The ABC of craven capitulation

It’s ironic that the Sydney Writers’ Festival event at which Laura Tingle made what has become a bizarrely infamous comment about the pervasive racism of Australian society was a live version of the Insiders we used to have when we used to have nice things on the ABC. Back when David Speers was safely sequestered as one of the saner ones on Sky News and not warming Barrie’s chair on Sunday Mornings, resolutely assessing the week’s political landscape through the prism of Dutton’s latest spray.

Dispatched to the SWF event by The Australian to rustle up controversy, media reporter Sophie Elsworth duly obliged by labelling Tingle’s contribution to a genial panel discussion as “an extraordinary attack on Australia”, which Elsworth’s masthead editorialised apparently demonstrated a “loathing for the country the ABC is funded to serve” that was “incompatible with the positions (Tingle) holds”.

What Tingle’s comment actually was, of course, was a bald statement of fact. Since the foundational racist lie of Terra Nullius, we have enthusiastically exterminated, then assimilated and now incarcerate our Indigenous peoples, used skin pigmentation as the key criterion for migration, and demonised different cultural groups on a rotating basis, with Arab and African Australians joining perennial First Nation favourites as the current villains du jour.

Devoid of policies beyond nuclear nonsense and eviscerating super, Dutton’s plan for electoral success is to unleash our darkest angels. Emboldened by the racism of the anti-Voice campaign, he is stridently and baselessly blaming all our woes on greedy foreigners who buy our houses, congest our infrastructure and plug our labour market gaps. 

As Chief Political Correspondent of the national broadcaster, we should be grateful to Laura Tingle for belling this manky cat. We’ve seen where it otherwise ends. Giving equal credence to truth and lies, facts and dogma in the name of balance, leads to an uninformed polity drowning in a sea of misinformation, dashed repeatedly on the rocks of false equivalence. Promoting such a specious notion of balance is an abrogation of the responsibility of the Fourth Estate to report dispassionately and hold the powerful to account for what they say and do.

The ABC is no stranger to the confected hysteria of a News Corp pile-on. Like the rest of us, they witness the regular ad hominem attacks on the latest hapless target – attacked, ridiculed, endlessly excoriated for daring to express an opinion News Corp deems unacceptable until they are cowed, silenced or, in some cases, literally driven from the country. The ABC itself is a regular victim of News Corp’s unhinged editorialising in bloviating bile that is then taken up by various Coalition attack pups in pincer moves as iniquitous as they are inevitable.

That News Corp presumes to pontificate on ABC standards despite the incessant revelations of its unethical, immoral and often illegal business practices is laughable. That the ABC takes its criticisms seriously is absurd. Even as this week’s attack on Laura Tingle for her SWF appearance dominated the news cycle, at another writers’ festival on the other side of the world, singer James Blunt revealed that News Corp’s erstwhile flagship tabloid News of the World had regularly paid women to “go out and shag celebrities” so it could rate their sexual performance in its pages. He described NOTW emails in which editor turned David Cameron’s Communications Director turned prison inmate Andy Coulson pondered how best to portray Blunt’s orgasm. The Sun has recently settled lawsuits for vast sums with other celebrities – “as is common with entirely innocent people” noted Hugh Grant – to keep cases out of court that would dispel the ludicrous lie that News Corp’s industrial scale phone hacking was restricted to NOTW and the odd rogue journo. They similarly settled voting machine company Dominion’s US defamation case for $US787.5m to avoid judicial scrutiny of Fox’s promotion of populism as news. Shrugging off even the appearance of political neutrality, nepo-baby CEO Lachlan Murdoch just put Tony Abbott on its board, for fuck’s sake.

Despite this, the ABC’s Head of News Justin Stevens capitulated to the caterwauls of News Corps. In a statement released three days after the invented SWF imbroglio, he offered up his prize journalist to the baying mob with weasel words: Tingle’s SWF remarks lacked “context, balance and supporting information”, Stevens said, and “would not have met the ABC’s editorial standard”. She had, he assured her critics, been “counselled”.

Laura Tingle does not need counselling. Laura Tingle needs a boss and an employer prepared to back her unequivocally. She needs an ABC that is fearless and independent and rises above and ignores the continual contemptible attacks on it and its journalists from its rabid rivals at News Corp. As do we all. ABC viewers are sick of the national broadcaster inviting representatives of its chief traducer on to its prestigious platforms and allowing it to set the news agenda in its own warped image. We decry News Corp being taken seriously as a news organisation rather than the legally adjacent, ideologically extreme, dangerously ruthless rogue company that it consistently reveals itself to be.

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