Blatant Media Bias

  John Meade takes ABC presenters and feted literati to task for blatant bias. (Issue No 19, Spring 2090).

In an ABC TV interview with the author to promote his latest book, Tom Keneally was described as ‘one of the left intelligentsia’s leading intellectuals’. God help the left intelligentsia if that is the case.


    Tom Keneally is no intellectual but a story teller. He relentlessly pumps out books like one of those 24 hour, seven day a week oil wells. His prose is pedestrian. The length of his books excessive.  Just feel the quantity not the quality.

The problem with Keneally is the ideological blinkers he brings to the task of elevating the bit players of history to the centre stage. For him it is always the underdog, the victim, the revolutionary, the renegade who emerges as the true hero. Very much a class-based popular historian, happy to play the Irish card, the British are the natural enemy, whether Governors, Administrators, judges, explorers, adventurers or capitalists. Or as he said himself at the official launch of his latest epic Australians, ’anyone who wears poncy breeches and  a wig is in danger of being investigated in this book in terms of what he is like in his vest and long johns’.

Men who wore breeches and wigs, of course, have been responsible for many major improvements  in society from abolition of slavery to parliamentary reform and in the context of Australia to more humane treatment of convicts, government emigration schemes and colonial development.

In the ABC TV interview on Lateline, Keneally made the equally absurd statement that the women who endured life  under canvas in the early days of the colony of Western Australia, wrote  ‘like Jane Austen’. Strange until Keneally’s discovery, we haven’t had access to their collected works.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd used the book launch to draw a line under John Howard’s history and culture wars, and to call for an end to the arid intellectual debate. The PM said it was time to end the polarisation that began to infect every discussion of our nation’s past,’ as if our forebears were all men and women of absolute nobility without spot or blemish’. 

This statement seriously misrepresents what the history wars were all about. John Howard and his allies were trying to make the point that Australia had a worthy history while the black arm band historians took the opposite view, that there was little of value in it. The polarisation and put down of our history came from the left. 

By all means let us accept a warts and all history, a balanced view and not one which calls for us to be ashamed our national story and its players. That was the sensible observation John Howard was trying to make. Former communist and left historian Stuart Macintyre was the leader of the denigrators and doubters.

This brings me to a recent Q & A program on ABC TV, hosted by Tony Jones, live from the Melbourne writers festival. As usual the panel was made up of four persons of left persuasion, plus Tony Jones (to tip the bias further left) and one person from the right, in this case, Tony Abbott. 

The questions like the responses from the  panel were all too predictable. 

A female Pakistani writer (living comfortably in London) answered any question about Islam and the Taliban with a multitude of other questions, all unanswerable. She had no problem with fundamentalists, but with extremists and the war in Afghanistan like much else was all the West’s fault. Plenty of criticisms, but no solutions. A product of the self indulgent Pakistani elite, who exploit their own countrymen by imposing feudal servitude on many of them, she was  unlikely to move out of her expatriate comfort zone.

A young female writer of absolute political correctness when asked if she had Tony Abbott’s new book, said yes, she used it as a coaster. For an author to insult another in this way was deplorable but proof of her hermetically sealed mind. She spoke quietly, dressed like a little girl headed for a tea party, and with venom. Her responses were well rehearsed clichés. When finally put on the spot as to where she stood on the issue of Yale University’s refusal to publish the Danish cartoons of Mohammed in a book devoted to a discussion about them, for fear of violent repercussions from Islamic extremists, she said she was not a Muslim so didn’t have a view on it. What a cop out, on a question of fundamental freedom of expression and in a scholarly work as well. How could an author escape having an opinion on the issue?

The Tasmanian writer Richard Flanagan said he was ashamed to be an Australian. This seemed to be due to the fact that the Australian electorate had chosen four times to elect the Howard government. As well, the Howard government was racist in its intervention in the Northern Territory. The fact that the NT Labor Government had sat on a report documenting the deplorable condition of remote Aboriginal communities subjected to violence, sexual abuse and alcoholism, seemed of no matter to Flanagan. He saw the intervention as a cynical election initiative of Howard’s. If there were votes to be won in fixing Aboriginal problems, surely the solution would have been found years ago. The fact is  there are no votes to be won in this sad, ongoing disaster for which the Aborigines themselves share a large part of the blame.

Lindsay Tanner, the fourth member of the panel, was not going to rock the boat although Tony Abbott described him as the ‘next most conservative member of the panel (to him)’. He was content to utter the usual platitudes expected from the audience. He had one bizarre anecdote about three Japanese women coming to Australia to visit his family to apologise for the treatment of Tanner’s father as a POW, but it lacked context.

Whether you like Tony Abbott or not, at least he has the courage of his convictions and a robust belief in the virtues of Australian democracy and is prepared to defend them.

Accusations of labor bias are regularly levelled against the ABC, from Kerry O'Brien through to other journalists who appear to move seamlessly from Labor government advisors to key positions within the ABC.

Former Treasurer Peter Costello joined the debate recently when he said he was hissed on arrival at the ABC studios in Sydney and that the ABC had only one right wing commentator in Perth and no one else.

Costello also complained about the treatment he received at the hands of journalists over the years. The advice he got from his media advisors was never complain because it will only get worse if you do. Kevin Rudd, Julia Gilliard and Wayne Swan would not have any similar grounds for complaint, all three enjoying a dream run with the media.

No doubt, journalists would point to the popularity of  the government and its senior ministers in the polls but then reporting of government should not be poll driven but based on facts.

Glenn Milne regularly points out the government's failings, particularly Rudd's breaking of election promises which he said he would never do. Think of fuel and grocery watch and now the dodgy decision to force schools to maintain signs in the school grounds crediting the government with improvements undertaken until after the date of the next election.

The Opposition at least has stirred itself to complain to the Electoral Commission about a possible breach of the electoral advertising laws outside polling booths which are usually in local schools.

Of course, Howard scandalously used public money to promote his government through so called public information programs, so it is a case of the kettle calling the pot black.

Given the opportunity all governments will misbehave, plunder the public purse and advance their partisan position by any means. That's where the fourth estate - the media - is so important but as profits fall in the newspaper and television industries, so does in-depth coverage of politics.

The best broadsheets have cut staff and it is beginning to show in the content they deliver. Just compare the broadsheets with what they were like ten years ago. Go back further and you see how even thinner they are in quality of comment and reporting. Politics is almost being treated like other celebrity news in the entertainment and sports fields. It is personality driven rather than policy driven.

In the same week, the Australian Government announced a $20 million competition for a new tourist slogan for Australia, which set off a lot of soul searching in the mass media.

The Government seemed to want a lot from its slogan, not only should it attract swarms of tourists but also large scale commercial investment. The two aims scarcely seem compatible. Naturally, this debate led to the perennial question as to whether Australia had a national identity let alone one which could be expressed as a Brand.

The Sydney Morning Herald fell back on the cliché that Australia was a ‘young nation in relative adolescence’.

This is nonsense. Australia is a mature nation, one of the world’s oldest continuous democracies. We forged a nation peacefully from six disparate colonies in the 19th century, created new social welfare legislation, developed the country and as part of an empire and democratic coalition fought two world wars and several smaller wars to defend the democratic ideal against the excesses of fascism and communism. Some adolescence!

Meanwhile, The Age claims we are not really a nation at all until we become a republic and change our flag. If you are looking for adolescence look no further than the editorials of The Age.