The author has been described by News Ltd as an "iconoclast", "Svengali", a pollie's "economist muse", and "pungently accurate". Fairfax says he is a "Renaissance man" and "one of Australia’s most respected analysts." Stephen Koukoulas concludes that he is "85% right", and "would make a great Opposition leader." Terry McCrann claims the author thinks "‘nuance’ is a trendy village in the south of France", but can be "scintillating" when he thinks "clearly". The ACTU reckons he’s "an enigma wrapped in a Bloomberg terminal, wrapped in some apparently well-honed abs."

Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Oz has a go at the ABC for bias

When I saw that long-time Liberal Party staffer, Chris Kenny (who has contested Liberal pre-selection himself), had published an article in The Weekend Australian entitled, Whose ABC? (note to subs: two awful typos in the second para: "which is sometimes viewed a descriptor for a providing a political", I did not have to exercise many interneuronal connections to figure out the story's agenda. [Ed: I ended up making a few typos of my own, which are now fixed!)

Yes, this was going to be another one of those lightly researched, highly opinionated, anonymously sourced, and quasi-ideological assaults by a proxy for a private interests that for some reason feel threatened by a national broadcaster doing precisely what it is mandated to do under the leadership of former Fairfax executive, and senior Liberal Party staffer, Mark Scott. One might conclude that this is rich hypocrisy layered on top of thick irony! Poor old Aunty gets an awfully tough-time from the centre-right.

I actually delayed reading the article until later in the day, and the prospect of a more tolerant mental space. But suffice it to say, my a priori expectations were, regrettably, spot-on.

I will not recycle here my earlier analysis of why any sensible conservative can understand that a publicly-funded national broadcaster is an essential condition precedent for durable democracy. You can read that note here along with its 224 comments.

I am fairly certain, however, that Kenny's former employer, Malcolm Turnbull (Kenny was his chief of staff), who as a Libertarian, flat-tax advocate is one of the most economically conservative politicians in Australia (sure, he's socially progressive too), agrees with the thrust of these arguments. In fact, Turnbull stated as much upon his appointment as Shadow Communications Minister, and is a regular contributor to the ABC's public opinion clearinghouse, The Drum.

The inconsistencies underlying these criticisms seem lost on their authors. The Australian, and its owner News Ltd, is self-avowedly one of the most political, opinionated and agenda-driven media houses in the world. That's absolutely fine, and the owners' prerogative. It's a private business, and free to publish whatever it wants. And it generally does an excellent job of taking the debate to stakeholders on topics of national interest.

As Mark Scott knows first-hand, I am very sensitive to media bias. I have, for example, expressed direct concerns about Kerry O'Brien and Tony Jones's commitment to political impartiality. But, as far as I can discern, Scott has been unwavering in his efforts to address these long-standing ABC challenges, and, in this context, has achieved a great deal more than any of his predecessors. Most visibly, Scott has replaced the iconic 730 Report anchor, Kerry O'Brien, with the unambiguously apolitical combination of Leigh Sales and Chris Ulhmann.

He has also commissioned the establishment of The Drum, which has been absolutely revolutionary insofar as it has positioned highly conservative opinions at the very heart of what the ABC projects to the community. The Drum is constantly streaming as many conservative voices as it can lay its hands on, including Tom Switzer, Malcolm Turnbull, Chris Berg, Sinclair Davidson, John Hewson, Glenn Milne, Kevin Donnelly, David Barnett and others.

Yet as one of the nation's most right-wing economists, Professor Sinclair Davidson (who is a favoured contributor to The Australian's agenda-focussed opinion pages), recently alleged, this is actually a hard task. In particular, Professor Davidson argues that there is a relative paucity of available centre-right opinion. I will leave you with Davidson's words, which were conveniently ignored by his stable-mate:

"Opinion writers on the right of the political spectrum are rare – if they existed I’m sure they’d be published. The fact of the matter is the Australian intelligentsia is predominately left-wing – this is not surprising. The other point is that The Drum is always happy to publish me when I send stuff there and the editor Jonathan Green has told me that he wants more stuff from me. So he really faces a supply problem."

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad (in haste, now edited!)