Media Opinion

ABC gutless for not backing Laura Tingle over 'racist country' remarks

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Laura Tingle on ABC's 7.30 (Screenshot via YouTube)

ABC's ambiguous response to the News Corp firestorm targeted at Laura Tingle shows its willingness to succumb to the right-wing Australian media perspective, writes Dr Victoria Fielding.

LAURA TINGLE was right when she said, in her personal capacity, that Australia is “a racist country”. ABC has shown it considers this declaration of personal views controversial.

ABC’s concerns, however, appear to only relate to personal statements of the progressive kind, while personal statements from the Rightwing of politics go completely unremarked.  

Predictably, News Corp leads the attacks on Tingle over her comments. The last thing News Corp wants is for people to be held accountable for racism.

It would much prefer the status quo where, as The Saturday Paper’s searing editorial pointed out, 'racism is almost never punished, but the people who name it almost always are' — particularly if they are women and not white.

ABC should have defended Tingle when News Corp attacked her, just as it should stand up to bullies and crusading critiques on many other issues.

ABC should also work harder to talk about the problem of racism in Australia, including being a watchdog by calling out racism when it occurs and upholding standards of public decency to ensure racism is judged as scandalous, controversial and morally wrong.

Those who fail to call out racism are – whether they like to admit it or not – emboldening racism. They are the reason why racism continues to fester — ABC needs to consider its role in this festering.

Instead of defending Tingle, ABC threw oil on News Corp’s fire. Much to News Corp’s glee, ABC news director, Justin Stevens, made a weasel statement saying contradictorily that 'ABC strongly believes hearing informed and independent voices is valuable to our society' — but at the same time, implying Tingle was in trouble with the boss because Stevens has 'counselled her over the remarks'.

When The Saturday Paper published a piece reporting criticism of Stevens from current and ex-ABC journalists over his lack of defence of Tingle, other high-profile ABC journalists came out not in support of Tingle — but in support of Stevens.

This included Leigh Sales and Annabel Crabb, as well as Lisa Millar. These responses show that Stevens is not alone in contributing to an ABC culture that alienates anyone brave enough to call out racism.

Yet, if ABC is going to throw its staff under the bus for making personal statements, it must do so consistently. If ABC does not, it is suggesting that some personal comments are outlawed while others are not.

This demonstrates not only hypocrisy but also a lack of neutrality.

A perfect example of ABC’s inconsistency in publicly rebuking its staff for making personal remarks is when Chris Uhlmann in 2016 attacked renewable energy in the wake of the South Australian blackout.

As reported by Renew Economy – an hour after the blackout – Uhlmann, who was then ABC's chief political correspondent, spread disinformation about its cause on ABC News television, saying:

“Forty per cent of South Australia’s power is wind generated and that has the problem of being intermittent — and what we understand at the moment is that those turbines aren’t turning because the wind is blowing too fast."

Uhlmann then found a fellow opponent of renewable energy, South Australian Senator Nick Xenophon, who, without any knowledge or evidence, also blamed the blackout on wind power.

This is despite former South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill having already confirmed prior to this interview that the blackout was caused by 'multiple failures of high voltage transmission infrastructure'. Subsequent investigations found the cause was a confluence of factors relating to demand and generator failures.

Ulhmann continued to defend his misleading comments on Twitter — making personal statements in apparently his own capacity and following a pattern of aggressive anti-renewable advocacy.

As Renew Economy pointed out, despite Ulhmann’s comments revealing his 'own personal prejudice, or ignorance', ABC journalists followed his lead, continuing to blame wind energy for the blackout, giving legitimacy to Uhlmann’s disinformation.

Thus, rather than withdrawing and correcting Uhlmann’s comments and counselling him about allowing his personal vendetta against renewable energy to aid the spread of disinformation across the public broadcaster, Uhlmann was gifted agenda-setting power to mislead ABC audiences in his personal campaign against renewable energy.

Since leaving ABC and in his new job at News Corp, Uhlmann has not only ramped up his obsessive-anti-renewable-energy campaign but is also being given a platform to question the science of climate change.

ABC’s lack of concern about Uhlmann’s anti-renewable views shows a blatant contradiction in the way it treats some personal opinions — like Tingle’s critiques of Australia’s racism problem, versus views which are not only clearly ideological but also misrepresent facts.

Furthermore, where Tingle made her comments about racism in only a personal capacity at a public event, not only was Uhlmann allowed by ABC to voice his anti-renewable views in his personal capacity on social media, but as chief political correspondent, he was able to use disinformation to set an anti-renewable-energy agenda that infected ABC reporting.

This hypocrisy demonstrates that some personal ideas – what a coincidence – left-wing ideas which are attacked by News Corp, are outlawed at ABC.

At the same time, ideas that News Corp supports – right-wing ideas which are used to attack climate change action – are not only sanctioned but celebrated.

If someone senior at ABC would like to try to account for this hypocrisy, I am sure many of its viewers would appreciate an explanation.

Dr Victoria Fielding is an Independent Australia columnist. You can follow Victoria on Twitter @DrVicFielding.

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