by Brendan Hunt – July 2018
We all have our own experiences and feelings towards the ABC. As a parent of two young girls, the ABC holds a dear place for me as a refuge where we can spend an hour or so on a Sunday afternoon before dinner, relaxing on the couch enjoying some cartoons without being bombarded by commercials every five minutes. Yet, in the interests of fairness, I must leave passion aside so that I can examine the most recent calls of bias, and public outcry from some corners to privatise the ABC.
However, my work has been done for me.
Since January 2014 there have been 15 independent reviews with regards to specific programs, subjects and overall bias at the ABC. All reviews are publicly available here. Whilst not without flaw, these reviews have found the impartiality of the ABC to be above board.
The findings are that they consistently offer diverse points of view with fair air time to all parties involved. Each of these reviews have been used by the ABC as further opportunities for improvement, taking on board recommendations and subjecting itself to further scrutiny.
With such overwhelming evidence for impartiality and fairness, it raises the question of where these cries are coming from. In recent years the accusations of bias have generally come from the Government, or its supporters, in the face of criticism. This practice has been seen across party lines. In 1991 Bob Hawke attacked the ABC over its coverage of the first Gulf War. All subsequent prime ministers have come into conflict with the national broadcaster at one point or another. That being said, the current volume of calls and the depths of the accusation are astounding.
What is telling however is that no amount of evidence appears to appease these calls.
This can be seen in a research paper commissioned by the Government in 2014 here:
“Neither the Wills nor Stone reviews have changed the opinions of those who are convinced the public broadcaster is biased.”
Neither have the 13 subsequent reviews had an impact.
Nobody enjoys having their views, especially passionately held views, being criticised. It can be understood why there would be a call to ensure that criticisms and critiques are presented in a fair and impartial manner, and it is appropriate that there are reviews to ensure this is the case. But if the purpose of the reviews was to ensure the fairness and impartiality of the ABC, it would be expected that the evidence be accepted, and our perceptions adjusted accordingly. Sometimes, uncomfortable though it may be, it is our own ideas that are in need of review.
A darker agenda may be that the desired outcome is to either have the ABC become a mouthpiece of the government or be silenced altogether.
While no political party (let alone the Government) enjoys having their views and actions criticised, the desire to silence these criticisms must be resisted. The Government of the day holds power, and it is right to hold those in power to account.
The ABC, through its unique position as a Government owned independent broadcaster, free of the constraints of advertising and corporate connections, is in a unique position to do this. It is a vital service to the Australian people to provide a fair and balanced insight into politics and the machinations of Government.
None of these arguments occur without wider context. With massive cuts to the ABC passed by Tony Abbott, and Malcolm Turnbull removing the indexing of funds, it is fair to say that the ABC finds itself assailed. As a party founded on the principle of “keeping the bastards honest” and a party with an ongoing commitment to evidence-based policy with reasonable and open debate, the Australian Democrats clearly value the vital importance of national public broadcasters, and it is crucial the ABC has our unwavering support right now.
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