ABC jewel in the crown

OPINION

By Barry Tucker                    September 1, 2015

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) is a jewel in the crown of Australia’s democracy. It’s under threat again.

On the ABC’s Radio National breakfast program this morning federal immigration Minister Peter Dutton complained that Fairfax Media was campaigning “to bring down the government” and Fairfax “was being helped by the ABC”. He didn’t complain when ALL of Australia’s news and entertainment media campaigned relentlessly against the former Labor federal government during its six years in office. The hypocrisy of Liberal MPs and government supporters is almost beyond belief.

The ABC is under threat from the present extreme Right-wing “Liberal” government of Tony Abbott, his policy advisers the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) and media mogul Rupert Murdoch (News Corp).

Tony Abbott has said the ABC will not be privatised. Abbott says a lot of things and often goes back on his word. On the eve of the 2013 federal election he made several promises. One was “No cuts to the ABC”.

Abbotts lies and promisesAlso prior to the 2013 election, Abbott’s Treasurer, Joe Hockey, said ABC won’t be sold, but “waste will be cut”. His 2014 Budget used the former John Howard government trick of “efficiency dividends” to cut $254 million from the ABC’s budget over the next five years, resulting in program cuts and staff retrenchments. Other government departments, non-government agencies, programs and commissions also suffered funding cuts, efficiency dividends or defunding.

The IPA has recommended that the Abbott government break up and sell the ABC and its sister operation the SBS (basically an ethnic language broadcaster).

IPA ABCIn the UK, Rupert Murdoch and his son James campaigned against the taxpayer funding of the BBC. They are in reality objecting to public financing of news, comment and public affairs organisations that compete with their News Corp interests in radio, TV and the Press. The situation is exactly the same in Australia, where News Corp journalists and Liberal supporters constantly campaign against the ABC, claiming it is riddled with Left-wing commentators without ever providing a shred of evidence or naming anyone.

Criticism, even occasional criticism, from the Left or the Right, is seen by the recipients as bias.

That is the background and the reality of the situation. I like to provide these details because the MSM, in its relentless grind of deadlines and the 24-hour media cycle, largely processes the Press Release and moves on to the next item, digressing occasionally to deal with the latest scandal. It rarely takes the time to join the dots.

Today’s scandal is that Peter Dutton sees Fairfax and the ABC as running a witch hunt against the federal government. The real scandal is that Dutton should criticise the news media for doing its job. In Egypt today, such journalists would be jailed. The government Dutton represents intends to do the same to journalists, whistleblowers even medical staff who dare release
details of inhumane treatment of asylum-seeking refugees jailed in offshore detention centres. There was some indication today that the government might reconsider its detention centre policy, so the criticism Dutton complains about may ultimately have a positive effect.

The nut of the situation is two-fold. On one hand we have a federal government that cannot tolerate opposition or criticism. That immediately brings to mind a Fascist regime and the government only has itself to blame if that is the impression people have.

A meme that circulates on social media.

A meme that circulates on social media.

The aborted Operation Fortitude in Melbourne last Friday is a pertinent example of this government’s thinking (a Border Force raid on workplaces went ahead in Darwin, almost unnoticed). In fact, what Dutton is complaining about is a direct result of many of his government’s policies. And it is not only some journalists who are complaining. There’s a widely held view that the federal LNP government is failing, is chaotic, lacks cohesion, leaks and is putting out confusing messages about the economy. The evidence is in consecutive opinion polls that have the government and its leader trailing the Opposition.

On the other hand we have a media mogul, Rupert Murdoch, who cannot abide opposition either. His approach is to buy up the opposition, incorporate it into his empire, strip some of the assets and improve productivity, efficiency and profitability by merging and minimizing production units. One other thing Hockey’s 2014 Budget did was to defund the Australia Network, which the ABC was operating to broadcast TV into SE-Asia. Murdoch originally won the tender for this service but it was taken off him by the Gillard government.

In this continuing war against the ABC no one is asking what the alternative would look like. With the ABC broken up and probably gobbled up by Murdoch (who can afford it) we would be left essentially with an ailing Fairfax Media, still reeling from the after-effects of young Warwick Fairfax’s catastrophic privatisation bid while trying to adjust to social media and online publishing.

