Features Australia

Two-faced Aunty

26 October 2019

9:00 AM

26 October 2019

9:00 AM

It’s understandable that our national broadcaster feels confused and besieged. So many of her once loyal friends are turning on her. She may claim she’s still an indispensable member of the Australian community, but in reality she is seen as a polarising one.

Some still remember when her ‘Children’s Hour’ united children across the nation. As writer David Horton recounts, it encouraged ‘contributions from children — stories, poems, puzzles, jokes, descriptions, etc. — presented as an integral part of the whole. Children… were part of the great endeavour that was the intellectual and cultural life of Australia as represented by the ABC… all of us pulling our oars as the good ship ‘Australia’ (sorry, ‘Argo’) sailed onwards. We all had our eyes on that glittering prize, the golden fleece’. As Horton explains, ‘The “Children’s Hour” was teaching us to take our place in the cultural life of Australia’.

That was a time when the nuclear family and common values combined to bring social cohesion in an increasingly fractured world. When doors weren’t locked and people talked to neighbours. When the ABC concentrated on unity, not division.

For a while, even after the advent of television, the ABC studiously avoided critical commentary and opinion. But after a decade and, in response to poor ratings, a push began for brighter, more attractive programmes.

Enter Allan Ashbolt. His intellect and radical Marxist leanings began infecting the opinions of impressionable young journalists and trainees. He recruited leftwing ideologues. Gradually, Marxists and Marxist ideas began to take hold in the ABC. The cherished values of ‘balance, fairness and impartiality’ were redefined as relative terms. Ashbolt once celebrated, ‘We can discuss on Lateline ideas that three years ago would have been regarded not only as heretical, but subversive. And Lateline has broken down the ABC convention—and it was always a false convention—of balance. Five years ago it would have been unthinkable to have three people discussing an issue, and all of them to be left-wingers …’.

So enduring is Ashbolt’s legacy, that today, only left-wing voices prosper. Conservative views are rarely heard. Even the corporation’s independence has been conceded. During the last federal election campaign the ABC advocated Labor as ‘obviously a much better scenario for us’. True, but during an election campaign, highly partisan.

Reflecting its ideological metamorphosis, the broadcaster has gone from promoting traditional values to becoming a prominent critic. It projects a negative racist stereotype and a black armband view of Australian history. It sees victims and misogyny everywhere. Australia Day and Anzac Day are not days to celebrate proud achievements but anniversaries of Aboriginal dispossession and ‘white supremacy’. Unsurprisingly, baby boomers who were aboard the good ship ‘Argo’, now feel increasingly uncomfortable in Aunty’s radical company. So they turn their backs and don’t return.

According to ratings agency OzTam, in mid-October the once peerless  ABC 7.00 pm News, didn’t even figure in the top ten programmes. Its audience of 660,000 compared to Seven News’s 1.053 million. In the hope of improving ratings, ABC journalists will be sent to writing workshops.

It’s true that ABC News has become more trashy and tabloid, but the proposal to send journalists to writing workshops won’t fix the problem. Nor will a two-day visit by the chair, CEO and accompanying staff to the Sydney suburb of Bankstown, (just 20 kilometres down the road from the Ultimo headquarters), help deliver content more relevant to average Australians. Why not try Ballarat?

Such random responses indicate a board and management unable to read the tea leaves, let alone understand the fundamental requirements of a taxpayer-funded, national broadcaster. And the answer certainly doesn’t lie in the appointment of a more gender- and ethnically-diverse board and staff. No one is accusing the broadcaster of being insensitive to ethnic minorities or gender issues. What is required is for the ABC to honestly align itself with the letter and spirit of its Charter.

But this it refuses to do. A recently-introduced government bill to ensure ABC broadcasts are fair and balanced was opposed by its journalists on the grounds it would ‘encourage confusion and mischief-making as people demand the ABC adopt false balance at the expense of good journalism’. Labor and the Greens supported the staff and the bill lapsed.

In presenting this year’s annual report to the Minister for Communications, Chair Ita Buttrose insists that the ABC’s performance and delivery is ‘in line with its Charter remit’. But is screening a kid’s cartoon on ‘white male privilege’ ‘in line’? Cultural diversity is one thing, but depicting non-whites as underprivileged, does nothing positive for education or ‘national identity’.

Of course, hard-left positions are not confined to children’s broadcasts. They so permeate ABC shows that anyone seeking factual, alternative views must look elsewhere.

The Corporation boasts, ‘More than two-thirds of the population connect with the ABC at some point each week’. Perhaps? But for the military, our border forces, Roman Catholics, the coal, cattle, sheep, greyhound and horse-racing industries, to name a few, that connection has been generally hostile and serves an underlying partisan agenda.

It’s also hard to reconcile the broadcaster’s claim that surveys confirm 80 per cent of those polled trust the ABC because of its lack of bias, its impartiality, quality of journalism and ethics, with the reality that the flagship ABC News is no-longer the go-to bulletin?

Evidence notwithstanding, so firm is the grip of the ABC on the political megaphone that no government will dare to do other than grumble and tinker for fear of the heat it may generate. So, baby- boomers will continue to leave their once favourite aunt in the hands of a fickle generation, while she pretends that partisanship means balance.

Ultimately Aunty will find truth in an old Chinese proverb. ‘One foot cannot stand in two boats’.

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