Will Malcolm Turnbull curb or befriend the ABC? 202



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Former prime ministers Julia Gillard, Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott have in common highly negative views about the media, according to ABC journalist Sarah Ferguson.

Delivering the A.N. Smith Lecture in Journalism, Ferguson, who presented the much-praised series The Killing Season, said that Gillard had arrived to discuss the program initially “hostile – as hostile as any potential interviewee I have ever encountered.

“It wasn’t personal. It was about the media generally whom she regarded as having played an egregiously partisan role during her prime ministership.

“She wanted to know how we were going to cover the media’s role. The series would be completely unsatisfactory without examining the media. She repeated the insistence after our last interview, walking through the bowels of the ABC.”

Rudd “had an equally jaundiced view of the media. And a particularly critical view of the ABC. It made the relationship tricky to manage”, Ferguson said.

Both “echoed Tony Abbott’s comments on leaving office when he said that journalists ‘should refuse to connive at dishonour by acting as the assassin’s knife’”.

In her lecture, Ferguson raised questions about what might happen to the ABC, given what was occurring with the BBC.

“The world’s first public broadcaster is under threat. The BBC is facing perhaps the biggest challenge in its history and it comes from the government led by media-friendly, moderate, liberal-minded Tory MP David Cameron. A man, it should be said, in the same mould as our new Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, philosophically aligned as they are on climate change, gay marriage and innovative capitalism.”

Ferguson said the “general” in the campaign against the BBC was the new culture secretary John Whittingdale, a key figure in the Tory right wing, who said the BBC needed to be made fit for the new broadcasting age.

“The BBC’s ten-year charter expires next year and Whittingdale will oversee a root and branch review that will reconsider the scope and purpose of the BBC, the definition of public broadcasting, its independence and funding,” Ferguson said.

“In the past 24 hours Whittingdale opened up a new front. At the Tory party conference he announced that the BBC would be stripped of its power to adjudicate allegations of political bias. This comes on top of a leaked government green paper questioning the impartiality of BBC news. Sound familiar?”

Ferguson said Abbott had accused ABC journalists of being unpatriotic, taking everyone’s side but Australia’s, and lacking basic affection for the home team.

“What the ABC critics failed to understand is that it is not the ABC’s job to project the country according to their tastes. Nor is it the ABC’s role to boost or spruik for Australia, in peace or in conflict.

“No-one at the ABC looks for thanks from the government but is it unreasonable to expect the government to have some understanding of a major institution whose existence the public so overwhelmingly supports?”

Ferguson said that as the British government looked to narrow the BBC’s role to limit its competition with commercial broadcasters, it was worth recalling the echoes in Australia.

In November, News Corp boss Julian Clarke had called on the government to stop the ABC using taxpayer funds to compete against self-supported companies in the digital area, saying it should “stick to its knitting”. In response, Abbott had echoed Whittingdale’s call for public broadcasters to focus on core services.

“Here was a wider context for the accusations of ABC bias, of un-Australian behaviour and for the Q&A scandal ‘ABC of Infamy’ headlines” in News Corp tabloids, Ferguson said.

Then-communications minister Turnbull had stayed largely above the fray, working to manage the Q&A crisis, and stating that real innovation in digital media was within the ABC’s charter.

“Now he’s prime minister like his old friend David Cameron. Will he be tempted to follow the Tory lead in reining in the power of the public broadcaster? Or will he be, as in the past, a friend of the ABC?” Ferguson asked.The Conversation

[Editor Starts at 60: Do you think Malcolm Turnbull should support the ABC? ]


Article by Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Guest Contributor

  1. He will do nothing for as long as he can. However if he and his cohorts are returned at the next election, if I worked for ABC I would be watching my back!

    5 REPLY
    • So would I. With their policies at present the Government might not get back, but I think both parties should get out and talk to the people face to face as most of the people I listen to are fed up and are considering a couple of the independants to vote for so we might end up with them running the country.

    • Graeme Garrod, I wonder from whom you get your bushfire emergency information. Are you suggesting that emergency service is performed purely because of the Labor Party?

    • Avis Williamson are you suggesting people only get emergency information from the a b c

  2. yes he should, how dare they tell anyone what they can say or not say, im saing save channel 31, my life will be miserable if i cant watch euromaxx and my art and culture shows, its like telly multi culturists no-one cares

  3. He should support the ABC. It has some wonderful programmes that the commercial channels only seem to screen years after they have been screened by the ABC.

