A few months ago I was shocked when the ABC‘s The Drum ran an article by Alan Moran. Or maybe I should say that I was shocked to my café-latte, chardonnay-sipping, left-wing greenie soul. Or perhaps I was shocked because the article contained factual errors and ‘terminological inexactitudes’ that were allowed to pass unchecked and unchallenged. This was despite previous articles that clearly showed these comments to be the falsehoods that they are.
Now The Drum regularly hosts right-wing articles that can be clearly shown to spin, distort and lie. The ABC is running with the right-wing, but why?
Other commentators have spoke on the same issue. For example in 2007, Robert Manne writing in The Age, noted;
The long campaign has been conducted by Quadrant and The Australian; by think tanks such as the Institute of Public Affairs [IPA] and the Centre for Independent Studies; by right-wing populist columnists; and by left-bias-sniffing Coalition blood-hounds such as Santo Santoro and Concetta Fierravanti-Wells. Crucial support has, however, been given by the Howard Government. To help bring the ABC to heel, it appointed three of the most strident right-wing cultural warriors in Australia, Ron Brunton, Janet Albrechtsen and Keith Windschuttle, to the ABC board. To ensure that the new board’s proceedings could be conducted in secret, the Government abolished the staff-elected post.
The newly appointed managing director, Mark Scott, gracefully conceded defeat. The ABC was, he admitted, not as innocent of bias as its defenders claimed. Under his leadership, he promised, the ABC would at last become truly “impartial”. Implicitly, impartiality replaced independence as the core value of the ABC.
Scott did not explain what he meant by impartiality.
Media Watch was sometimes unbalanced and unfair, usually intelligent and witty, always fearless and tough. No program more effectively tracked the steady drift of the political culture to the right. No program more effectively scrutinised the politics and practices of the contemporary commercial mainstream media — the rise of commentariat Islamophobia, the scandal of “cash for comment”. The fact that it was not “impartial” was the key to its unpopularity in certain quarters, but also to its importance and success.
In the new ABC, a program such as Media Watch clearly has no place. While its decline has been gradual, with Mark Scott’s promised reform the process is complete. This year we have witnessed little but minor examples of plagiarism, or of trivial commercial conflicts of interest, or of unimportant examples of journalistic failure to double-check a source. (On Monday it concerned misleading comments concerning the killing of a young bear.) The ABC has been criticised (over nothing much) as frequently as the Murdoch press. Right-wing commentators have been given a wide berth. The program has lost its political nerve. While Media Watch is now impartial, it is also inconsequential.’
(From: http://www.theage.com.au/news/opinion/the-new-bland-and-dull-abc/2007/04/03/1175366237709.html?page=fullpage )
I confess I watched Media Watch. Stuart Littlemore was brilliant and scathing and cut to the core of media ethics. Now the program, in comparison to the Littlemore time, is like ACA. Froth and bubble and on the odd occasion when I do watch it I am saddened by the banality.
But back to The Drum; the website Crikey recently published an article about the Moran/IPA debacle, saying;
Balance without judgement: your ABC
Yesterday the ABC’s Drum site published a piece by Alan Moran attacking mainstream climate science. It was the first of what is promised to be a week of pieces “commissioned from noted writers on the sceptic side of the climate science debate”, apparently prompted by that site’s publication last week of a five-part article by Clive Hamilton on the campaign being waged against mainstream science by climate denialists.
Moran is obviously entitled to his views regardless of whether they are easily shown to be false. The question is more why they were given a run on The Drum without some basic fact-checking or balance. Moran’s article did not “balance” those of Clive Hamilton, who wrote on a specific aspect of the climate change debate in which he is professionally involved.
This is a further example of the ABC’s balance without judgement on the issue of climate science. Out of an editorial concern for balance, the ABC gives time not to experts who are in a position to offer credible scepticism about aspects of the anthropogenic global warming hypothesis, but to bloggers and right-wing commentators. The rollcall of Drum sceptics this week says it all: none of Alan Moran, Tom Switzer, Bob Carter and Jo Nova are climate scientists.
