How the government and One Nation may use media reforms to clip the ABC’s wings


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It would be easy to set up an inquiry into the ABC – with the findings already known.
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Denis Muller, University of Melbourne

Among the four concessions concerning the ABC that senator Pauline Hanson extracted from the federal government in exchange for her support of its recent media ownership law changes, one in particular has the potential to do real damage to the national broadcaster.

This is the promised inquiry into the ABC’s competitive neutrality.

It has been on the agenda of News Corp for years to have the ABC’s wings clipped, for the obvious reason that it sees the ABC as a commercial rival. If News Corp had its way, the ABC’s big strategic move into digital broadcasting more than a decade ago would have been cut off at the pass.

So Hanson, whether she knew it or not, has played into the hands of New Corp on this, and given the government a political opportunity to do yet one more favour for Rupert Murdoch.

Since the government does not need a vote in parliament to set up an inquiry like this, it is easy to see how it might unfold.

An eminently well-qualified chairman could easily be found. To pick a name at random: Maurice Newman, former chairman of the stock exchange, former chairman of the ABC and now public ideologue opposed to public-sector broadcasting. He wrote a polemic in The Australian in April asserting that the ABC and SBS no longer served a public purpose.

The government could effortlessly craft terms of reference consistent with that axiom of politics – you never hold an inquiry without knowing the outcome.

A high-profile firm of economic consultants could be engaged to conduct an analysis of the impact of the ABC’s activities on private-sector media.

Using suitable assumptions, a selection of data and a fitting framework of economic theory, it might easily find that the ABC, despite manifold inefficiencies, was indeed using its public funding in an anti-competitive way to crowd out the private sector.

Recommendations would naturally ensue that the range of ABC activities had strayed well beyond the confines imagined by its founding fathers in the early 1930s. It would therefore follow that its funding should be cut in order to see it focus on outputs that no commercial broadcaster would touch with a barge pole.

Perfectly respectable.

Of the other three concessions to Hanson, the one likely to do the most mischief is the one requiring the ABC to publicly disclose the salaries and conditions of all staff whose packages amount to more than A$200,000 a year.

While in principle it seems reasonable that the salaries of people on the public payroll should be public, in fact the pay of individual public servants is generally a private matter.

This is the case not only because a person’s financial affairs are inherently private, but because it is a disincentive for good people to join the public sector if their private affairs are going to be trawled over in public for political purposes.

It has already happened with ABC salaries when they were inadvertently released under freedom-of-information laws a couple of years ago.

The combination of fame and their type of work magnifies the privacy issue for high-profile ABC journalists and presenters. No-one cares what some obscure under-secretary in the Department of Veterans Affairs gets paid, but politicians like Hanson salivate over the pay of people like Leigh Sales and Barrie Cassidy.

The remaining two concessions are not likely to have much impact on the ABC.

The one that got all the attention at the start was the insertion of “fair” and “balanced” into the ABC’s charter.

This is a sideshow. The ABC’s charter is contained within section six of the ABC Act, so amending it will require a parliamentary vote. Senator Nick Xenophon has said his team will not support it, and since his team’s support is likely to be necessary, it looks like an empty gesture by the government.

In any case, the requirements for fairness and balance are already built into the ABC’s editorial policies, which are binding on ABC journalists, so the practical effect would be nonexistent.

However, a parliamentary debate on the ABC’s impartiality would keep this matter bubbling along in the public mind and furnish an opportunity for reactionary politicians to further ventilate their suspicions.

Finally, there was a concession concerning provision of broadcasting services to regional areas. The ABC has already announced a A$50 million package
to enhance regional services. And anyway, this is a level of operational detail that generally lies beyond the reach of politicians.

A bit of cosmetic arm-wrestling between Communications Minister Mitch Fifield and the chair of the ABC, perhaps some pointed questions at Senate estimates, and a tweak of the ABC’s budget will probably satisfy this concession.

The ConversationTaken together, then, three of these concessions have considerable nuisance value. But the fourth contains the seeds of a serious challenge to the ABC’s future.

Denis Muller, Senior Research Fellow in the Centre for Advancing Journalism, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Australia: Malcolm Turnbull on 7.30


It’s about time – indeed past time – that politicians were challenged and taken to task over their refusal to answer questions. My solution – don’t let them back on if they don’t answer the questions asked.

Q&A affair has become theatre of the absurd


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Has Q&A put some spell of madness over the government and their media mates?

A straightforward case of the public broadcaster making a mistake (in my view), acknowledging it and getting a blast from critics has turned into a Coalition and News Corp feeding frenzy that is nothing short of absurd.

In the latest developments on Tuesday:

  • Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss said the government leadership team decided before parliament rose to boycott Q&A. This group includes Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce, who was, however, surprised and angry when Tony Abbott told him on Sunday he could not appear on Monday’s program. Joyce was present at the meeting; Truss said that “maybe he hadn’t interpreted the decision the way others had”. Joyce, now not commenting, has been made to look bad by both Abbott and his own party leader.

  • Neither Malcolm Turnbull’s office nor Abbott’s office could or would say whether Turnbull will be a panellist, as scheduled, next week.

