "broad smear", Mr Devine nominated "the uncritical pushing of green philosophy by the ABC", describing it as "foolish", "silly" and "damaging to the country".
Mr Dempster then took Frank Devine's comments and demonstrated quite effectively what the ABC is so good at doing. He detected in the columnist's comments a meaning that wasn't there. "We shouldn't report the environment and the issues and debates about the environment?" Mr Dempster asked.
"My dear, Quentin," Frank Devine replied, "you know quite well that's not what I said."