July 28th 2001

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Articles from this issue:

EDITORIAL: The message from Aston

COVER: Dumped imports threaten Golden Circle

Trade lessons for small countries

Straws in the Wind

Media: New program, same old ABC

ABARE's export figures 'fanciful' (letter)

Issues lost in barley debate (letter)

The good and bad of the US model

Children already have protectors - their parents!

The lessons of T.G.H Strehlow

Rearming school cadets

What Beijing Olympics Supporters Ignored

Adult stem cell research provides ethical genetic therapy

Taiwan wracked by political infighting

Books promotion page

Media: New program, same old ABC

by John Styles

News Weekly, July 28, 2001

Anyone hoping for a new dawn of enlightened and balanced current affairs coverage from the ABC would have been disappointed by one of the organisation's latest television offerings. The "new" program, Insiders (9 am Sunday) really offers nothing new at all. It continues the same old ABC formula: stack the show with liberal-left commentators and include a token conservative.

Based on the format of the first program, the 30-minute Insiders, hosted by Barrie Cassidy, comprises four segments: news analysis by The Australian's International Editor Paul Kelly; a related interview conducted by Cassidy; a vox populi "Your Shout" opinion segment; and "The Last Shout", a panel discussion moderated by Cassidy.

"The Last Shout" is a direct lift in name, format and tone from the 30-minute show that ran weekly on Channel 10 a few years ago. On the first Insiders program, the panel for "The Last Shout" comprised former Australian Financial Review journalist Christine Wallace, political consultant/commentator Malcolm McGregor and Daily Telegraph columnist Piers Akerman.

In political terms, we could look at Insiders this way:

* Barrie Cassidy was once a press secretary to ALP prime minister Bob Hawke. During the Keating years, when Paul Kelly was the Australian's editor-in-chief, the newspaper pretty much went all the way with PJK.

* Christine Wallace is the wife of Michael Costello, Kim Beazley's current chief of staff.

* Malcolm McGregor has worked as a consultant for both sides of politics and has written about his activities on behalf of the ALP in his younger years.

* In his Telegraph columns, Piers Akerman tends to present socially conservative views.

That is not to suggest that political service or family relationships necessarily diminish professionalism or disqualify anyone from debate. It simply raises, once again, the question of the perception of bias at the ABC.

In The Sunday Age, Cassidy was reported to have said that he was conscious of the bias issue. "The program can only work," he was quoted, "if there is somebody for everyone to barrack for." So, in the first Insiders program, the liberal-left could barrack for Kelly, Wallace, McGregor and the vox pop guest, a Prahran butcher who railed against the GST. Conservatives could barrack for Akerman. That's addressing bias?

Slotted against the first half-hour of Channel 9's Sunday, what does Insiders offer? According to Cassidy as quoted in The Sunday Age: "... it's about more than ratings." At the ABC, isn't it always? Insiders is not about agenda-setting, according to what Cassidy was reported to have told The Sydney Morning Herald: "Politicians try to use these programs to set the agenda, but more often than not they are issues which don't last beyond Monday morning's headlines." Then again, based upon what he was reported to have told the Sunday Age, it might be about agenda-setting: "The ABC should be contributing to the political debate, and it should set the agenda."

So what are we supposed to make of Insiders? Well, according to the SMH, Cassidy said: "I hope people who watch it for a few weeks won't see it just as a program of serious intent. We want it to be entertaining, and we're not going to take ourselves too seriously." Based on the first program, few outside of the ABC's loyal band of friends will take Insiders all that seriously either.

Beazley censured, gallery yawns

A vigilant News Weekly reader recently pointed to the June 28 House of Representatives sitting when Kim Beazley was censured and the event went largely unreported.

The censure motion arose in the context of that ongoing ALP cash-cow - the lease of the ALP-owned Centenary House in Canberra to the Australian National Audit Office. It has been estimated that over the 15-year term of the lease, the ALP will receive $36 million in taxpayer-funded rent over and above market value. For example, at the moment the lease is generating income for the Labor Party at about three times the current Canberra market rate. It makes the office space more expensive than even the Sydney CBD!

The motion censured Beazley for failing to order the renegotiation of the lease. Media interest? Very little. Most ignored it. The Sydney Morning Herald's Mike Seccombe, however, provided insight into the selective indignation of the press gallery when it comes to the waste of taxpayers' money. Concluding a June 29 story on Question Time, he referred to the tenancy agreement delivering "unreasonably large amounts of money to the ALP". However, Seccombe described the issue as "ancient history, a long way from the main game".

Funny, isn't keeping both sides of politics accountable supposed to be the main game of the press gallery?

- Email: jdstyles@optushome.com.au

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