How many would be happy to read the Right Wing views of Piers Akerman, Janet Albrechtsen, Andrew Bolt and others of that club spread wide across the nation — to the exclusion of almost all Left Wing views, even moderate and Centrist views?

Apart from that, the ABC is more than news, RN brekkie, the 7.30 Report, Lateline and Q&A. It is a multi-faceted beast, involving city and regional radio broadcasts on various channels and covering a staggering array of programs. Likewise TV, on four channels designed to cater to various tastes, including 24 hours of news and commentary. In addition there is on-line publishing content of news and opinion, another thing that rankles the ABC’s opponents.

All of this costs the community very little, around 14 cents a day. Perhaps we get it too cheaply. One commercial alternative, Foxtel Platinum, costs subscribers $4 a day, and that’s for TV only.

The cost is not the great issue. The range of content and the freedom to express an opinion — even to criticise a government and its policies — is far more important. We must never lose this jewel from our crown.

PS: Meanwhile, a clamour continues for the loosening of cross-media ownership laws (another IPA recommendation). See the ABC’s Media Watch of August 31, 2015, for some background on what’s happening to regional TV stations.

More reporting on Australia’s news media is available on the ABC’s Media Report and mUmBRELLA on-line.

To see what a Fascist government would look like and how it would behave see this long but fascinating article in NewMatilda.com.

ABC is on Australia’s side

ABC managing director Mark Scott says the organisation is on Australia’s side. He was responding to further criticism by government leader Tony Abbott, following the controversial appearance of Zaky Mallah on an episode of current affairs program Q&A.

Mallah, who was acquitted of some charges and found guilty of others, asked Parliamentary Secretary Steve Ciobo if he thought he should have been stripped of his citizenship following his sentencing. Ciobo’s hardline reaction turned the segment into a slanging match. It ended with Mallah saying it was attitudes like Ciobo’s that were driving Muslims overseas to join the fighting. Abbott said it was a serious error of judgment to allow Mallah on the show and “heads should roll”.

More than anything else, the episode is another demonstration of the LNP coalition government’s intolerance of any criticism or opposing point of view; its apparent hatred of free speech. Government MPs have used the episode to continue their attack on the ABC, which media mogul Rupert Murdoch and so-called think tank, the IPA, want privatised. Abbott has banned his ministers from appearing on Q&A during the period of an inquiry, expected to take about three months.

It’s important to note that Mallah asked to be allowed to put his question to a Q&A panel. His request was considered and approved. He was not sought out and invited to create controversy, as some have suggested.

In a calm and detailed response contrasting with Abbott’s hysteria, Scott explained the status of the ABC and the vital role it played in Australian news and current affairs. Scott’s remarks were made in the annual corporate affairs oration to the Centre for Corporate Public Affairs. I can’t find the address on that body’s website. The above link takes you to an ABC website story, with the text of the address embedded in a scrollable window.

For earlier stories on the on-going anti-ABC saga, see: War on ABC continues in this resource centre.

Commercial grab of media assets begins

By Barry Tucker                  8 November, 2014

We have what seems to be the opening shot in the commercial news and entertainment media’s campaign for consolidation of outlets.

It came in a statement to the annual general meeting by Fairfax Media chairman Roger Corbett on Thursday, 6 November, 2014.

The Right wing “think tank” Institute of Public Affairs (IPA), in reality the policy-forming arm of the Liberal party, supports the move. See M Media, item 27 Eliminate media ownership restrictions.

Further media consolidation (buying up, merging, selling off excess assets, increasing market share, eliminating costs, competition and diversity) is the newspaper industry’s solution to a failing business model.

It has been failing mainly because advertising has moved from newspapers to the interwebs, to manufacturer’s and retailer’s websites and other forms of web advertising. Newspapers were too slow to follow the shift, although some set up sectional advertising (like job vacancies, used cars or real estate), with mixed success. Online versions of newspapers still struggle to get readers to buy subscriptions or pay to read.

The answer is to get the law changed so they can buy up what they can and flog the bits they don’t want. Existing laws prevent a newspaper having more than 75 percent of readers, or any company having a newspaper, TV and radio outlet in the same city.

