catallaxy files

catallaxy in technical exile

Why I don't care about ABC 'bias'

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That I know more members of the ABC Board than I know ABC journalists and presenters says something about the selection pools for the two groups. But unlike the lefties fussing about Keith Windschuttle’s appointment to the Board or right-wingers complaining about ABC news and opinion left-wing bias I find it very hard to get worked up about the state of the ABC.

Political partisans are understandably attuned to these issues, but in the mainstream media, of which the ABC is a part, structural influences are almost always more important than ideology. Journalists are, on the whole, more interested in getting a story than they are in pushing a particular line. That’s why I have always advised my comrades on the right to spend less time whinging about the ABC and more time trying to generate news, or being ready to offer opinion that will make radio shows or newspaper opinion pieces more interesting than they would be otherwise. The CIS has always had a pretty good run on the ABC, not because ABC journalists are classical liberals but because we offer stories, balance, and diversity. Put ‘Centre for Independent Studies’ into the ABC search engine and you get 385 matches, only slightly behind the Australia Institute on 419.

According to my friend John Roskam in today’s Age

At the moment, the opinions expressed on the ABC range from soft pink, to hard red, to deep green.

Yet put John’s name into the ABC search engine, and he has been on 42 times in recent years. That I am a raving Marxist presumably explains my 28 ABC gigs, only one of which I seriously regretted – and that was for a media sin found everywhere, a journalist’s desperation to create a story triggering unethical and unprofessional behaviour. Even Phillip Adams has treated me fairly the two times I have been on his show.

The ABC’s virtue, from my perspective, is that they give you far more time than the commercial stations. My arguments are almost invariably complex and thus never ideal for electronic media, but at least I have more of a chance to get my message across in the 10 minutes plus I normally get from the ABC than from the 2-5 minutes I usually get from commercial radio.

In my experience, ABC ‘bias’ is mostly in choice of issue rather than the way it is presented on air. That is, they are more likely than other media outlets to report issues favoured by the left, but having chosen those issues they try to get balance. In addition to the times I have actually appeared on the ABC, there have been many more instances in which I have either had to turn down a request or I have been asked to give advice on who they could use to provide the balance they want.

I don’t think that this issue bias greatly changes the range of issues that would be covered even without the ABC, since it is probably crowding out commercial soft-left stations. After all, we have soft-left print media like The Age, and there are more than enough middle class lefties to make a private ABC commercially viable, whether as a for-profit or a non-profit. That it doesn’t already have ads is due to an unholy alliance of John Howard protecting the private media billionaires from competition (again) and foolish lefties who think the government is a better paymaster than diverse advertisers. Can you imagine an independent media company appointing Keith Windschuttle, Ron Brunton and Janet Albrechtsen to its board?

The main problem with the ABC is not that it is ‘biased’. It is that it is state-funded. Let it take advertising and sell its shows through pay TV and neither side of the culture wars will have much cause for complaint in the long term.

Written by Admin

June 17, 2006 at 2:53 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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