War on ABC continues

By Barry Tucker                    1 November, 2013

Mary Kissel is in Australia to speak at the Public Knowledge Forum on the state of the news media. She is not a fan of publicly funded news organisations like the ABC.

Mary Kissel

Mary Kissel

That’s not surprising. She is on the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal, owned by Dow Jones & Co, a division of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. Murdoch doesn’t like the publicly funded BBC or the ABC either.

Murdoch says the BBC is unfair competition to his (majority owned) BSkyB satellite and mobile phone operation. Kissel’s spin on this is that public funding is detrimental to innovation.

Kissel is in Australia as the guest of the US Studies Centre. The Public Knowledge Forum is an international seminar on the connection between the rapidly changing news media landscape and democracy.

You can read more on this in an interview with Andrea Carson, Honorary Research Fellow, Centre for Advancing Journalism, University of Melbourne, for The Conversation.

You can also read Kissel’s article on an interview she had with then Opposition Leader Tony Abbott.

Update, 21 November, 2013

Opinion and Comment

Yesterday, the News Corp empire in Australia rocked the world of journalism by releasing details of salaries of the ABC’s top political journalists and presenters.

According to Crikey.com the story was broken by Sarah Martin, a political reporter on Murdoch’s Adelaide Advertiser. You can read the Crikey version, including reaction by ABC MD Mark Scott and the list of salaries.

Some Twitter followers speculated that the salary data was released to destabilise ABC staff and provide information for commercial outlets that might want to poach ABC staff.

Rupert Murdoch’s campaign against the ABC rolled on today with an opinion piece in Melbourne’s Herald Sun by one of its former editors, Andrew Bolt.

Those who are aware of what is happening to Murdoch’s Australian newspapers (in terms of paid circulation and paywall income*) will find Bolt’s “opinions” laughable. Unfortunately, those who are less well informed might swallow his garbage. *See articles in Crikey.com, mUmBRELLA, Audit Bureau of Circulations or Nielsen Online Ratings for details.

The real threat to democracy in Australia is the near-monopoly and distortion in the News Corp news media. In a massive statement of hypocrisy, Bolt refers to the ABC’s nation-wide coverage: “No healthy democracy should have a state media this dominant …” His article is wildly inaccurate and misleading. He does not refer to the vast newspaper ownership of his boss, or to his interests in radio and television, free to air and subscriber based.

The bias and “projection” in Bolt’s article has to be read to be believed — not that any of it is believable.

Update, 24 November, 2013.

An article in today’s Guardian says the office of former Liberal MP and current Family First MP Robert Brokenshire was the source of the ABC salary material that was leaked to Rupert Murdoch’s Adelaide Advertiser. ABC MD Mark Scott says the material was sent to Brokenshire in October 2012. Its release now makes it part of the usual coordinated Murdoch campaign across a broad front.

The leaking of ABC salaries has now been conflated with News Corp’s attack on the ABC and the Guardian for releasing the spying information that has led to a diplomatic incident between Australia and Indonesia.

Miranda Devine, a columnist on News Corp’s The Daily Telegraph, expressed her opinion on the two stories yesterday.

After reading Ms Devine’s piece you might like to visit this analysis of it on the Loon Pond blog.

See also my analysis of an article by The unbelievable Andrew Bolt. Compare the Bolt story with Ms Devine’s column to get a measure of the coordinated attack that News Corp is running.

Update, 25 November, 2013

An AAP story published on the Yahoo!7 website today says the Family First office staffer who released the ABC salaries to News Corp has been suspended for a day, pending further action.

Family First MP Robert Brokenshire apologised to ABC staff for the leak.

The AAP story says:

“A Senate estimates hearing found several years ago that it wasn’t in the public interest to release the ABC’s payroll information.

“However, a News Corp spokesman defended the publication of the information. ‘The ABC is a publicly-funded organisation. The news story in The Australian today is in the public interest,’ he said last week.”

Update, 26 November, 2013

News Corp columnists Janet Albrechtsen and Andrew Bolt continued their attack on the ABC today, this time referring to the corporation’s release of spying data in combination with the online Guardian. Ms Albrechtsen called for ABC MD Mark Scott’s resignation. Bolt wrote an hysterical attack piece that is funnier than anything I ever read in Mad Magazine.

