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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

media wars « Previous | |Next »
July 29, 2003

Webdiary has picked up this article by Jackie Ashley in Media Guardian that I had linked to here. Margo has juxtaposed the Guardian piece with this one from the Daily Telegraph.

The juxtaposition gives you the media wars: both a power conflict between government and public broadcaster and an attempt by the Murdoch Empire to kneecap the public broadcaster to make space for its expansion in the UK through owning television stations. Jackie Ashley decribes the media power play in the UK this way:

"This time, with the communications bill soon to become law - even as amended - Murdoch has a chance of getting into terrestrial British TV. If he was able to curb the BBC in its funding and its journalism, shoving it into a narrow little box, from which timid establishment- style reporting and dreary documentaries were all that trickled out, he would be in business."

Same in Australia. You can see this from the debates over the amendments to our media bill. The Bill aimed to extend the power of Murdoch and Packer, but was blocked by the Senate. It was a close call. The amendments are due to come back to the Senate for further consideration, and no doubt will be become part of the Howard Government's double dissolution trigger.

As Margo rightly points out, there is less media diversity in Australia, and it would get worse with the duopoly of Murdoch and Packer. She says:

"There are a large number of newspapers with different viewpoints and owners in the UK. There's only Fairfax in capital city Australia to balance Murdoch's dominance. Without an independent Fairfax, nothing like the Telegraph or Guardian pieces would ever be written in the mainstream press. As I keep repeating, the only real accountability is that different newspapers groups keep each other honest. With a partnership of Murdoch and Packer as owners, democracy is all over. Dismantling the ABC's role as independent, dynamic, courageous scrutineers of government would be too easy."

Hence the importance of the public broadcaster for democracy.. As Robert Sheer from the LA Times puts it, shooting the messenger---the public broadcaster-

" a denigration of the core ideal of representative democracy rule by an enlightened public as are vindictive attacks on journalistic watchdogs and whistle-blowers who keep our representatives honest."

Contrary to what Gerard Henderson claims, bias is not the issue here. Why doesn't the Howard Government acknowledge that the frightening claims made about Iraq amounted to little more than cherry-picked snippets from intelligence reports that generally regarded Iraq's threat to the world as modest and shrinking? Truth and bias is not the issue. Bias is the excuse, or the way to open a battle front through payback.

The strategic aim of payback is to cripple public broadcaster. Henderson is doing his bit iin the campaign.

Why is bias not the key issue? The answer is suggested by this article from the Wall Street Journal by Robert Bartley. He says that:

"I think we're coming to the end of the era of "objectivity" that has dominated journalism over this time. We need to define a new ethic that lends legitimacy to opinion, honestly disclosed and disciplined by some sense of propriety."

The old objectivity ethos has gone. It is not practised by Linda Mottram on the ABC's AM; nor by Andrew Bolt, Piers Ackerman or Fox News. we have entered the world of opinion journalism. As Bartley points out:

"... journalists can't have it both ways. Since they're increasingly dealing with subjective opinion, they should stop wearing "objectivity" on their sleeves."

And that applies to the ABC.

The neo-liberals have found the instrument to cripple the public broadcaster. It is either privatise the ABC or shove it into a narrow little box. This gives more room for Murdoch and Packer to acquire more media assets.

Ultimately, the power play can be seen as an attack on democracy. An enlightened public has got too noisy and uppity for the elites: they are questioning the elite's justification for war. So dissent and criticism need to be dampened down so the governing elites are not challenged or criticised in running the country their free market way.

Hence the media wars.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 1:14 PM | | Comments (6) | TrackBacks (2)

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference media wars:

» Mirth for the day from The Usurer
Gary Sauer-Thompson seems to think I am the spokesman for an entire wing of anti-ABC forces. I thanked him for the extra traffic thus sent my way. Not that sitemeter reports any referals thus far, mind you. JJM... [Read More]

» My take on the ABC controversy from The Usurer
In response to Gary Sauer-Thompson's comments to his post that ended noting my advocacy of a 'narrow little box' for the ABC, I have ended up writing my own thoughts on the entire controversy surrounding the ABC. They are formulated... [Read More]



I am slightly amused at what you think my motives for my idea were. You give the impression that I am some blue-blooded North Shore lad snacking on caviar and washing it down with expensive wines, miffed at how someone dare challenge The Elite and the Howard Government, and hence filled with the desire to silence 'alternative' media. The reality is that I am the son of a steelworker-turned-schoolteacher, earn under $20kpa from three casual jobs, live in a cramped flat in Whyalla, think of the coalition as but the least of numerous evils, and came up with the idea of ABC-as-hansard over five years ago as part of an overall system of how a proper government should be constituted. Me, elite!? I'm bogan disestablishmentarian!

