Features Australia

Knives in their hands, or knives in their chests?

The moral relativism of the ABC has sunk to new lows - but with one or two journalists there is some hope

16 January 2016

9:00 AM

16 January 2016

9:00 AM

There is no chance of expecting the ABC Board or, in particular, its insolent retiring Managing Director and ‘editor-in-chief’ Mark Scott, will take any action on the serious matter of biased Middle East reporting.

This is my sad experience with the ABC over many years. Now the situation is made more egregious by the fact that some of this reporting may encourage extremists. It certainly confuses the wider Australian public. My cynicism about Mark Scott exercising his responsibilities—or, indeed, seeing that the ABC Charter is fulfilled—was brought into focus by his arrogant and gratuitous attack on Peter Costello, the former Treasurer and now chair of the Future Fund, who had questioned the ABC’s mandate to expand into the digital area.

There is, however, hope for the ABC. Late last year, I led a small group to Sydney who met some senior ABC executives, including their International Editor (and former Washington correspondent) Craig McMurtrie) and Jo Puccini, Executive Producer of 7.30. We calmly discussed my constituents’ agitation with Sophie McNeill’s broadcasts from Israel, where she is the ABC’s Jerusalem-based correspondent. In particular, we focused on a program in October when 7.30 host Leigh Sales introduced a program on the stabbings in Israel. Like in other politically correct reports, the 7.30 compere equated the killers with the victims by saying, ‘Just hours ago, Israeli security forces shot two more Palestinians after they tried to board a school bus south of Jerusalem’.

Leigh Sales is very smart. She has high standards. This intro was out of character, given the facts. This is what we explained to the ABC executives, identifying Ms McNeill’s proclivity to equate victim and perpetrator. As I asked in Parliament, ‘in what moral universe should we say that the media should pay more attention to the people with knives in their hands than the people with knives in their chests?’


As a direct result of that meeting, 7.30 broadcast on 3 December a program on the incitement by the Palestinian Authority and various jihadist preachers. The program examined the case of 73 year-old Richard Lakin, a lifelong supporter of Palestinian–Israeli reconciliation, who was stabbed to death by Palestinian terrorists. Thank you Ms Sales, Ms Puccini and Mr McMurtrie.

Earlier, on Channel Ten’s The Bolt Report, I drew a parallel between public support for police shooting an attacker in the middle of a stabbing incident in Endeavour Hills, with the situation in Israel. At least 7.30 appears to have tried to address the issue of incitement.

Sadly, it’s too little, too late. As Speccie contributor Alex Ryvchin recently wrote in the Daily Telegraph, ‘Inculcating the Palestinian youth with fables of the glory and heroism of those who have killed civilians in cold blood is standard practice in Palestinian society… It is intended to inspire the young to emulate their bloody acts, just as students in healthier societies would aspire to emulate the example of their nations’ great leaders and pioneers’. Thanks to years of simplistic, biased or incorrect reporting, the public in Australia doesn’t understand why the Israeli–Palestinian peace accords constantly fail. But someone else does.

Among the British and Australian MPs lampooned in a subsequent December ABC report by Ms McNeill was Nobel Prize winner Lord David Trimble. Trimble, of course, won his Peace Prize for his role in the successful conclusion of the Good Friday Agreement, between Britain and Ireland, after 900 years of conflict. He is a great man—it was an honour to be in his presence. Unfortunately, Ms McNeill’s automatic tendency to retail the Palestinian narrative when the UK/Australian delegation met the Palestinian leadership asserted itself once again. The Palestinian Education Minister Dr Sabri Saidam whinged that the Australian and British delegations were rude. And this was made worse by the Guardian and Fairfax then spinning the confrontation into a tawdry domestic hate fest focused on Christopher Pyne, Bronwyn Bishop and Tim Wilson. But, of course, that’s not what really happened nor was ‘rudeness’ the important issue. The Australian public should have been told that the man who won the Nobel Peace Prize set the tone for the meeting by pointing out that the frenzied stabbings of Israelis were evidence of a hate-soaked education and political atmosphere in Palestinian society. Trimble explained that, for a decade before the Northern Ireland peace agreement was concluded, the two sides had worked to remove all the disparaging and hateful references to the other.

Now, imagine how differently the average Australian would have reacted if Sophie McNeill’s report had begun something like this: ‘Lord Trimble, the architect of peace in Northern Ireland, has pleaded with the Palestinian education minister to drop incitement against Israelis in Palestinian education, sports and schools. He and the Chair of the British Conservative Party Sir Eric Pickles joined Australian Labor MPs Glenn Sterle and Tim Watts to question the effect of fanaticising Palestinian youth by naming three schools after terrorist Dalal Mughrabi.’ (Mughrabi murdered 38 civilians, including 13 children, on a bus on the Tel-Aviv – Haifa Highway in 1978).

Of course, these are far more important issues than easy political shots at Bronwyn Bishop, with the ABC giving a lazy recounting of the Palestinian narrative. The cold, hard reality is that a small minority of young Muslims are being fanaticised in their bedrooms by social media all over the world. While the numbers are relatively small, the harm they can do is substantial. What happens in Israel eventually happens in Paris, San Bernardino and even Parramatta. That is what the Australian and British delegation was raising with the Palestinians rather than an infantile dumbing down into parochial, domestic politics.

Again, I have no hope that managing directors like Scott will ever understand this. My hope is that people that have high standards of journalism, such as Craig McMurtrie and Leigh Sales, will try to self-correct this pattern of bias in the ABC’s Middle East reporting. Fair and insightful reporting will be in this dangerous time of global jihadist terror a service to all Australians.

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