Moran’s piece is comprehensive in its listing of sceptic and denialist claims. A number of them were recycled by Tom Switzer in the second climate denialist piece today. They’re worth going through in detail to illustrate how thin the climate denialist case is when checked against the evidence.
…the ABC asks the same group of conservatives and professional denialists, none of whom have expertise in climate science and whose work involves serving up the cream of the denialist blogosphere, despite their claims being repeatedly shown to be wrong.
(From: http://www.crikey.com.au/2010/03/02/balance-without-judgement-your-abc/ )
The article then goes on to examine each of Moran’s falsehoods and distortions.
There are important issues here. The first is the idea, belief or perception that the ABC is a nest of communists. That is the view pushed by John Howard during his time in power. It is the view of right-wing pundits. For myself, I have always seen the ABC as an interrogatory, critical-thinking, independent organisation. But not ‘left-wing’ as Howard called the ABC. However, some research disabuses my café-latte drinking, chardonnay-sipping views:
Newspapers are left wing, television is right wing, and the media as a whole tends to favour the coalition.
And surprisingly, according to researchers from the Australian National University, the ABC Television news is the most pro-coalition of them all.
Former Liberal Prime Minister John Howard railed against the alleged left-wing bias of the ABC but the researchers found Aunty was more likely to favour his side.
Researchers pored over news stories from 1996 to 2007 to establish if the media was biased.
The results, released on Wednesday, point to the media being generally middle-of-the-road, with the coalition tending to win out.
Researchers found journalists were “a centrist bunch”. The exception was ABC TV news which “had a significant slant towards the coalition”.
(From: http://news.brisbanetimes.com.au/breaking-news-national/abc-is-right-wing-study-20090902-f83m.html )
So, then why would the ABC have to apologise for being ‘left-wing’ (and thus trying to destroy all that is good and just in Australia)? Why would Mark Scott (then) introduce measures to reduce the intellectual independence and critical-thinking of ABC journalists?
Especially, why introduce the falsehoods of climate change denialists like the IPA, Moran, and their corporate colleagues? In particular when a recent survey of climate scientists showed that 98%+ of all climate scientists are convinced by the empirical evidence and many others in related fields also see the evidence (cf ocean acidification), see: http://climateprogress.org/2010/06/21/pnas-study-climate-science-media-balance-deniers/
Perhaps there is a clue here, in a speech given on March 11th, 2010 by ABC chairman Maurice Newman to ABC journalists, program-makers and managers:
Climate change is a further example of group-think where contrary views have not been tolerated, and where those who express them have been labelled and mocked. In his ABC Online blog last October Chris Uhlmann wrote a piece called In praise of the sceptics. ‘“Climate science we are endlessly told is “settled”’ he wrote. “But to make the, perfectly reasonable, point that science is never settled risks being branded a “sceptic” or worse a “denier”…one of those words, like “racist”, which is deliberately designed to gag debate…You can be branded a denier if you accept the problem and question the solutions.”
This collective censorious approach succeeded in suppressing contrary views in the mainstream media, despite the fact that a growing number of distinguished scientists were challenging the conventional wisdom with alternative theories and peer reviewed research.
Then came the sensational revelations of unprofessional conduct by some of the world’s most influential climatologists exposed by the hacked or leaked emails from the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Institute. This was followed by more evidence of dubious research and politicised advocacy contained in scientifically unsupported claims and errors in the IPCC 4th Assessment, including in the carefully vetted Synthesis Report. Questionable methods of analysis resulting in spurious temperature data have added further doubts on the underlying credibility of the science.
The lack of moral and scientific integrity shown by the IPCC serves only to reduce clarity and increase confusion, disappoint believers and give fuel to doubters. It has frustrated policy makers, and as polling now shows, it has clearly weakened public belief in climate change and devalued respect for science in general.