If they get their way (and under the present regime and “opposition” in Canberra they will) the loss will be to jobs, variety and diversity.

Federal “Liberal” government ministers (Attorney-General George Brandis and communication minister Malcolm Turnbull) say further consolidation is justified because the interwebs have provided greater diversity.

This is a shallow lie because an internet edition of a newspaper is not more diverse than its parent and it is not a second newspaper. While potentially it may be available to millions around the world, its circulation is limited to those who use the interwebs to read their daily paper.

Radio and TV stations are also on the interwebs, and the same principles apply.

Where the internet has made things more diverse is in a product like Youtube (which did not exist before and has no commercial equivalent anywhere else) and the usually privately-owned, not very profitable and limited readership newspaper magazines and blogs of the Fifth Estate.

It’s ironic then (or perhaps it is just another lie) that News Corp joint chairman Rupert Murdoch’s main argument for more consolidation is that it will allow companies to be more diversified — to the public’s benefit.

At the same time he argues that the BBC in the UK and the ABC/SBS complex in Australia should be privatised because the taxpayer should not be supporting media and entertainment outlets. The reality is they compete with his business and you don’t have to be too bright to figure that out.

It will be a tragedy if the ABC/SBS complex is ever privatised because the commercial operators would not bother to provide the type and variety of program that these outlets provide. They also provide the main alternative point of view to the very obvious, biased, materialistic and opinion-forming and moulding of private enterprise. Honesty, I would go mad if I had to watch commercial TV and listen to rowdy commercial radio day and night. They might be to blame for the madness that seems to surround us today.

Those who think you are easily fooled continue to claim that the ABC, in particular, is a rat’s nest of Left wing loonies but — in a spectacular fail — they struggle to name one or two. They just go on repeating the lie in the hope that eventually it will be accepted as the truth. Honesty, if you had a stick you could wear yourself out poking it at all the Right wingers who infest ABC radio interview and talk shows, news presenters and interviewers and panel show hosts and their guests.

I could name a bunch of apparent Right-leaning ABC radio and TV journos and presenters but — frankly — they can surprise you at times. I’ll name one: the boss Mark Scott — a died in the wool, true blue Liberal — and, frankly, he sometimes surprises me too. See: Dangers for public debate in media war — Mark Scott.

The ABC producers are a more obscure bunch and their opinions and attitudes are not so easy to determine.

The new federal “Liberal” government has lost no time implementing its traditional fear, law and order, public control program — even finding itself a real shooting war to get involved in.

Rupert Murdoch’s co-chairman and son Lachlan has spoken out against the government’s new security legislation, which raises the possibility that whistleblowers and journalists could be jailed for up to 10 years for revealing details of “special security operations”. Attorney-General Brandis says it is not likely to happen and he would have to authorise it in any case (I am not reassured because Brandis is a dissembler in the Liberal mould).

It seems odd to me that Lachlan has criticised a program of the government that his father had a big hand in installing. Anyway, Lachlan has done a better job than any media outlet or even the Labor opposition, which merely waved the legislation through, followed by a belated “Hey, hang on a bit”.

Some may remember the howls of protest that greeted the former Labor government’s clumsy bid to change some aspects of news media regulation early in 2013. The government wanted to introduce a Public Interest Media Advocate (PIMA). This person (independent of government) would oversee the codes of conduct the newspapers had already agree to. The PIMA would also rule on the advisability of further media consolidation.

I was fascinated, but not fooled, by the newspaper barons’ screams of Freedom of the Press [barons]. “Censorship!” Accompanied by Photoshopped pictures of Labor government ministers as dictators or Nazis. There was no censorship or further control, in effect, than already existed.

There’s plenty more in this blog under Newspapers and Inside Journalism. See: Labor too gutless to fight media laws.

The real fear, which the newspaper proprietors and their cowering journalists failed to mention, was the PIMA’s oversight and ruling on media consolidation.

Now that those same newspaper proprietors have got the proposed legislation squashed and the Labor government defeated (who are the censors, who are the Nazis?) the consolidation can begin.

Who’s really running Australia?

Comment and compilation

By Barry Tucker                    31 May, 2014

The Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) is not a secret organisation, it’s just that no one wants to talk about it.