  • Abbott refused to answer questions on Turnbull’s appearance or non-appearance, declaring that “what I’m not going to do is give further advertisement to a program which was, frankly, right over the top”.

Could Abbott have been oblivious to the irony? He and the government – together with News Corp – have been giving massive publicity to the program. They are all going “over the top”. This is an exercise in obsessive behaviour and attempted bullying.

News Corp is driven by ideological and commercial considerations.

Abbott is driven by – what exactly? Deep tribalism: the belief that the ABC is “them” – defined by the Prime Minister’s Office as anyone who is not “us”. A desire to talk up national security on every occasion. A wish to play to those in the backbench and the conservative base who see the ABC as an enemy.

But surely even Abbott sees the ridiculousness of the situation into which he has put himself and the government.

The ABC is on the whole a very respected institution. There is little broad political gain in taking a battering ram to it, although that racks up brownie points with News Corp and some in the Liberal right.

An Essential poll, published on Tuesday, found most people either thought the ABC was not biased to the left or the right (36%) or didn’t have an opinion (40%); 22% believed it was biased to the left and 3% to the right. People’s perceptions are correlated with how they vote. This poll comes after sustained pillorying.

Monday’s Q&A had no government representative after Joyce pulled out. Abbott might have hoped his friend Greg Sheridan, foreign editor of The Australian, would be a helpful voice. But Sheridan roundly criticised the ban and also the government’s legislation, which Labor supported, that will stifle criticisms from professionals such as doctors working on Nauru and Manus Island.

Abbott is now on sticky fly paper with the ban. If he retreats, it’s embarrassing. If he persists, ministers will be unhappy and the government will stay unrepresented on the program. Turnbull’s position must be clarified soon, unless he is willing to tolerate for days an intolerable personal situation.

Asked how long ministers would not be appearing Truss said, “well, essentially we’re expecting the ABC to demonstrate that it’s learnt from this error of judgement, and that the program will be better run in the future”. Balance was needed in audience and panels and the subject matter should “not essentially be catering to one sector of the audience”.

Obviously the ABC is in a special position in relation to “balance”, because it is the public, taxpayer-funded broadcaster. Privately owned media outlets have the right to be “unbalanced”. But it would be heartening to hear leading figures in the government, just once in a while, speak as though “balance” was a journalistic virtue to be pursued more widely.

Abbott is now impatient for the review of Q&A that the ABC has commissioned from journalist Ray Martin and former SBS managing director Shaun Brown. He linked the quashing of Joyce’s appearance to the inquiry being underway.

The review will take quite a while to be finished. If Abbott lifted the ban for Turnbull he would not have the hook of a completed review – so how would he square this with his decision on Joyce? If he insisted Turnbull not appear, this would further worsen relations between them.

On Tuesday, Martin described Abbott’s ban as silly, and observed: “It’s clearly a political issue at the moment in terms of terror. I think we’ve already started looking towards the next election.”

Martin also defended Q&A host Tony Jones. “I suspect that Tony Jones was just as tough on the Labor government as he has been on the Coalition.”

Needless to say, Martin’s comments – ahead of the review – just give more fodder to critics of the ABC.

But like everything else, they help ensure Q&A doesn’t really need promos anymore.

Listen to the latest Politics with Michelle Grattan podcast with guest, Race Discrimination Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane, here or on iTunes.

http://www.podbean.com/media/player/bs9dp-572d2aThe Conversation

Michelle Grattan is Professorial Fellow at University of Canberra.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

Australia Considers Same-Sex "Marriage"


By Thaddeus M. Baklinski

CANBERRA, November 10, 2009 (LifeSiteNews.com) – As part of its inquiry into the Marriage Amendment Bill the Australian government yesterday heard arguments for and against same-sex “marriage.”

The Australian Green party is pushing for the redefinition of marriage as part of their platform in anticipation of next year’s federal election.

Australian Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young asked Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to allow Labor MPs a free parliamentary vote on same-sex “marriage” when it comes before the House. “This is not a gay issue, it’s a human rights issue,” she said

“I’m calling for the prime minister to … grant his members a conscience vote so we can get a true reflection of how the Australian community is feeling,” Hanson-Young told ABC TV this week, adding, “The majority of Australians think people should be able to marry who they want.”

The Sydney Star Observer reports that the Bill has prompted a considerable response from citizens, with the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee receiving more than 20,000 submissions in the past two months.

The committee reported on Monday that the submissions ran about two to one against same-sex “marriage.”

“16,752 emails were received against amending the Marriage Act to include same-sex couples, while only 8,666 emails had been received for,” the report stated.

The Australian Family Association’s (AFA) submission reaffirmed that marriage should be reserved as a union between a man and a woman.

“We submit that marriage deliberately identifies and protects a particular type of relationship – the uniquely pro-generative male-female relationship – which carries a unique (and not inconsiderable) significance for both contemporary Australian society, and for the entire human species,” the AFA stated.

The AFA is encouraging Australians to send a strong message to their elected leaders to defend traditional marriage. A petition and contact information is available on the group’s website.