In defending the indefensible, Mr Gore, university vice-chancellors and those in the media, do a disservice to the scientific method and miss the point that no matter how noble your work, your first responsibility must always be to the truth.
Newman is espousing and tracking classic global warming denialist views. It is implicit in his speech that ‘the truth’ is that of the global warming deniers.
This is not a trivial matter.
In other parts of his speech he advocates that the ABC must now espouse the vocal right-wing minority as ‘balance’. But balance is not always truth, as Stuart Littlemore showed and his program no longer does.
As Russ Grayson points out;
There is no denying the fact that think-tanks, notably those of the right-wing subspecies, are instrumental in setting the public agenda, expert in getting their ideas and commentators into influential media and effective in setting the boundaries and terms of reference of public affairs. Think-tanking is a practice the right does well and the left poorly. As for the considerable body of opinion that spans the distance between these polarities, well, it is largely invisible because it is unrepresented. Yet it is fought over by the think-tanks and their social ideologues because its vote can determine the fate of governments, institutions and economies.
The moves to draw the centrist ABC into an organ of right-wing ideology has been brewing since the mid-nineties, when in an interview John Howard said, ‘I think one of the weaknesses of the ABC is that it doesn’t have a right-wing Phillip Adams. I think that would be a good idea. It would make a lot of people feel things were better’. (From: http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2004/06/21/1087669912760.html )
I am not alone in noticing this: David Horton, writing this month (20th July), on the ABC The Drum, in an excellent article on the topic noted;
… What to do, what to do? Long-term strategy, get your friends in the media and politics to launch an all out attack on science itself. Keep denigrating scientists, stealing emails, pursuing them in court, publishing articles denying everything they say. Scientists trusted like nurses? They will rank lower than used car salesmen after this campaign, and if that means destroying 500 years of scientific advances in the process, well, what then? But it’s going to take some time to completely discredit all science, and in the meantime there are sand dunes that want bulldozing, rivers to impound, fish to catch, forests to clear, coal to burn. Short-term tactic needed - set a scientist to catch a scientist.
Name an issue on which 999 scientists agree and there will be one who will swear black is white, up is down, and, if necessary, that the moon is made of green cheese and Americans never landed on it.
Now you and I would think, being rational people, that when someone with links to, say, the forestry industry, told us that the forests were fine, while 999 scientists without such links told us they weren’t, the one would simply be ignored, perhaps even laughed at. But in the days of he-said she-said journalism his singular yea-saying will be given equal status with the 999 nay-sayers.
… Since one man is willing to say there is no problem the development-at-any-cost politicians, and their corporate friends, can claim that there is no unanimous scientific objection to cutting down the last tree, catching the last fish, burning the last piece of coal.
In 2005, the IPA launched the astroturf group Australian Environment Foundation (AEF), and the ABC start hosting Michael Duffy (the right-wing Phillip Adams) in his show Counterpoint. One of his first stories was to announce the AEF in a story called ‘Putting People First’, as did Timber Communities Australia at their annual conference the next month. In 2007, the ABC aired the notorious program The Great Global Warming Swindle. Now the ABC has a managing director whose feet are firmly planted in the global warming denial camp. It has taken more than a decade but moves by the IPA, John Howard and colleagues is bearing fruit; right-wing think-tanks can now push their propaganda and misinformation with the credibility of the ABC behind them.
There was once a group called, Save the ABC, I suggest it time for them to get active once more. Despite the core of the ABC being interrogatory, critical-thinking, independent; the move now is for the ABC to be a platform for far-right intellectually dishonest propaganda.
It is already happening (look to The Drum), and is seeping into the general ABC culture. Do we want the ABC or FOX News? Stuart Littlemore or Glenn Beck? Independence or the mouthpiece of the IPA?
Only you can make a difference!
The author, Jon Sumby, does not drink coffee and only drinks good red wine