Features Australia

Porter witch-hunt is the last straw

The ABC must be reformed - here’s how

13 March 2021

9:00 AM

13 March 2021

9:00 AM

The witch-hunt against Attorney-General Christian Porter is far more sinister than it initially would seem. It comes from a clandestine politically correct operation soaking up taxpayer-funded resources for a range of political campaigns from a shady, out-of-control  ABC fiefdom.

Its targets have one thing in common: they are unacceptably conservative. They have ranged from John Howard to Alan Jones and Tony Abbott to George Pell. This clandestine operation is not limited to such witch-hunts. It extends to panicking  governments into crushing a select group of Australians and certain activities seen as unacceptable. The biggest were the unfortunate cattle farmers and workers, many ruined under the total live cattle ban imposed by the Gillard government.  The Federal Court found this to constitute misfeasance in public office with the result that taxpayers must pay hundreds of millions of dollars, a record damages award against the Commonwealth. But neither the ABC PC operators nor the ex-ministers will pay a brass razoo. Taxpayers will.

The Porter witch-hunt is being conducted under the pretence that this is legitimate public broadcasting. It is not. Worse, it attracts undisciplined and unthinking imitators in other parts of the media. Vicious and defamatory, it is camouflaged as a call for a criminal law prosecution but is completely devoid of both the essence  of that and the most minimal ethics of a media campaign.

There is no question that rape is an horrendous offence rightly long regarded as such. In fact, a rapist was hanged in this land as late as 1932, still within living memory. But it is a matter for the criminal law, hardly one for a prime minister. The Commonwealth has important matters under its jurisdiction, but the criminal law relating to sexual offences is primarily a state matter to be determined by long-standing common law principles.

As this column pointed out after Cardinal Pell’s appeal was inexplicably rejected by the majority in the Victorian Court of Appeal, until then, the onus of proof  beyond reasonable doubt was unquestionably on the prosecution. Then, in a last-ditch and grossly impertinent attempt to pressure the highest judges in the land into denying justice, the ABC scandalously rearranged its schedule to get in ahead of the High Court ruling by presenting as new, two old and unsuccessful complainants against the cardinal.

Thus taxpayer-funded resources were blatantly  used for the  political purpose of advancing this witch-hunt at the very time when the ABC was living a charmed and protected life while many Australians were suffering from considerable economic hardship brought on by the Wuhan virus.

In any event, it took no more than a tweet from the Chief Justice of Australia, Susan Kiefel, to deliver a massive defeat to the ‘guilt by accusation’ brigade who had so undermined the rule of law.

By the most solid, indeed impregnable of decisions, a full bench unanimous single judgement, the High Court has confirmed that the rule of law will henceforth prevail in Australia.

Two of the fundamental manifestations of the rule of law, the presumption of innocence and that guilt be proved beyond reasonable doubt, were restored. Never again would the courts subscribe to that alien concept, ‘(Always) believe the victim’.

But since then, the clandestine PC operators within the ABC have learned nothing.

In camouflaging their current witch-hunt as the basis for a criminal prosecution, they suppressed a key feature of such prosecutions, the absolute need to reveal what lawyers call exculpatory evidence, that is evidence favourable to Porter. Putting aside questions of admissibility, this was the observation in the ABC document that ‘her parents worried that she may have confected or embellished the allegations due to her mental illness’. The ABC  also failed to do what is standard among all ethical publishers and broadcasters, give the person damaged in the report an opportunity to comment before publication.

An important distinction must be made between a public broadcaster, such as the ABC, and the press and commercial broadcasters.

The press, whether in print or online, are traditionally and rightly unregulated. They are subject to liability under the civil law, including defamation, as well as the criminal law in such matters as, say, fabricating evidence. Otherwise, they are at liberty to campaign as they wish. But if they want to be seen as responsible newspapers, they observe the commonly accepted ethical codes, especially the adage that while comment is free, facts are sacred.

To repeat, behaving responsibly and ethically is a voluntary matter for the press. Commercial broadcasters are subject to soft regulation and operate under ACMA codes of practice. The ABC has its own code of practice, editorial policies and editorial guidance which are self-administered and which superficially suggest a model broadcaster unable even to editorialise.

The Porter affair demonstrates that the ABC has not reformed and, at least in its PC operation, is as delinquent as ever. The solution does not and never did lie with the board, a structure too weak to deal with entrenched fiefdoms. Nor do I believe that privatisation is the answer.

With the choice we have today, it seems self-evident that the ABC should concentrate on what commercial broadcasting does not or cannot do.

So motor car reviews, sports and levels of sports not presently seen, opera and dance, film, book and theatrical reviews, farming, local news especially in the country and drama would be broadcast but not, for example, talkback and cooking. Under this model the ABC would not broadcast. It would manage the channels and publicly allocate access to different broadcasters, cooperative, public and private, on need and merit. One may access a national network, as classical music does now, whilst others would broadcast for only a few hours a week. Flexibility, balance and thus diversity would be the dominant themes. Advertising outside of programmes would supplement funding.

And clandestine PC operations  would disappear.

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