What is happening to ‘our’ ABC?

At some time between 10 and 11 am on September 3rd last month, a man called Nick Fletcher passed a comment on a UK radio program called The Women’s Hour, a sort of celebrity audio version of women in a coffee shop, except they’re getting paid for it and they can’t bitch about the shitty service as much. 

In his radio interview, old mate Nick Fletcher suggested some of the problems in the UK could be solved by having a Minister For Men. Stay with me dear reader, as I inform you that Nick Fletcher’s actual day job is a backbencher Tory MP in the UK. His main hobbies include transphobia, photographing pot-holes, and celebrating the wonders of his local post office

Why Australians would be concerned with the ramblings of an unknown conservative politician halfway around the world whose main obsessions are pot-holes and fighting the “woke disease” is anybody’s guess, but don’t discount the desperate research moles at the ABC, ably assisted by their research assistants at the right-wing IPA, who helpfully and regularly plant stories and suggest suitable guests to the ABC like dogs laying down beloved bones.

Because a few weeks after the obscure radio interview with Nick Fletcher-Who? where he raised the subject of a UK Minister For Men, Nick’s little issue had remarkably travelled across the world and become a major talking point on the ABC’s alleged premier panel show, QandA. Never mind that QandA has morphed into that 1990’s white trash Jerry Springer Show; the bigger question is why and how this became an issue for Australians at all?

ABC’s social media team breathlessly informed Australians that the issue of a “Minister For Men” had apparently become a much talked about sensation in the UK – without offering a scrap of evidence for that claim. The reality is the claim was baseless and initial media monitoring of the subject showed that only two UK media outlets had mentioned the issue after Fletcher’s interview, both of them right-wing tabloids.

This very narrow representation, this lack of organic flow of a story tends to indicate the presence of spin-meisters working behind the scenes. In this case it’s the Torie’s people inserting culture wars in the media to artificially inflame an issue that really isn’t worth inflaming. Honestly, the significance of Nick Fletcher MP’s opinions to the average Australian would sit slightly below that of the Senate’s resident garden gnome, Malcolm Roberts. But, it’s all par for the course in today’s endless culture wars battlefield disguised as modern media.

And how did this inflated non-issue make its way up onto the ABC you ask, this piece of disinfogration

Perhaps the better question is what has happened to the ABC in the past 12 months that this and other manufactured melodrama is constantly served up to the Australian public as fact?

Roy Morgan Research runs an annual list of Australia’s most trusted media brands. In a November 2022 survey, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation polled by far as Australia’s most trusted media organisation, although it was noted its trustworthiness had dropped in the rankings over the previous three years.

If the survey had been taken over the last month’s performance by the ABC, they probably would have found themselves down in the sewer-pipe with NewsCorp, an organisation they appear to worship more fervently by the day, despite NewsCorp’s obvious and well-established hatred for all things ABC.

Take Russell Brand for example, not that anyone would. Brand has been accused in the UK, Australia and the USA of being a serial sexual predator, of raping and sexually assaulting a plethora of women, one of them only sixteen at the time. Most reasonable journalists would tell you the adult and responsible way to present and discuss the issue of sexual assault is with the gravity it deserves; the dignity and trauma of those women affected by this demands it.

But what did our ABC do with the subject of at least a dozen women’s sexual assaults? Rolled in into a bit of bear-baiting, a bit of poking the general public with a stick. “Look, see how we can drive engagement by provoking the great unwashed with rape stories? Oh how we laughed.” That’s what drives the ABC now – bear baiting Australians with hilarious stories of women’s sexual trauma. 

The ABC’s managers confessed at the last Senate Estimates they spoke at, that the ABC was now looking less at ratings from Australians and more at engagement from Australians. Or to put it in plainer language, the ABC is now focused on harvesting attention and interaction rather than measuring the quality and sustained interest of its output.

I’m not sure which dictionary the upper management at the ABC uses, but attention, in reality, is a momentary distraction that doesn’t count for much. I guarantee if any of those ABC managers stood naked in Martin Plaza with a hairbrush stuck up their arse, they’d get attention. So too would shrieking, THERE’S A BOMB, THERE’S A BOMB! from their upstairs windows. While certainly bizarre, neither of those things are remotely interesting to the public or offer any sustained, factual information. But that’s where we are with our, your, their ABC – descending more and more into the genre of drive-by, shouting provocateurs rather than a platform to present facts and information.

And don’t even get us started about the lack of facts and information. This past month alone, we’ve had a 16-year-old platformed on QandA as a representative from something called Nuclear For Australia. While his enthusiasm is admirable, the problem is that Nuclear For Australia is not actually a legal entity and appears to exist as a web site only, not that anybody at the ABC bothered to find that out. Follow that up with the presentation of The Australian’s resident legal affairs writer, presented as somebody from Rule Of Law Australia, and Angus Taylor’s wife interviewed on ABC’s Radio National about her support of the No referendum, without a disclaimer telling the public her relationship to the Shadow Treasurer.

There is of course, nothing wrong at all with Angus Taylor’s wife, a highly respected barrister, expressing her opinion, merely that it’s imperative, or it used to be, that the ABC inform the public of the guest’s bona fides. Similarly with the teenager from Nuclear For Australia, the public should have been informed that this was an astro-turfing organisation that only exists as a name. Or better yet, the public could have been given guests with actual expertise to discuss the issue of nuclear energy – but why do that when you can bear-bait and insult the audience instead? Remember, it’s not about quality or ratings or facts at the ABC anymore, it’s about attention, engagement. Angertainment for the masses.

The problem is, by shifting to that model, the ABC just wallows down in the gutter with the rest of them. Murdoch is already doing gutter journalism; his worldwide media outlets do ugly well. Why compete with them? If the ABC’s audience, and by that I mean their audience everywhere on all platforms, if they wanted to observe fabricated culture war bullshit, if they wanted to have relevant facts obscured from them, if they wanted an obvious lack of research or care, if they wanted the endless lies of the Vote No campaign re-framed as some sort of credible truth – if they wanted all of that, they’d simply consume Murdoch 24 hours a day. 

Murdoch already does that better than anybody else on the planet – why not choose the higher ground where quality and facts exist instead?

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