By no one, I mean our main source of news and current affairs: the mainstream news media (MSM), commercial newspapers, radio and TV and the ABC/SBS.

Now that it’s too late, some bloggers and journalists who have migrated from the MSM to online newspapers and magazines are beginning to reveal more about the IPA.

By too late, I mean the dreaded Mad Monk (Tony Two Face, the IPA Hit Man) is now running the country and steadily implementing the IPA’s policy program.

What has happened since the 7 September, 2013 federal election makes it clear why Abbott did not reveal his policies before the election. His policies are those of the IPA and they are not the kind of thing you would want to talk about in an election campaign.

They are not the kind of thing the MSM advised the voters about prior to, during or since the election campaign. Talks of savage cuts here, there and everywhere were spoken of as necessary to deal with a “Budget Emergency!”

To a large degree, the MSM does not want to talk about the fact that the “Budget Emergency!” is totally false and created in order to justify the savage, ideological, cuts contained in the new government’s first Budget.

Such is the nature of the commercially operated MSM (ABC/SBS excepted), the IPA and the “Liberal”, neoConservative, Libertarian or Tea Party whatevers who are now in charge of our economy and our once-decent society.

The real crisis is structural — how our governments go about taxing things, the archaic structure of taxation policy and the fact that the politicians haven’t got the guts or the will to modernise the entire system. The “Liberals” are working on a taxation White Paper — I’ll make sure I have my seat belt fastened before I read that one.

The job of revealing and discussing the true budgetary position has been largely left to expert commentators in the alternative news media, the Fifth Estate, especially the academically sourced TheConversation.com.

The IPA, formed in 1943, was instrumental in helping launch the Liberal Party of Australia the following year. The IPA is funded by memberships, donations and corporate sponsorships. It is today rightly seen as the policy formation wing of the Liberal party, as stories in this blog, in The Sniper and the items listed below show.

Although the IPA has a public face via the frequent appearances of its spokespersons on ABC programs and websites, the tragedy is that the ABC has only once taken the trouble to make it clear who and what the IPA is and what it represents (in a Media Watch segment).

The latest revelations on the IPA come from former MSM journalist Mike Seccombe, in an article in today’s The Saturday Paper. Seccombe reveals some of the IPA’s other nefarious activities, such as posing as a friendly representative of the environment movement and trucking owner/operators.

On 25 August, 2013 Fairfax’s Melbourne newspaper The Age published a lengthy story claiming some of the world’s largest companies have dropped financial support and membership of the IPA. The story said the changed attitude towards the IPA was due to “concern at its vociferous campaign against action on climate change”.

On the same day The Age published a detailed article on the IPA’s development* over the decades and its present position.

At the IPA’s 70th anniversary dinner last year, Abbott told guests he would adopt 10 of the then 75 items on the IPA’s agenda to change the shape of Australian society.

These items were not put before the electorate for its consideration. Instead, voters were promised a number of items that would not be changed. Abbott has since reneged on every single thing he promised not to cut and has so far failed to deliver on some things he promised to do.

Broken promises

Work has started on some of his “roads of the 21st Century” and while the boats have slowed (due to Labor’s policy of denying settlement in Australia) or been turned back (due to the Liberal’s Operation Sovereign Borders policy) they are still coming, but not “arriving”.

On 6 September, 2013 Crikey’s Andrew Crooke surveyed the IPA’s agenda list (which had grown to 100 items) and wrote about what might happen to each item.

Earlier this week, Glen Murray produced a blog on the IPA that is similar to Andrew Crooke’s story, but shows (with links) which of the IPA’s 100 items have been endorsed or enacted by the LNP coalition government.

Murray’s blog makes it clear that the IPA is the policy forming wing of the Liberal party.

It’s way past time for the commercially operated MSM to do the job that’s expected of it and inform its readers, listeners and viewers of who and what the IPA is and who is now really running this country.

It would be helpful if the ABC would describe the IPA as a Right-wing Liberal party policy formation unit and provide a suitably descriptive caption for its other guests on current affairs programs on radio and TV.

More information on people past and present involved in the shadowy world of the IPA is contained in Tim Wilson and the Institute of Public Smokescreens, an article published by Independent Australia.

