Padraic P. McGuinness, “Stop the rot at the ABC: divide and rule,” The Australian, March 9, 1990, p. 13.

What is to be done about the Australian Broadcasting Corporation?

So far during this election campaign there have been many things to criticise in the comportment of the various media, but none more than the consistent bias against the Opposition and its leader, Andrew Peacock, displayed by the ABC. It took a letter from Tim Bowden — who uses the ABC to plug his own book — published in several newspapers to blow the gaff.

Clearly, Mr Bowden and many other ABC staff feel that the election of a Coalition government would present a greater threat to the continuation of the ABC along its present path than would even the financial stringency imposed by the Labor Government. Like the staff of the Commonwealth Bank, they feel that the ABC is theirs — not the government’s, not the public’s — and this comes first in all their considerations.

However, there is more to the problem than simple self-interest. So pervasive is the bias in the ABC that it is clear that many of the reporters, commentators, radio interviewers and so on are not really aware of their own assumptions.

There is a kind of corporate culture which has grown up in the organisation which is shared by, it seems, just about all of its talking heads and which treats what are really controversial and contentious positions as if they were self-evident, and automatically treats Liberal and National Party politicians, corporate chief executives, and people who do not share the unstated consensus as if they were somehow at fault and must be required to justify themselves or confess their errors.

When they refuse to do this, they become fair game for ridicule, discrediting and denigration.

Now, it must be said that in many respects it is difficult not to treat Mr Peacock from time to time as a target for ridicule. He does not have a particularly distinguished record in government, he (as appeared in the television debate between the leaders and the press gallery representatives) is not good at thinking on his feet, and he appears to have a core position on most policy which is solid marshmallow.

Nevertheless, he is leader of the alternative government, and of a Coalition which commands the loyalties of at rock-bottom some 40 per cent of the electorate. As such, he deserves some respect and a fair hearing. This he, and his colleagues, are generally denied by the ABC.

Of course, it is not that the ABC culture is particularly pro-Labor. They really detest the ALP, too, especially when it is in government. The ABC culture is really the aftermath of the kind of middle-class ageing radicalism which infected the youth of the 1960s and ’70s, and still persists as the vague orthodoxy of many who were still children in the ’70s. An example is the very odd use which crops up from time to time of the phrase “ideologically correct”.

This was originally satirical in intent, but has now come to be used quite seriously by those who share a certain mindset. (A variant which appeared in The Sydney Morning Herald recently was a reference to “a genuine person with sound ideals”.) In fact, it has very little to do with any ideals or principles, but refers to a mishmash of vague policy positions. One example: it is not “ideologically correct” to be sceptical about the contribution made by the land rights movement to Aboriginal welfare, whatever the facts.

The latest development in this mindset is, of course, the whole-hearted embrace of environmentalism in an uncritical and propagandistic version, so that most of what one hears or sees on the ABC with respect to environmental issues makes no attempt to achieve any balance or analytical approach.

Any attempt to argue the advisability of any form of environmentalism is greeted with responses ranging from sneering disbelief to sheer incomprehension. The latter is perhaps not surprising, since the intellectual standards and general knowledge of most of the ABC staff are not high.

Now, what is to be done about all this? Of course, censorship is not the answer, even if it were possible. The appointment of a supremo as head of the organisation who, unlike the present managing director, does not come out of the anti-Vietnam War RSL culture, would achieve little. It would simple arouse great resistance and non-cooperation, even stimulating the troops to greater bias and irresponsibility. Remember the fate of Geoffrey Whitehead.

A very large part of the problem is that the ABC is a large organisation in which no mechanism of responsibility exists. Unlike the commercial media, broadcasting or press, there is no bottom line in terms of customer response — there are no financial sanctions involved in an audience’s lack of interest or negative response to anything done by the ABC. It is not responsible to Parliament, and it is not even responsible to its own board in any practical sense. It is not responsible to the Broadcasting Tribunal, nor to any body like the Press Council. No one controls the ABC.