The most you could say was that I was opportunistic, taking advantage of a controversy to tout one of my own ideas. Oh, yes, I DO attack democracy, but not for the reasons you seem to think apply to me. I am certainly not motivated by want of shoving the ABC into a 'narrow little box' so as to hand more power to Fairfax or Murdoch - I couldn't be stuffed reading most papers and don't bother with a TV precisely because they're all full of crap. I get my news from a pile of sources online (including ABC) and glean the basics by reading between the lines - and it is not as though much of it were of actual use either. The Fairfax/Murdoch 'duopoly' doesn't hamper me any, and as it happens, for fun I have mused about starting my own media conglomerate in the future in competition to their stables. What I wanted with my idea for the ABC was to remove any trace of a system to provide government-sanctioned ideas of ANY kind, be they political, cultural, or otherwise. That I turn my nose up at the specifics of current content is totally beside the point - my advocacy of turning the ABC into little more than a glorified court stenographer wouldn't cease even were the ABC to start praising laissez-faire to the hilt.

I am more amused at your seeming to think that I speak for an entire wing of anti-ABC forces. The simple truth is that I get all of 20 hits per day, don't really have THAT much to say that will be of widespread interest, and I treat my blog as not much more than a place for me to think out loud as and when I feel like it. As far as I know, beyond a few good wisecracks in a post on Yobbo's page nobody else but you has even commented on what I had to say, never mind anyone having taken it up as a banner to rally troops behind. I am certainly not the leader of some right-wing vanguard! All you have done is temporarily increase the traffic to my admittedly boring little corner of cyberspace. For that, a 'thank-you' is in order.


there is a big debate going on in the public sphere and you and your ideas are a part of it as soon as you publish them on a weblog.

Our ideas get picked up and tossed around and we lose control over them since people make of them as they will.

Your ideas on public broadcasting are worthy of consideration. The ABC does need to change given the rapid changes in the media environment.

Though I'm not convinced given more concerns about democracy. (I would redescribe your ideas in terms of one digitial channel run by the ABC in the public interest.)

The purpose of my post, which linked righties and lefties in Australia and overseas, was to construct something of a debate around public broadcasting.

And I did so by trying to establish some common ground--the end of objective journalism---so as to highlight the play of power behind the bias claims. Call it a Canberra perspective if you like.

I do not see you as speaking on behalf of the North Sydney elite at all. There are lots of diverse voices on the right.

Let me put it another way. What I saw was the consequences of your idea of the 'ABC as a glorified hansard'.(Thats a narrow little box)

The consequences of your idea are:

to maginalise the ABC, thereby creating more room for big corporate media to move in. (Margo's point)

to leave a vacuum in the media as the watchdog for democracy. Whose going to fill that?

My argument, when put into the context of the constructed debate, was that the power play is about democracy not just free markets.

It is about dampening down critique (check out my postings), and the relationship between the governing elite--our political masters--and us citizens who are governed.

My point was that critique in the hand of the governed is not welcomed by the governors.

There was no offence intended. If I have then I'm sorry, and I apologise.

I sorry that the mob of Tim Blair's readers did not come sweeping through your nice and enjoyable weblog. I did try twice to direct them in your direction.

If you think the ABC is currently a "watchdog for democracy" then there's no point even entering the debate. The ABC is what it is. What it is is a television station like any other, except that it isn't subject to market forces.

The effect of this over the last 20 years is that the ABC no longer produces anything of interest or relevance to 90% of Australians. The only thing it is a "watchdog" for is the political and cultural tastes of the urban lefties who now constitute it's entire audience.

There's no reason why urban lefties shouldn't get a TV channel all of their own. There are a lot of compelling reasons, however, why the rest of Australia shouldn't have to pay for it.

I accept that the ABC is biased--just like the commercial stations and newspapers--and is in need of reform.(ie., allows more diverse voices)

My argument is that the role of the public broadcaster is to act as public watchdog for democracy.

My reason? The commercial broadcasters are reluctant to act in terms of their responsibilities as the fourth estate.They prefer to define themselves as media corporations in the marketplace, or in some instances as lapdogs.

Hence we pay for the watchdog in the public interest and we assess the current placeholder in terms of the responsibiities of a watchdog.

Your point is that the ABC is contaminated by lefty bias and critical of a conservative government. It overlooks that the Hawke Government was as angy with ABC over the coverage of the 1991 Iraqi as the Howard Government is in 2003.

There is more to this debate than the lefty bias of the public broadcaster.

Sorry for not getting back to you sooner. My response is here:

It's there as I try to avoid leaving big slabs of text on other people's sites. That and it was something for me to post.


The Hawke government was upset with the ABC - for being too far to the left, even for the ALP. Doesn't that tell you something?

Gary: My argument isn't that the ABC is "contaminated". It's that it is pitched to a narrow interest group. The end result is that the ABC's core market (Urban Lefties) are actually in receipt of a large welfare payment from the rest of Australia.

I'm not opposed to a TV station with a left-wing bias. I'm opposed to it being publically funded. A pay TV model would be much more appropriate for the ABC of today. The 800 million a year can be spent on someone who actually needs it. Or we could even get a tax cut.

Either way, the idea is that upper-middle class urbanites don't really need welfare in the form of the ABC.