Public purse pays for ABC but shouldn’t control news |OPINION

Mick McGlone
Mick McGlone

ANYBODY who is critical of the federal government for ordering a review of the ABC and SBS, focused on how effectively they use the $1.4 billion they get from the public purse needs to have a good look at themselves.

However, anybody who is not cynical about the motives for the review should have an even bigger look at themselves.

And anybody who is not scared by the weeks and weeks of attacks on the national broadcaster by the extreme forces of the political right in this country must be blithely unaware of the power of the fourth estate.

Those who are unaware of how scary it can be to see that power wielded should read the fascinating work on the Murdoch family empire, Breaking News: Sex, Lies and the Murdoch Succession, by much-respected and major award-winning journalist — and ABC Media Watch program host — Paul Barry.

Now I am not saying the Murdoch press in Australia is anything like its counterpart in Britain; it is hard to envisage anybody could replicate the sort of disgusting evil that led to the closing of the News of the World.

But there are certainly some similarities when it comes to biased political reporting.

Granted, opinions are opinions but the crass public relations exercise papers such as The Daily Telegraph carry out for the Coalition make a mockery of the whole concept of responsible journalism.

Or perhaps the whole scenario has a much darker side.

Are the News Corp Australia papers carrying on the way they do to promote their company’s financial interests?

Are they attempting to get rid of the ABC so the right of politics in this country, especially the extreme right, has an unfettered control of public opinion?

That is especially a worry if the publishing arm of Fairfax Media was to fall into the arms of such forces, leaving the ABC as the only independent media outlet in Australia.

Or is it just the extreme right venting its spleen at the lawful criticism of how it conducts itself?

As others have noted, the more politics moves to the right in this country, the more left those who are positioned in the centre appear to be, especially if they dare criticise those from the right.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has criticised the national broadcaster for “not playing for the home team”.

But surely that is not what independent, investigative journalism is all about.

What would have happened if journalists Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward had decided not to proceed with their Watergate investigations just because they thought to attack president Richard Nixon would have been unpatriotic?

And if journalist Chris Masters, and others, had not been so diligent would the Fitzgerald Inquiry in Queensland had ever got off the ground?

Some journalists in the News Corp Australia press seem to think having a free press means being free to say whatever you want.

Which some might say is satisfactory and they might be right.

But at the same time they deny the ABC the right to have a differing view to their slanted one just because they are paid out of the public purse.

Or they claim ABC journalists should be poorly paid because they are paid from the public purse.

You will note National Party politicians are a bit more reluctant to criticise the ABC because they are aware of the role it plays in regional and rural Australia, through ABC Rural and the outstanding Landline for example.

A senior member of the NSW Liberal government told me some time ago journalism is not a public service but a function of the media and that the media is a business.

Surely reason enough to have a strong, quality media organisation that is independent of the government that funds it and is protected from becoming nothing more than a mouthpiece for it.