Nor does anyone, it seems, even control any part of it in the way in which an editor controls (in theory) a newspaper. Who is the editor of, say, the AM program? Who selects and supervises? What is the relationship between producer and presenter? Can either of them dismiss the other, or can someone else arbitrate between them?

These are interesting issues for research. The unsatisfactory state of the ABC is not, however, necessarily an argument against the existence of publicly financed radio and television broadcasters. Public service broadcasting, untrammelled by the need to produce short-term results and profits, clearly has an important role in a democratic community. But it needs mechanisms to ensure some form of responsibility.

A beginning in reform of the ABC might be to split it into its component parts. Public broadcasting does not all have to come under the one roof: and the great superiority in quality of SBS television compared with ABC television shows that competition within the public sector can be beneficial. A good start might, therefore, be to split the broadcasting functions of the ABC into three or more parts.

An independent television and radio news service is desirable, but there is no particular reason why this should be part of the same organisation as stations and networks. There is no reason that a national radio network should exist, or if it does, why there should be two of them under the same roof. Certainly, there is no case for a second ABC TV networks in the same organisation.

Ultimately, the cure for media monopolies like that of the ABC is competition and diversity. This is strongly opposed by those of “ideologically correct” bent, who feel that while large commercial conglomerates should be destroyed, large public-sector monopolies are to be encouraged and strengthened. Of course, it is easier to gain a share of power in a public organisation which is answerable to no one outside, whether shareholders, taxpayers, viewers or Parliament.

It should be clear by now to the Opposition that they will never get a fair run from the ABC as at present constituted. They might as well start developing a policy of dividing it and subjecting it to the same rules as the commercial media.

(in order of appearance on Economics.org.au)
  1. Where Friedman is a pinko
  2. The Economic Guerrillas: A lecture in honour of Maxwell Newton
  3. The Libertarian Alternative
  4. Libel laws block insider's revelations of Australia's industrial mess
  5. But perhaps the merchants of doom have a point
  6. The Origins of Paddy McGuinness
  7. The Itch for Influence
  8. LA safe from religious poverty
  9. Aunty should hang up her boots in face of premature senility
  10. Warning: health is a budget hazard
  11. New ABC Tory chief won't rock the boat
  12. Time to sell the ABC
  13. Youth victims of the welfare con
  14. Paddy McGuinness on class sizes (1991)
  15. More teachers won't solve the problems in our schools
  16. Paddy McGuinness on Catholics and wealth distribution
  17. Paddy McGuinness proposes inheritance tax equal to handouts received by deceased
  18. Let them swim nude
  19. Time to legalise heroin
  20. State-sponsored sports rorts
  21. The blight of the baby-boomers
  22. To reduce the problems of crime and corruption, legalise heroin
  23. We should ban Olympics
  24. Evidence shows heroin policy is not working
  25. Wowsers deny society while killing children
  26. New Paddy McGuinness slogan for ageing feminists and their ideological children
  27. The ABC and the self-evident
  28. Will Australia compete?
  29. Canberra's social revolution
  30. Paddy McGuinness in 1994 on the 2012 class size debate
  31. Why not pay for the ABC?
  32. Paddy McGuinness on David Stove
  33. Sometimes the truth hurts
  34. Paddy McGuinness on compulsory, informal and donkey voting, and breaking electoral laws
  35. Only government-backed monopolies are monopolies, says Paddy McGuinness in 1983
  36. Thomas Sowell, McGuinness, Aborigines and other minorities
  37. Genocide with kindness
  38. Hyde, McGuinness and Sturgess on Chaining/Changing Australia
  39. Government intervention institutionalises bullying
  40. The wrong kind of help for those most needing the right kind of help
  41. Paddy McGuinness defends comparing IQ of races
  42. The Fringe Dwellers: an honest look at the Aboriginal culture of poverty
  43. Impotent priesthood of the global casino
  44. Can primitive black and white minds comprehend nuance?
  45. Class action may be smoking gun
  46. Extend compulsion of compulsory student unionism to voting, paying back student loans and more
  47. Do-gooders should glorify smokers
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