“Without a public ‘uprising’ to defend marriage,” said the group, “it is conceivable that Australia could join other nations (namely Canada, Spain, Belgium and some American states) in legalising same-sex ‘marriage’. We are charged therefore with the serious responsibility of working to retain the definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman. Now, and over the next year we must garner an increasing mass of people to take a stand for marriage.”

The Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee is scheduled to publish the results of its inquiry into the Marriage Amendment Bill on November 26, 2009.

This Report from LifeSiteNews.com

www.LifeSiteNews.com

A CURRENT AFFAIR: Where is the Real Current Affairs Reporting???


I have grown increasingly annoyed by ‘A Current Affair,’ the Channel 9 current affairs program here in Australia.

Where have all of the good reporters gone with the good reports (not necessarily good news of course) on what is happening in the world and in this country? Perhaps I should be watching the ABC, which admittedly has some very good news programs and the like. SBS also has some good news programs. But Channel 9, what has happened? Increasingly the channel I used to watch because it had some good news programs has become increasingly ordinary.

In the last week there have been two particularly annoying reports. The first involved a frog and a frog pond that was supposed to be keeping someone awake at night, along with journals recording the happenings of the frog and the pond, etc. The husband of the couple being plagued by such a terrible situation had apparently died since the first report several years ago and the frog and the pond were being blamed for contributing to the death. I couldn’t believe that this was such a massive news story.

Then tonight, Channel 9 is having a go at Channel 7 because two young stars from Home and Away were involved in scandals. Sure, they were truly scandals. The report then went on to list a number of other recent Channel 7 scandals. What was I thinking? ‘Hang on, what about all of the scandals at Channel 9 with various AFL and NRL reporters/commentators?’ There have of course been others too. What hypocrites!!!

A Current Affair is one program well and truly past it used by date – get it off the television and replace it with a quality news program!!!

Me – I’m off to view ‘The 7.30 Report’ on the ABC for starters. I’ll also be looking at several other programs on the ABC and SBS. I want quality news and current affairs programs – not the rubbish being offered up on Channel 9.

THE COMPLETE WALKS OF JOHN HOWARD


‘The Chaser’s War on Everything’ is a satirical comedy series shown on the ABC in Australia. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea I’ll admit and I find some of the skits offensive myself. However, there are some quite funny skits that really make it worth a watch I think. Oftentimes they hit the nail on the head in the midst of their very funny send-ups.

With John  Howard now well and truly departed from the political scene in Australia, having lost his job to both Kevin Rudd and Maxine (in his electorate), I thought it might be time for John Howard diehards to purchase their bit of memorabilia to remember him by. What better way to remember John Howard than with owning your own copies of ‘The Complete Walks of John Howard’ can there be?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TynaPefTTqY

Thanks to ABC 1233


Throughout the chaos of the cyclonic storm that hit our region on Friday and Saturday, and beyond, Radio station ABC 1233 continued to cover the disaster 24 hours a day. All the information on unfolding events, evacuation centers and shelters, emergency services, etc, was broadcast across the air waves providing invaluable assistance to all.

I for one offer them a hearty thanks, as I know many in the region also offer them.

Marketing the Church


So I have been reading a book entitled ‘This Little Church Went to Market: Is the Modern Church Reaching Out of Selling Out (as mentioned in an earlier post during May 2007)?’ One of the things that the author (Gary Gilley) points out fairly early in his argument is that the church has moved from the perspective of worshiping God and teaching the elect, to entertaining those who go to church and bringing the unchurched in through various gimmics.

This appears to me to be a completely sound point. The focus of the truly godly churches throughout the ages has been on informed worship (in spirit and in truth), with a heavy focus on teaching true worshippers (those who are actually saved – the elect) about the God they are worshipping and what our response to Him should be (admittedly that is a simplistic summary).

What we have in the so-called churches of today is an increasingly market-driven approach in which it is necessary to out-entertain the world, in order to keep the world in the church (that is, those who are not saved, coming to church). Only this way can churches of today be considered successful. The emphasis is no longer on apostolic teaching, fellowship, prayer and the breaking of bread, but on those people ‘out there’ that we must get in here at almost any cost. So now we find that the church does ‘the world’ better than the world in many respects.

There was an Andrew Denton special on the ABC I think it was, just a week or so ago, in which he visited this major ‘Christian Convention’ in the United States. The mind can only boggle at what any intelligent person could be thinking when observing the amount of rubbish that is going under the name of ‘Christian worship and service’ these days. This picture of Christianity in America, did nothing for the true cause of Christ and his church, for those of the world watching such a program that accurately portrayed what was happening at the convention, can only be thinking, ‘what a bunch of wackos are these Christians!’ I was thinking it myself!!! One guy tried to show Andrew Denton the specks of glory on his hands that were reflections of the glory of God by virtue of him just being there – of course, Andrew Denton couldn’t see any of it, nor could the viewer – because it wasn’t there!

It is this sort of stupidity that has weakened the church in this day – yet in another sense the true church has not been weakened at all. As always, the remnant that is the true church of God endures, through all the difficulties that surround it and it will continue to do so until it is itself glorified and freed from all of this religion that has nothing to do with the true cause of Christ and his church.