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In pulling all the threads together on a range of political and social issues, Chris Kenny again exposes the very lack of diversity the ABC loudly and publicly espouses.
The Orwellian boilerplate line about “Diversity is one of the ABC’s key strategic drivers” is up there with “war is peace.” Their pea and thimble trick of meaningless diversity of exotic gender, race, colour and culture is exemplified and experienced on The ABC’s panel program, The Drum, on any night of the week where the guest lineup, talking points and opinions tick the same old prescribed and predictable boxes.
It is an embarrassing and shallow exercise in showboating, tokenism and virtue signalling. Diverse it is most definitely not.
The Q&A audience selection and methodology is another laughable case in point of the ABC’s singular lack of diversity.
What should be a diversity driver for any serious national broadcaster is diversity of opinion and presentation and of this there is virtually none on the ABC.
Whether it be on climate, immigration, refugees, multiculturalism, Indigenous issues or any of the top 10 or 12 issues, there is the ABC’s official position with no room for any deviation outside the bubble of the Ultimo and Southbank groupthink.
It hasn’t been a good week for ­racist, climate-change denying, bullying misogynists. We don’t have a lot of good days, but thanks to Serena Williams, Scott Morrison, Julie Bishop and Mark Knight we have just been through the ­seventh circle of hell for speaking our minds.
The vile labels are absurd, but this is the sort of silly abuse people now expect for ventilating sensible opinions, such as daring to suggest Knight’s cartoon of Williams’s US Open tantrum was an amusing caricature, proposing that female MPs publicly smearing a loosely defined group of politicians as bullies ought to offer some specifics or arguing that electricity price cuts are more important to Australians than emissions reductions. Airing main­stream, right-of-centre views out of step with the green-left zeitgeist of social media and the public broadcasters triggers outrage rather than arguments.
Many slurs are anonymous but the conversation has become so debased that some people forget themselves and normal standards even under their own name.
A bloke by the name of Harley Stumm, who apparently runs a theatre company in Sydney, took to Twitter to wish me a “slow and painful death” because I argued the “racist” cartoon controversy was more about “activist social media outrage” than real issues.
Still, feral behaviour on social media is neither here nor there in the overall scheme of things. What should concern us is how this often reflects the default position in mainstream media — especially the public broadcasters but also much of the press gallery and left-of-centre publications — dangerously distorting national debate. The lack of diversity of thought would be worrisome enough but the way the groupthink coagulates around extreme and irrational views is frightening.
If we can accept that these hardline views are valid — that it is plausible to argue Knight’s cartoon was racist, emissions reductions are more important than power costs or that male Coalition MPs are bullies — then any rational assessment must also concede that the opposite points of view are also legitimate.
Actually, the facts and all indications of mainstream opinion strongly favour these counter views. I don’t want to rehash the arguments here but suffice it to say Knight’s body of work shows his cartoon was no more than a caricature aimed at highlighting poor sportsmanship; rising emissions globally mean our cuts do not improve the environment; and if sexist bullying were endemic in the Liberal Party, people such as Bishop would have raised it years ago.
Still, the point I want to make is not who is right but that clearly different views exist; there is a wide range of valid opinions on these issues aired daily across the nation. Yet the perspectives you get from much of the political media are stuck in those green-left views that drive and thrive on social media outrage. Given we pay for public broadcasters and they are required under law to provide objective and pluralistic coverage, let us concentrate on the ABC. Aunty has 4092 people on the payroll and 67 per cent, or 2763, of them are content makers; half of those in news.
Its annual report says: “Diversity is one of the ABC’s key strategic drivers.” So 2.5 per cent of its staff are indigenous and 51 per cent are women. Terrific. But what about diversity of ideas, perspectives, ideologies or opinions? How can it be that when there is such robust debate about incendiary allegations of racism in a cartoon, a scan of views from ABC journalists and hosts provides only one take?
Immediately endorsing the racist charge, Radio National host Jonathan Green tweeted that Knight was a “good man” who should apologise but later said he regretted the “good man” reference. “I compare it to anti-Semitic cartoons that are equally no longer tolerated,” tweeted fellow RN presenter Patricia Karvelas, turning the volume to 11. “The imagery is denigrating.” ABC News Breakfast host Virginia Trioli tweeted in response to the Herald Sun’s defiant front page reprinting the full gamut of Knight’s hilarious caricatures. This was “one of the greatest examples of the Straw Man Fallacy” Trioli had seen.
