The ABC - a victim of Right wing Cancel Culture
Increasingly ferocious attacks on the ABC by Fox, Sky News, News limited are gratuitous, transparently self-serving and a threat to a free press. This is serious, a vibrant democracy is impossible without an independent and unfettered press, and in the great tradition of western democracies, without a public broadcaster. Ferocious attacks from politicians are vexatious, coming as they do from powerful people who wish to avoid accountability and would prefer their deeds be kept in the dark.
The ABC occupies news space which privately owned companies resent, believing that news and its distribution should be in private hands. News outlets that are privately owned, by definition, have a sectional agenda. Hopefully, a public broadcaster’s mandate is to publish news without fear or favour to any sectional interest. To have the ABC out of the way, or at least severely diminished, suits their business plan and allows their sectional interest to appear more ‘main-stream’.
Comments critical of the ABC from government politicians are vexatious because they reject the concept of accountability. Programmes most detested by government are Four-corners, 7.30, and Q and A. It is the job of journalists to hold those who hold public office to account. The principle of accountability should be welcomed by all in positions of power and authority. Cleary this is not the case for a significant number of senior ministers in the Morrison government. It is not helpful for them to whinge that the heat of laser sharp enquiry is directed more intensely toward them than the opposition. It is inevitable that those in power will be subject to more scrutiny than those in opposition, for the simple reason they hold power.
Action against the ABC by competitive news outlets and by government officials is also hypocritical, for it is they, on the right of the political spectrum, who most vehemently argue for freedom of speech and accuse those with whom they disagree of being ‘woke’ or being part of ‘cancel culture’. If ‘cancel culture’ is the threat to a free democratic society that those in the right often assert, surely the attacks on the ABC are the most egregious form of this culture. Those who are crying the loudest are the very people who do not wish their performance to be held to account. It is apparently virtuous to demand the right to freedom of speech when promoting ideas, or people, who support your position, but it is not acceptable for freedom of speech to be exercised in the arena of accountability.
Without scrutiny and accountability of those in power, democracy and liberality becomes very fragile.
It is hard to argue against the proposition that the ABC’s Four Corners is the flagship of the best in Australian journalism. Over many decades its stories have brought to light numerous situations which would otherwise have remained hidden. Australia and Australian democracy owes the programme, its journalists, producers, and the management that has supported it, a very great debt of gratitude.
Of course, it too needs to be held accountable, but this is a different matter than being attacked by those who would prefer their performances not to be scrutinised by the light of day.
It is more than a little interesting that current attacks on the ABC include personal attacks on its chair, Ita Buttrose. It appears the argument goes like this. “We, that is the government, appointed Ita to chair the ABC to ensure the government’s agenda is strongly prosecuted. Ita is apparently not doing this to the satisfaction of the government bench, instead she is doing her job, chairing the ABC board of management. Therefore, she should be dismissed, not because of any failure in the performance of the task to which she has been appointed, but because she has not in all circumstances protected the government’s perspective on controversial issues”.
It is likely that, if the ABC continues to do its job properly, it will come under further and accelerating attack, because it appears we are currently served by one of the least accountable of governments.
There are several in the current cabinet or parliament who should have stood down or should have been stood down. In the past it was the custom that if failure occurs on a grand scale in a minister’s department, they will stand aside. On any scale there has been monumental failure in the department of aged care. When figures are presented to justify the performance of a department that are later proved to be manifestly untrue, a minister would in the past have stood down. When the public persona of a minister or ordinary member has become the source of scandal, in the past they would have stood down. It is not simply a matter of innocence or guilt, it is a matter of public trust and perceived fitness for office.
‘Cover ups’ appear to have become an acceptable modus operandi, the most egregious form of cover-up being the treatment of whistle blowers. The continuing prosecution of witness K and Bernard Colleary is scandalous. It is cruel both in its endlessness and in its secrecy. It could be stopped at any time by the public prosecutor or by the Attorney General. That it continues, and continues in secret, is not because a great crime has been committed by those standing at the bar, but because the Australian government is guilty of a crime against the Timorese government that they would prefer not to be given oxygen, a crime that the Timorese had to take to the Hague to gain redress. Bernard Colleary is doing no more, but no less, than what a barrister should do, represent his client. For this ‘crime’ he can neither practice and earn a living, or clear his name. The previous Attorney General and the current Attorney General should have stood down, or have been stood down, because of this gross injustice.
Ironically this is a matter over which the ABC is guilty, it has not sufficiently held the government to account.
The attacks on the ABC by other news outlets and especially by senior members of the government is a matter of considerable gravity. It is not simply that in times of emergency like the pandemic, or bushfires, that the role of the ABC is paramount, it is that every democracy worthy of the name needs and deserves a vibrant public broadcaster unfettered by sectional interest
Those who do not like the light of day shining on mirky activity should remove themselves from public service not attempt to shoot the messenger.