    3 REPLY
    • That is because the other channels have to pay for everything. the ABC get our money through our taxes which makes life a whole lot easiler.

    • Debbie Bryant —I so agree with you, – every evening I listen to ABC before I sleep– & I always learn something !
      When I wake up its the first programs on ABC that I love to listen to.
      On ABC T/V, I get balanced News reporting .

  4. I care very much about the ABC. As Andrew Robb is giving away the farm to Big Business, the avenue for accountability must be as strong as ever, that is why the ABC must not be neutered.

  5. Do we SERIOUSLY think he will do any better??? HOW can they do anything differently when they have totally FAILED to understand that Government is NOT supposed to make a profit ! Politicians are NOT supposed to become millionaires from their ‘service’ to the nation !!

  6. Attacks on the ABC were always more about protecting Murdoch’s empire than anything the ABC did. ABC like the BBC offer up on their website free news and opinion, Murdoch and other newspapers charge a subscription fee. The angst over the NBN was too was more about the impact better internet and consequently streaming services would have on pay TV. I would hate to see the ABC disappear while the Australian media is so dominated by predominantly one other media view in much of Australia. Too many decisions are taken for the benefit of a big donor rather than the people.

    18 REPLY
    • Margrit Cleall At least they are producing more Australian dramas and supporting our own writers, directors, production crews and designers. If you look at the other channels they have minimal Australian shows. If it hadn’t been for Countdown on the ABC and Molly Meldrum bands like Easy Beats, Cold Chisel, INXs, Skyhooks to name a few and singers like John Paul Young, John Farnharm, Kylie Minogue, Kate Cerbrano, Chrissie Amphlett etc wouldn’t have become known. Some of the Administration Staff at the ABC would also have lost their jobs. On closing as long as people are working they are paying taxes which all of our MPs don’t seem to grasp.

    • The ABC are great….as long as you like your news reported with a huge bias to the left.

    • I don’t know that I fully agree with that remark Bill Bee but with the other media channels being to the right, it doesn’t hurt to have a left view does it.

    • Just love the posts from the rabid right wingers, unless you agree with their distorted beliefs you must be biased to the left

    • Heather Peterson , that would fine if that is all that the ABC were into! However they are not adhering to their charter and getting involved in politics to the extent that they are making enemies and being divisive. Not what the Australian public is paying them for. No one is disputing their documentary prowess. THey need to stick to what they are paid to do, not meddle in biased commentary! After all they are a tax-payer funded entity.

    • Robert Hind don’t be delusional. EVERYONE can see with their eyes closed the bias of the Australian tax payer funded ABC not adhering to their charter.,

    • No matter what News media…. they should not be bias to the left or right…ABC is funded by the taxpayer… it has some good programs…it does not give them the right to spent money like its growing on trees… ABC must be accountable for their spending…

    • Fred Davies Except that the ABC is directed by their charter to be completely unbiased. They are NOT there to counteract private media who pay their own dollars to push whatever they like. The ABC MUST be impartial. They haven’t been and there’s no sign of them changin.

    • How have they been biased specifics please. It is after all not their job either to say a government policy is wonderful just because it’s a government policy. They try to balance their panels with left and right but with the Abbott government it wasn’t unusual for all the panelists of either persuasion to not like a policy, that’s not bias, that’s because it was garbage policy.

    • Ken McLennan, it is irrelevant what the private media want to say, national media should not and are not sueded by them. It will always appear bias or controversial when a discussion with certain parties goes against the views of the listener and when those parties are in the lime light they are going to receive considerable scrutiny, but does that amount to bias or is it a figment of the imagination?

    • Fred Davies When a survey of staff shows that about 85% or more vote Left then tell me what chance there is of no bias.

    • What the heck does how they vote have anything to do with anything. The news, current affairs and panel shows try to be as unbiased as possible. I know of huge numbers of people able to do their job despite not agreeing with the task involved. Coppers at demonstrations arresting protestors whose views they actually personally support more than the position taken by the government. In most cases where an interview is being done it is difficult to detect who the interviewer votes for. If they are on a discussion panel yes then their political leanings may show but Kate Carnell, an IPA or Liberal Adviser or all of the above will be on the panel too, so I have someone who I can shout “Rubbish” at.

    • Independent analysis has proven time and again that ABC reporting leans slightly right. You don’t have to believe me, look it up for yourself instead of relying on the rabid right wing networks.

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