It’s also hyper-hypocritical. Bolt released spying details in the Howard government era, according to Margo Kingston. Scroll down to the fourth para below the second picture. Incredible!

Albrechtsen’s column.

Bolt’s column.

Update, 3 December, 2013

ABC MD Mark Scott today said the ABC has come under a concentrated attack by News Corp over the release of the Indonesian spying story. Read his comments in on-line media magazine mUmBRELLA.

Update, 5 December, 2013

The campaign goes on, with former ABC senior executives, politicians and others joining in the attack, some calling for an inquiry and some for reduced funding.

Here are some of the latest stories:

• MD Mark Scott defends ABC independence, the Guardian.

How the ABC should serve the national interest, Ben Eltham, New Matilda.

In defence of an independent ABC, Amanda Meade, the Guardian.

Update, 9 December, 2013

Ian McAuley is an adjunct lecturer in public sector finance at the University of Canberra and a fellow at the Centre for Policy Development. In an article in New Matilda today he exposes the nonsensical argument that the Liberals and News Corp are using against the ABC.

Update, 11 December, 2013

ABC chairman Jim Spigelman today told the National Press Club in Canberra a number of external audits into alleged political bias in ABC reporting are under way. He said the results will be published.

• Watch the replay of the ABC telecast of Spigelman’s address.

Read a report of Spigelman’s comments by Johnathan Swan in Melbourne’s The Age (Fairfax).

Read a report of Spigelman’s address to the National Press Club by Crikey’s Media Editor Matthew Knott.

Update, 3 February, 2014

ABC radio’s PM presenter Mark Colvin interviews federal LNP Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull on the proposed inquiry into cost and efficiencies of the ABC.

The journalists’ union issued a statement on January 30, 2014, calling on government leader Tony Abbott to declare support for an independent ABC and its journalists.

The Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) executive director John Roskam advocates selling the ABC.

Update, 14 March, 2014

Two audits by senior journalists into alleged bias in ABC news and current affairs have concluded with no significant findings of bias, but with evidence of failing to check some details.

A Google search result for stories related to the two audits.

Update, 17 September, 2014

“Conservative commentator” Janet Albrechtsen (referenced above), an arch critic of the ABC and a former board member, was appointed to the panel that oversees ABC board member selection on 2 July, 2014. It is claimed her selection was not a party or government decision but done at arm’s length. Her partner, Michael Kroger, is another Liberal party warrior.

Fiona Stanley is a research professor, UWA, a Vice Chancellor’s Fellow, Melbourne university, and an ABC board member. In an article in The Sydney Morning Herald today, Stanley wrote about the value of the ABC to the Australian community.

Update, 1 December, 2014

The ABC’s Lateline presenter and interviewer Emma Alberici has detailed the economic situation faced by commercial news media and compared their service and output with that provided by the ABC.

Alberici provides researched facts, something the ABC’s critics rarely manage to do. In doing so she exposes the lies and the hypocrisy of the mainly Rupert Murdoch owned newspaper campaign against the ABC.

Alberici’s article appeared on the ABC’s The Drum website.

The ABC is not the only public broadcaster under attack from Murdoch. The Guardian’s Antony Loewenstein says it is happening globally.

Update, 4 December 2014

The ABC is expected to retrench 100 journalists as part of its “efficiency dividend”, a euphemism for budget cuts. Remaining journalists will have to work harder to provide same coverage and adapt to some new programs and schedules — the opposite to an efficiency dividend.

An efficiency dividend (budget cut) can be made when it is shown efficiency has improved and existing staff and budget is surplus to requirements. The ABC is being forced to make savings that are being imposed across the board.

Popular veteran and sometime employee rep on the ABC board, Quentin Dempster, has had his Friday night Statewide 7.30 report cancelled and finishes up tomorrow. He’s leaving the organisation.

Senior foreign correspondent Trevor Bormann resigned last month in advance of details of the cuts, describing the ABC as “confusing and dysfunctional”.