The ABC has lost its way.
On the most recent Insiders program on our ABC, Greens MP Max Chandler-Mather is defending his party’s position on Labor’s affordable housing bill. David Speers questions the efficacy of rent caps and their impacts on housing supply, and the Member replies that there is evidence of them working in Australia when they were enacted during the pandemic. “During a crisis?” Speers responds, with the empathy of a long gravel Double Bay driveway. “Well, that’s right, this is a crisis, David,” said a frustrated Chandler-Mather in reply.
This interaction exemplifies the issue of our national broadcaster being stacked with corporate-aligned people with corporate-aligned agendas, from the top down. Everything the MP talks about, like any other proposition with a modicum of progressivism, gets framed in a certain way right from the start, in bad faith. This methodology allows the discussion to lean by default to the conservative side, to favour the centre-right position on pretty much everything. When the ghouls of the private press rail about the ABC being a communist hellhole, it’s the closest it has ever been to them right now.
Speers goes on to ask about the impact of “mum and dad investors”, the vibe of interaction: conservative doubt reflective of Speers’ almost two decades at Sky News, segueing into implied critiques, veering off to the right, perhaps unknowingly, perhaps not. Either way, it wasn’t how Barrie Cassidy would do it.
A decade of coalition-inspired attrition has given way to the Buttrose era of public broadcasting, with a throng of ex-corporate executives joining her like foxes in the henhouse, overseeing the employment of institutionalised corporate media apparatchiks in key roles across the ABC. Ten years of LNP saw a board stacked with former Foxtel and News Corp executives, influential beef farmers, CFOs and Directors who worked their careers at Channel 7. After a decade of realignment, Speers, Switzer and Karvelas exemplify the the type of former corporate media employees now in prominent influential roles at flagship programs, and production staff like newly minted QandA producer Alice Workman represent private industry veterans that have production roles that rewire the public broadcaster’s reactor core, influencing public discussion with training garnered in the corporate media proving grounds.
In a country with press concentration levels comparable to China and Egypt, the one dimensional and gamed narratives of a powerful corporate press have historically been mitigated by the strength of our national broadcaster. The ABC acts as a bulwark against the ebbing and flowing subjectivity of the handful of privately owned media empires that constantly jostle for control of the small but powerful streams of information that bombard the inhabitants of this isolated island continent. The presence of corporate media at every level of the ABC tethers it to the private media apparatus that overwhelms the information landscape by volume and sheer noise. A concerted reprogramming of the national broadcaster has seen it restructure, cut, phase out and discontinue in the stylings of shareholder-beholden private counterparts, losing their identity, chasing targets and metrics that define the ravenous world of profit statements, and not maintaining the garden that is meant to be a wholly independent public resource.
The ABC set the standard of Australian journalism from its inception. For many years it pulled into orbit the privately motivated corporate press by insisting on a world-class benchmark for its journalism. But now it acts as a proving ground for the ideas of the disingenuous corporate press. Greg Sheridan can write a blaster one week, giving a plug to people that openly idolise Mussolini, ban books and prosecute minorities, or articles on wokeism being a risk to the fighting potential ADF, before reigning it in and acting all nice talking down on China on an ABC panel the next.
On the Phillip Adams-Macca scale of ABC subjectivity, you find the couch space taken up by Campbell, Crowe, Maiden, Stewart and their ilk, clustering to the centre-right on a majority of positions – on the programs many Australians value to get to the truth.
On the outside, the banshees of Peta Credlin scream after dark at the biased leftism of the ABC, at the rampant Commie core pervading our national broadcaster. And they never forget to mention the wokeism that drips out of its subjective news and the need to defund it. Then, Credlin, and those like her, are given a VIP ticket to step inside the ABC, invited like vampires into our studios to further these arguments on the national broadcaster in a manner more becoming, blustering away in sets of twos and threes on ‘Insiders’, ‘The Drum’, ‘Afternoon Briefing’, ‘Between the Lines’, ‘RN Breakfast’ and ‘QandA’. They step disingenuously into the last bastion of moderate organic ‘independent’ thought broadcast through the narrow airwaves of this oligarchic backwater, fresh after spending the week on Sky wailing about the travesty of leftist propaganda streaming out of the ABCs right-of-centre programming, a fair chunk of it produced and anchored by people that used to be their workmates not long ago.
The ABC once blooded its own journalists on the charter, building careers based on the best journalistic training in the country, and promoted a spirit of fierce independence that stood in the way of government meddling and corporate influence. By virtue, it developed a stable of esteemed journalists, who went on to mentor promising cadets going on to produce world class content, and it used to make some of the best. And so, the cycle continued. But this continuity and tradition was broken in the Howard era, and the governments that followed would increasingly threaten the ABC with funding cuts, used as a cudgel to tame the broadcaster.
These years of LNP inspired corporate appointments have changed the essence and vision of the public service to imitate the composition of private competitors, while streamlining costs, fighting a losing battle in a space it doesn’t need to be in.
Instead of preserving the standard of journalistic integrity we all expect, and delivering accurate content that communicates the challenges of our time in a sea of misinformation, those that manage our valued public entity have fallen for narratives that do not reflect the narratives of the people of Australia.
There’s a pervading presumption of the primacy of the centre-right status-quo, and a willingness of those from former corporate backgrounds, and now at the ABC, to carry this message. Every bad faith construct, every framed question, every twisted word is built atop that foundation and there are few voices left to challenge it. Our concentrated media is dominated by concentrated narratives looking to direct and control the opinions of Australians against their best interests, and the ABC has stopped acting as a balance, instead drifting along to this new paradigm with the rest of the collective press apparatus, an apparatus with which they now share much of their DNA.