Update, 31 August, 2014

I have asked the IPA’s policy director, Chris Berg, for his notes or research on IPA item 77: Allow the appointment of Ministers from outside the parliament. I asked only once and I have had no reply.

This federal LNP government, like the LNP state government in Queensland, has adopted the practice of setting up commissions to inform the government on policy alternatives. Commission members tend to be LNP cronies who largely tell the government what it wants to hear. Their reports are described as “reports to the government, not reports of the government”. The practice allows a certain amount of hand-washing when it comes to implementing policy.

A possible source for IPA policy is the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). ALEC believes in limited government, free markets and federalism. It claims almost 2,000 members and says it is the USA’s largest, non-partisan, individual public-private membership association of state legislators.

The USA Centre for Media and Democracy has a website devoted to exposing ALEC.

Another source of IPA policies could be the USA’s right-wing think tank the National Centre for Policy Analysis (NCPA), an organisation that is similar to the IPA.

Here are the results of two Google searches for ALEC and NCPA, if you want to conduct further research: ALEC | NCPA

ALEC and NCPA are just two of a collection of lobbyists that are influencing government policy formation in the USA. These organisations are more organised and more powerful than anything a political party or citizens group can organise. Their founders and members exhibit a “blood-lust” and determination that I have often seen in corporate executives. This may be why they are winning the game. Corporates have a win by any means mentality while ordinary citizens are just too busy coping with life to do much about it.

Two years ago an American web site, Truthout, produced a lengthy article describing several of these US lobbyists and the methods they use. We can see this is beginning to happen in Australia.

The academically based and authored TheConversation.com has produced a series of articles under the general heading Remaking Australia on the eve of the federal LNP government’s first year in office. Not part of that series, but equally relevant, is another TheConversation article: Changing the soul: are conservatives the new radicals?

* The Age article has been archived. I’m trying to get access to it (15/01/2015).

 

ABC MD Mark Scott on independence

Comment

Barry Tucker                    4 April, 2014

“When I started here the coexistence of commercial and public [media] had settled in quite happily … and it worked. Now the intensities around the battle for digital have meant competition for audiences and competition for revenues.”  — ABC MD Mark Scott

Scott was being interviewed by former employee and one-time staff-elected board member Ramona Koval, for The Saturday Paper.

He explained criticism of the ABC by the commercial news media, mainly News Corp, alleging unfair competition:

“If the ABC disappeared, Fairfax and News Corporation would have as much trouble getting people to pay for their websites. Their problem isn’t us, it’s the hundreds of millions of websites out there, news aggregators, Google News. The ABC is a red herring in this argument, but we’re a convenient red herring for some who want to make the ABC smaller or less relevant,” Scott said.

He said then Opposition Leader Tony Abbott had been quite clear during the 2013 election campaign that there would be no cuts to the ABC’s funding and had since confirmed that in parliament. This story, in The Australian, has Labor saying that Abbott would be breaking an election promise if ABC funds were cut.

In the same report, Abbott was quoted as saying: ”It dismays Australians when the national broadcaster appears to take everyone’s side but our own, and I think it is a problem.” He was speaking on Sydney radio station 2GB. These remarks related to the ABC working in conjunction with The Guardian online in the publication of revelations of Australia spying on Indonesia. Notice that Abbott uses Murdoch’s Fox News technique of the collective noun [“Australians”] without providing statistical evidence. It’s not clear what he means by “our own” [side]. Does he mean Australia or the Liberal party? By “… I think it is a problem”, he is saying it is a problem that the ABC broadcasts news that concerns Australians. In other words, it’s a problem that ABC News does the job it is supposed to do.

That report in The Australian is worth reading for the comments made by Abbott’s Communications Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, Greens leader, Senator Christine Milne, and Labor’s Deputy Opposition Leader, Tanya Plibersek.

In an election-eve interview with SBS Mr Abbott promised ”no cuts to the ABC or SBS”. A few days earlier, his shadow treasurer, Joe Hockey, said ABC would not be sold but any “waste” would be cut from its budget. The issue of what constitutes “waste” will presumably be made by Hockey.

Frankly, what Abbott says one day may be completely different the next. Immediately before the 2013 election Abbott said the Opposition was “on a unity ticket” with the caretaker Labor government on Better Schools (Gonski) education funding. After the election Abbott said he would keep the promises he made, “not the promise people think we made”.