Extreme and wrong-headed as these views may be, they are worthy of debate. But why are they all the same? How can it be that an issue that divides opinion across the nation finds only one reaction in the corridors of the national broadcaster? Did no one at Ultimo or Southbank think the cartoon was funny or that the hyperventilated response smacked of bigotry by seeing racism where there was none or opportunistically looking to make an example of someone?
The Liberal bullying claims were taken up with a gusto and lack of scepticism by ABC TV’s leading reporters, Laura Tingle and Andrew Probyn. What they lacked in specifics they have made up for in video re-enactments.
Can a counter view be found at the ABC, some who might contend that these were typically blunt exchanges in the heat of a leadership battle and that there could be an element of political payback in the allegations? Not from RN commentator Paul Bongiorno, who has dubbed the Coalition “misogynistic”, or from The Drum host Julia Baird, who has “written a PhD on media sexism” and said “Liberal women are, finally, and spectacularly, rebelling”. Nor would it come from chief economics correspondent Emma Alberici, who tweeted in favour of female quotas, making the common but fallacious argument that the Coalition already has cabinet quotas for Nationals.
Again, all this is fodder for spirited and intelligent debate, but why do ABC voices all turn one way like so many school fish?
Climate change is the bellwether because it involves avoiding the facts. Whether you are a climate catastrophist or a hardened sceptic, the reality is that we know global carbon emissions are still growing substantially; their expansion alone dwarfs Australia’s total emissions, let alone whatever we cut. Logically, then, the disruption of our energy system in favour of renewables and the consequences we have seen on price and reliability demand serious policy debate. Yet despite a fascination for the broad topic, the ABC never recognises this reality.
It pretends daily that any mechanism to reduce emissions is correct; it has backed an emissions trading scheme, carbon tax, renewable energy target, national energy guarantee and emissions intensity plan. It often suggests our emissions reductions will save the Great Barrier Reef and reduce droughts and bushfires. This is absurd. What we do will have no discernible impact, especially when global emissions keep rising.
There was no sense of this reality when Leigh Sales interviewed the Prime Minister this week and asked why climate change wasn’t a “top policy priority”. It took a school student guest on Q&A to inject some logic. “The thing is that the two major emitters of carbon emissions is the USA and China, and as we are speaking right now, China is building coal-fired plants across the world and the US has just pulled out of the Paris Agreement,” said Joanne Tran, perhaps surprising many ABC viewers.
The ABC has been so committed to some version of emissions reduction policy that it is rewriting political history. Malcolm Turnbull’s NEG was the catalyst for leadership upheaval and climate and energy policy is still so divisive that the government promises to focus only on prices while deifying the Paris targets. There are obvious reasons the government wants to avoid debating what has torn it apart but journalists and commentators are supposed to ignore these wounds and pick at the scabs.
Instead, ABC audiences are being told the leadership change was about nothing. Tingle dismissed it as putting “lipstick on a pig” and suggested to the Nationals’ Darren Chester that “there is no real change in policy here, is there?” Surely even ABC journalists are on to this sophistry. Turnbull was forced to surrender his NEG policy the day before the spill, losing much authority, and now Morrison has dumped the policy altogether. It is disingenuous for ABC analysts to champion climate and energy policy, suggest it should be a top priority, then pretend nothing has changed when it is scrapped.
There should be plurality rather than corporate views across journalists, platforms and programs at the ABC. That groupthink forms around such jaun­diced and ideological views is a worry. Similar groupthink exists on border protection, same-sex marriage, Donald Trump, Brexit, indigenous recognition and other issues. All are worthy areas for public debate. The ABC should be able to look at issues from different perspectives without hollering for the Institute of Public Affairs.
With so much to discuss it is a pity that a wide range of opinions and endless relevant facts are often reduced to binary choices in a polarised, digital media world — and everyone at the ABC chooses the same side.
Please alert me to exceptions that may prove the rule.