May 10th 2008

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: Labor abandons small business

EDITORIAL: Overhaul Australia's quarantine system!

HOUSING: How to make the Australian dream come true

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Daunting challenges for Swan's first Budget

AGRICULTURE: Behind the world's food shortage

NATIONAL SECURITY: Is it ever too early to foil a terrorist plot?

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Dial an anti-climax / Carrying a torch for China / Economic gobbledegook / Adolescent roulette... and culture shock / Zimbabwe

CHINA: Beijing spying apparatus gears up for Olympics

HIGHER EDUCATION: The high cost of free love

POPULATION: Russian life expectancy worse than Bangladesh's

MEDIA: ABC program's Castro whitewash

Point overlooked (letter)

Competition policy review (letter)

China's jackboot diplomacy (letter)

No voice for unborn at Rudd summit (letter)

Our next Governor-General (letter)

It's time to help boys (letter)

BOOKS: RISING '44: The Battle for Warsaw, by Norman Davies.

BOOKS: SILENT MOVIES: The Birth of Film and the Triumph of Movie Culture, by Peter Kobel

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ABC program's Castro whitewash

by Bill James

News Weekly, May 10, 2008
A recent ABC radio interview featured a discussion about Cuba's former dictator Fidel Castro, but failed to mention the communist island-state's appalling human rights.

At 10:00 am on Tuesday, March 4, ABC Classic FM ran a discussion between presenter Margaret Throsby and anthropologist Adrian Hearn on recent political developments in communist Cuba.

The interview was a classic example of ABC leftist bias, but also of the problems in defining and exposing that bias.

All of the ABC's regular audience are well aware of its prejudices, even its defenders ("Of course, the ABC is left-wing, and anyway it has to be to balance the commercial media!").


In the style typical of besieged bureaucracies, the ABC itself responds to accusations, whether of bias or anything else, with a mixture of denial and paranoia. In the past, it has commissioned allegedly independent studies which have cleared it of charges of partisanship, but the studies were of questionable value. That is because, as I shall demonstrate below, prejudice lies in the selective choice of material and emphases; in what is omitted as much as what is overtly stated.

An irrefutable exposure of the ABC's political leanings could only be the result of a well-organised 24-hour analysis of ABC output over a period of weeks or months by a whole team of listeners employing standardised, agreed-upon categories. These categories would include not only what was actually spoken, but also information and interpretations pertinent to topics under discussion, which were covered up.

No-one believes that Throsby or Hearn are communists, "communist sympathisers", "fellow-travellers" (to resurrect some now quaint terms), or hard-line leftists with a cunning propagandist agenda. As individuals, they seem pleasant and likeable. They are just typical representatives of that closed-minded sector of the middle-class who hold a fashionable soft-left worldview of which they are not even conscious.

To people like them, their political views are what "everybody" thinks, and hence self-evidently "normal". Any deviation from their "centrist" position is manifestly aberrant, and therefore requires labelling as "right-wing" or "conservative".

When did you last hear anyone or anything described on the ABC as "left-wing"? Certainly not on this program. In the course of an hour's discussion of a communist country, the word "communism" was used a total of five times, and the expression "left-wing" not once.

Fidel Castro has run a Latin American military dictatorship for nearly 50 years. All the human rights which we take for granted, including freedom of expression, assembly and religion, are prohibited. Dissenters, such as democracy activists, are jailed in appalling conditions, without open trial, for offences such as "disrespect".

Back in 1997, the authoritative The Black Book Of Communism put the number of executions under Castro up until that year at between 15,000 and 17,000. Another 100,000 or more Cubans had risked their lives to escape by sea, of whom approximately one third had perished.

Even if the figures are halved for the sake of those sceptical of their provenance, they remain horrifying, especially when compared with the total of 3,200 Chileans murdered by the endlessly excoriated Pinochet.

Castro's apologists argue that, despite the island's chronic poverty (which they blame on the US trade embargo, even though Cuba is free to trade with the rest of the world), medical and educational facilities are universally available. Even if this is true, it is disingenuous to justify a dictatorship by the sugar on the pill - or placebo. After all, Mussolini made the trains run on time, Hitler ended unemployment, and Pinochet reformed the Chilean economy.

Castro has just handed over power to his brother Raul in a gesture reminiscent of North Korean nepotism, where Kim Jong-il followed his father, and is believed to have anointed one of his sons as his successor. The Australian chattering classes' silence in the face of both egregious instances of dynasticism scarcely sits comfortably with their professed republicanism.

If any of these features of the Havana regime were true of a pro-Western country with links to the United States, it is not hard to imagine the ruthlessness with which Throsby and Hearn would have dissected it, using the slashing scalpel of liberal principle. (Try to envisage a discussion of pre-democratic South Africa which bent over backwards to avoid any mention of apartheid).

Instead? Nothing! Silence!

Hearn gently mocked Il Commandante's garrulous, self-indulgent speeches. He also expressed reservations about Cuba's unwillingness to engage with the world economy. And that was about it.

Throsby tried to raise other matters such as restricted access to Internet information, lack of freedom of speech, political prisoners and execution of opponents. Hearn either declined to seriously engage with her questions, or trivialised the issues with sophistry ("You can say anything you like in Cuba as long as you say it the right way") or speciously shifted the blame for problems such as lack of democracy onto the United States!

Hearn, incidentally, had an interesting take on the meaning of democracy. Apparently state control of the economy makes Cuba democratic, while pockets of poverty in America make the United States undemocratic!

When Throsby asked him about opposition to the regime within Cuba, Hearn's explanation of its alleged absence made no reference to the presence of the ubiquitous security police. Throsby made no effort to follow up her queries, or to pressure him into respecting her questions and responding properly.

Perhaps Hearn's most interesting rationalisation was to assert that the execution of prisoners following the failure of the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion was exactly what Australia would do with soldiers captured while attempting to invade this country.

Really? Examples?

As it happens, there were hundreds of Japanese prisoners interned in Australia during World War II, at a time when Japan had bombed the Australian mainland and - as Australians had every reason to believe - was planning to land armies on these shores. Some prisoners were killed during an attempted break-out from a POW camp, but not a single captured Japanese was murdered for belonging to a would-be invader nation.


Not only were some of Cuba's human rights abuses trivialised and rationalised, but others were ignored. Amazingly enough, on the militantly pro-gay ABC, there was not a single mention of Castro's vilification and prosecution of homosexuals.

Nor was there any reference to the tens of thousands of Cubans who have risked (and in many cases fallen victim to) drowning, sharks, Cuban naval patrols, and death from heat-stroke and thirst, in attempts to escape to freedom on "vessels" such as inner tubes.

Perhaps, one day a monument will be erected in tribute to them, in the same way that those killed trying to cross the Berlin Wall have been commemorated. It seems unlikely that Hearn will subscribe to it.

All in all, the program was very revealing and informative - but not about Cuba.

- Bill James is a Melbourne writer.

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