A brief biography for Koval can be accessed by clicking on her byline in The Saturday Paper story. @ramonakoval | Website

 

Dangers for public debate in media war

Comment

By Barry Tucker                    2 April, 2014

ABC managing director Mark Scott has warned of the dangers ahead for public debate in a “winner takes all” news media battle.

He was giving a lecture at the University of Melbourne’s Centre for Advancing Journalism. The story was reported in The Guardian online by media writer Amanda Meade.

“Fairfax is on the road to becoming a digital media company, migrating its traditional broadsheets through a tabloid format while actively discussing the prospect that the day may come where they will not publish them in newsprint at all, certainly not every day of the week,” Scott said.

“Given the aggressive editorial positioning of some of their mastheads and their willingness to adopt and pursue an editorial position, an ideological position and a market segmentation, you could argue that News Corporation newspapers have never been more assertive in exercising media power.”

The story mentions sustained criticism of the ABC by News Corp, but gives no reason for it. News Corp boss Rupert Murdoch wants the ABC/SBS broken up and sold off because it is taxpayer funded and competes with his media assets. He takes the same view about the BBC in the UK. He is supported by the Liberal “think tank”, the IPA. The leader of the governing Liberal Party of Australia, Tony Abbott, and his Treasurer, Joe Hockey, repeatedly assure that the ABC will not be sold. Hockey has said any “waste” will be cut from the ABC budget.

News Corp constantly claims the ABC exhibits a Left-wing bias, but rarely, if ever, provides proof. Abbott agrees, saying earlier this year “there is more work to do” and, more recently, the ABC should play for the home team (ref: Indonesia complains of spying).

Scott responded to allegations of bias by saying: “We are concerned about any suggestions of bias at the ABC, but, as I’ve said before, I feel that we are nowhere near as bad as our critics make out and not always as good as we would like to be.”

Scott also quoted Murdoch from 1967: “Freedom of the press mustn’t be one-sided just for a publisher to speak as he pleases, to try and bully the community.”

Something happened to considerably change Murdoch’s attitude at some point after 1967. I have not yet discovered what it was. Although he has built a huge empire, he has experienced significant setbacks. It may have been the accumulation of disappointments, or a single incident.

He has never been accepted by the English establishment and he gave up his Australian citizenship to further his TV interests in the USA. It sometimes seems he has been recruited into the movement for corporate dominance of governments, as he has been seduced by the “movement to create doubt over reason” in regard to Climate Change.

More about The War on the ABC can be found in this blog.

Labor too gutless to fight media laws

Comment

Barry Tucker                    25 March, 2014

Australia has one of the most concentrated news media ownerships in the world. The federal Liberal National Party coalition government is planning to loosen ownership laws.

In an article in The Guardian, West Australian Greens Senator Scott Ludlam says the move poses a threat to Australia’s democracy by limiting different voices, opinions and exposure.

Senator Ludlam does not present a solution, or propose any action. I asked him if he would present a Bill to the Senate, amending media ownership laws and forcing Rupert Murdoch to divest his News Corp of some of its newspapers, at least. I’ve asked the same of some Labor MPs. I have not yet had any replies.

Such a Bill would pass the Senate, with Labor’s support, because the Greens hold the balance of power, at least until the new Senate sits in July 2014. But the Bill would not pass the Lower House, where the governing Liberal National Party coalition has a large majority.

Labor could work with the Greens on such a Bill and at least bring on a debate and public exposure of the issues and the threat. It will not, however. It lacks the stomach for a fight with the federal government and will not fight before the 2016 election campaign. Murdoch has supported Labor Prime Ministers Gough Whitlam and Kevin Rudd. He has also turned on them and had their governments defeated. I suspect that rather than fight Murdoch’s near-stranglehold on Australian news and entertainment media, Labor will hold out for his blessing in a future election campaign — practical politics, but bad for our democracy.

Murdoch owns an estimated 67% of city, suburban and regional newspapers in Australia, in addition to magazines and part ownership of commercial free-to-air and pay TV stations, AAP news agency, opinion poll companies and more. See: Murdoch’s media monster for more.