October 6th 2001

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY - War on terrorism: where it leaves Australia

TESTIMONIAL: Colin Teese: Why Do I Read News Weekly?

ECONOMY: Terror weakens a softening market

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Close election still likely

QUEENSLAND: Good news for Golden Circle

WESTERN AUSTRALIA: Marriage devalued in WA 'reforms'

MEDIA: Moral equivalence and the ABC

STRAWS: Back to the state of nature? / 57 varieties of racism / Galahs 0, Kiwis 3

Letter: Lessons from the horror

Letter: Drugs report

UNITED STATES: The global war on terrorism: the risk of going wrong

HISTORY: Evidence still lacking for massacre claims

NATIONAL AFFAIRS: Railway Infrastructure: history shows it can be done

FEMINISM: Orwell comes to the hardware store

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Moral equivalence and the ABC

by John Styles

News Weekly, October 6, 2001

When the Prime Minister, John Howard, invoked the ANZUS Treaty in response to the appalling and outrageous September 11 acts of terrorism against the United States, he acted swiftly and without reservation. One ally in support of another.

His response was altogether too straightforward for some commentators.

"Gee, this is a hard one. I mean, when you're discussing issues of war and responsibility and joining in behind a superpower. When you're a small, relatively pacific little nation like us, it's a really difficult one." That was ABC's Melbourne drive-time presenter Virginia Trioli, hand-wringing on her September 17 program. What does she think a defence pact is for? And interesting to see the esteem in which she holds this country.

Are commentators like Trioli so blinded by hatred of the United States - and/or John Howard - that even the nation's response to atrocities like those committed in the USA can be viewed dispassionately, equivocally? Or perhaps they see nothing in Western society worth defending.

Consider Trioli's response to a caller who obviously had seen too many Oliver Stone movies. "Could it be possible," the caller wondered, "that some right-wing group within the military itself did this?" Trioli's response: "That's true. I think it's probably fair to say though that, no matter what you might think of the FBI and the other intelligence services in America, if they had any inkling of that I think something of that would have come out by now. I don't rule it out. I think it's quite a possibility."

It was a possibility Trioli had had the opportunity to put to David Lyon, the US Consul-General, in an interview just a few minutes earlier. But she had not done so.

On the same program, Trioli expressed concern about attacks on Muslims in Australia and welcomed Race Discrimination Commissioner Dr Bill Jonas on to her show. He described how his Commission attempts to set the parameters of debate in today's Australia. "Basically," he said, "it was a call for people to remain calm and for us not to, for the media not to be engaging or allowing the engagement of any hysterical sort of debate because I don't think that that helps anybody."

But, at the ABC, some hate, politically correct hate, seems to be permissible. How else to explain the fact that shortly after the interview with the Race Discrimination Commissioner, Trioli had no hesitation in giving airtime to this venomous offering from a caller:

"Yes, I agree with all of those [previous anti-American] responses. We were very aware of the bombing in Vietnam and the babies born without eyes and brains. And this is, you know, the US foreign policy. Cambodia, the lives, where people are maimed for life.

"And the Philippines, and Bush senior raising his glass to Marcos and saying, ‘We love you, sir, we love your adherence to democratic principles and democratic processes,' and [at] the same time the children are dying in their mothers' arms, being watched by worms that are emerging from their mouths because of the lack of medicines and vitamins, et cetera."

Trioli allowed that irrational diatribe to run its course before cutting in and politely thanking the listener for the contribution.

On her September 12 program, Trioli interviewed her New York friend from the film world, Laurie Shapiro. Shapiro, expressed the view that she didn't want to see George Bush "start off a new world war". Start a war? Trioli didn't have a problem with that proposition either.

While the ABC's Melbourne presenters were displaying great sensitivity to Muslim sensibilities, it was, as usual, open season on Christians. For example, morning presenter Jon Faine allowed to go completely unchallenged the assertion made by a guest on his program that right-wing fundamentalist Christians were like the terrorists who attacked the World Trade Centre.

And, on Thursday September 13, Faine announced that, "amidst the horror and the shock in New York, it would seem that there's a sudden and intense yearning for some spiritual guidance." To explore the topic, Faine spoke to Neva Rae Fox, Director of Communications for the Episcopal Diocese of New York.

Now, while many ABC commentators went to great (some might say extraordinary) lengths to distance devout Muslims from the terrorism in America, Faine, a declared atheist, used the Neva Rae Fox interview to link the name of God with acts of atrocity. He put it to the Christian Neva Rae Fox that the invocation of the name of God had been used "to justify all sorts of horrible acts".

When Fox declared that the acts in New York had nothing to do with religion, but with hatred, Faine wasn't convinced. "Well, the authorities are still looking to fill in pieces in what's a very open jigsaw puzzle," he said.

In the wake of the terrorist attack on the US, Faine interviewed a number of Muslims. On those occasions, I don't recall him challenging the basic beliefs of the Islamic faith. Of course, he may have done so in other interviews, and if he did I'll happily acknowledge the fact - all tapes and transcripts gratefully received.

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