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Tim Blair watch « Previous | |Next »
August 11, 2003

I mentioned here that the latest round in the ABC bias debate was pretty thin. I was working off a Crikey.comreport/notes on the speech that Tim Blair had given on the ABC at a recent Quadrant dinner.

Well Tim has published a version of the speech in The Australian. An appropriate place given for the article given the Murdoch line about the ABC's hissy fit:----ie., the ABC using "its budget cuts as a way of embarrassing the Howard Government, rather than as an opportunity to redefine its core tasks."

So what is Tim Blair saying? A couple of things. First we have the skirmishes, then the substance. I'll outline them and make a few comments. Consider this post to be a placeholder for the Tim.B. Liar blog to return from holiday.

The skirmishes have two fronts. Tim says that the standards of the independent quality broadcaster are slipping. The reason? The ABC went tabloid during the war with its over the top rhetoric about a humanitarian crisis in Iraq that never eventuated. And the ABC makes blunders in terms of factual errors as in its reports of the "looting" of the Baghdad museum.

It is a cheap shot. Take the humanitarian crisis. It did not happen. But the ABC was not alone in being concerned about such a crisis. The Pentagon was as well. It's postwar planning concentrated on dealing with a widespread humanitarian disaster, as well as massive oil fires and the use of weapons of mass destruction. They got it wrong too.

Secondly, there is the bias of Media Watch in pursuing media errors. It concentrates on right wing journalists, it lets left wing journalists off the hook and it does not pick up on the falling standards at the ABC.

Okay that is a problem with the balance of one programme. As I said it's a skirmish. The flaws of Media Watch stand for something bigger.

That leads us to the main line of attack. Tim says that:

"... the real limit at the ABC is its worldview, which places the Australian Democrats somewhere near the centre of the political spectrum, with both the ALP and the Coalition on the far Right and the Greens only slightly to the Left of mainstream...Persist with that view for long enough and you'll end up with the audience that you deserve."

At least this recognizes that the ABC is a participant in the culture wars, and not somehow standing above them being neutral and balanced.

So why should we citizens worry about the ABC's world view? Different media organizations have different world views and different politics. Tim says that:

"The danger for the ABC is that eventually, unless it does something about abundant biases and cultural narrowness, the debate over its future will creep beyond broadsheet opinion pages and into wider venues, as is happening with the BBC in Britain."

After this diagnosis of the ABC's affliction Tim offers a remedy:

"The response of the simple and has been often stated. It must engage more with the mainstream and not reflexively vilify the large section of it that agrees with strong border protection, free market ideals, private education, the war on terror and our closeness to the US."

Funny that. I seemed to remember that all the fuss created by Senator Alston's claims about the anti-American bias against Linda Mottram on AM came about because that AM program did critically engage with conservative views in its coverage of the Iraqi war. Tim is recommending yet more engagement. More critical engagement by the ABC with the views of the conservative side of politics will draw more flak from the Howard Government.

Of course, critically engaging is not how Tim understands the ABC's role in the culture wars. He understands the ABC as "reflexively vilifying" the large section of the mainstream with conservative political views. That means engagement for him is giving expression to conservative and be neo-liberal views.

So, how do we achieve an ABC more to Tim's liking----an independent quality broadcaster? Tim implies that the free market will do the trick.

"The ABC's challenge is to somehow accomplish this [engagement with conservative part of the mainstream] without the guidance of market forces. It's like driving at night without any headlights. Since they're spending my money, I wish them luck".

How is unclear. What is clear is that you need headlights. Hence the deregulated, competitive market is the key. Though the article does accept the existence of an independent quality broadcaster, the missing word here is 'public'. So the implication is that the effect of market forces will ensure the privatisation of the ABC. Doing away with an independent quality public broadcaster is implied and is not made explicit. It is a minority/fringe position and not part of the conservative mainstream.

What is mainstream though, is the ongoing reduction in the public funding of the ABC and the public broadcaster being forced to find other income streams. As Robert Manne observes:

" political judgement [is] that there is no prospect that either the Coalition or Labor will substantially increase in the budgetary allocation to the ABC."

This is the way the competitive market will increasingly impact on the ABC. Whip the public broadcaster into shape through reducing public funding. Force the ABC to embrace the market. That will dampen down dissent.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 11:38 AM | | Comments (0)