IA #2 top story of 2016: The ABC plunges to a new low

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Beyond holding politicians to account, Alan Austin also keeps a close eye on Australia's media practitioners. This story on the ABC employing rightwing commentator and constant ABC critic Andrew Bolt was Alan A's second in IA's top ten.

The ABC plunges to a new low

The ABC’s decision to produce a TV show with right wing columnist Andrew Bolt will do more harm than good, says Alan Austin.

WHAT IS THE ABC thinking?

Yes, we know it is under enormous political pressure to be like Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp but surely the national broadcaster must make some show of honouring its charter.

In an apparent attempt to rehabilitate the tattered reputation of right wing columnist Andrew Bolt after humiliations in court and public bruisings, the ABC has asked him to participate in a documentary on Indigenous constitutional recognition.

This follows several recent developments indicating that the ABC has abandoned political impartiality in favour of support for Coalition causes. But this is a new low.

Item two of the ABC’s Principles and Standards document relates to accuracy:

The ABC has a statutory duty to ensure that the gathering and presentation of news and information is accurate according to the recognised standards of objective journalism. Credibility depends heavily on factual accuracy.

It is a clear violation of this to employ someone with a record of fabrication and inaccuracy.

This objection has nothing to do with Bolt’s conservative political and social views. It has nothing to do with his vicious attacks on refugees and migrants. It has nothing to do with his sneering denigration of the judiciary, science and academia. It has nothing to do with his virulent hostility to Labor and The Greens

Nor has it anything to do with the Federal Court finding his attacks on Aboriginal people were motivated by racial hatred. Other racists contribute positively to national discussions.

It has everything to do with Bolt being a fabricator. Nothing he says or writes can be believed as long as several outstanding issues remain unaddressed. If the ABC decides to employ him, it is tacitly agreeing with News Corp and the Institute for Public Affairs that telling the truth is not important. Deceiving people is acceptable. Promises are there for the breaking. Fabrications are okay.

At least five matters await redress.

1. Jelena Popovic

In 2000, Andrew Bolt attacked Victorian magistrate Jelena Popovic with damaging allegations which the court found untrue.

Ms Popovic, according to the judge, “has been the subject of a very, very serious libel”.

Bizarrely, Bolt’s employers appealed to the Supreme Court.

Three judges confirmed “that there were many factual inaccuracies in the article” and “the judge was clearly justified in concluding that the defence [of Andrew Bolt] had no merit.” 

One judge said,

"Mr Bolt’s conduct in the circumstances was, at worst, dishonest and misleading and, at best, grossly careless. It reflects upon him as a journalist”.

That should have been the end of his career. But no. It continued, with worse fabrications and libels to come.

Waleed Aly tells Andrew Bolt: "This is Carl Mears, the man whose graph you keep using. ... he has a message for you."

2. Climate Denial

Bolt has been unrelenting in his distortions and fabrications on climate and climate scientists.

Director of the Global Change Institute at Queensland University Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg was stunned by the vehemence of Bolt’s attacks.

Andrew Bolt has not removed the misinformation and continues to this day to chant its content on a regular basis ... It is hard to practice as a humble scientist when powerful columnists like Bolt run amok. Drawing attention to their fundamental scientific errors and distortions only brings more insult and abuse ... Is this simply bad journalism or an attempt to deliberately mislead the Australian public on this issue?

The following points answer that question.

3. The stolen generations

For years Bolt has denied the reality that Aboriginal children were removed from their families in earlier decades in Australia’s history. His attacks on historians – and Aboriginal victims of this policy – have involved many distortions, omissions and outright lies.

Professor Robert Manne forensically analysed Bolt’s technique – which he describes as ‘stunningly dishonest’, ‘lies’ and ‘designed to deceive’ – in a detailed article in The Monthly.

4. Pat Eatock and other Indigenous activists

In 2009, Bolt sought to hurt a number of Aboriginal people by fabricating more damaging allegations this time accusing them of deliberate fraud. Pat Eatock and eight other Aboriginal people took action under the Racial Discrimination Act and won a decisive victory. Bolt was found to have fabricated more than 19 false allegations. These multiple lies, according to Justice Bromberg were ‘based on racial hatred or racial vilification’.

Bromberg made it clear that the lies were central:

‘The deficiencies I have relied upon … are about deficiencies in truth.’

And again:

‘Untruths are at the heart of racial prejudice and intolerance.’

5. Julia Gillard

For decades much of the mainstream media engaged in a malicious campaign to link Labor MP Julia Gillard with alleged dishonesty by a union official ex-boyfriend. This reached a frenzy as she became prime minister and continued long after she left that role.

Andrew Bolt was one of many whose false allegations were finally laid to rest by the royal commission into trade unions which found no such link.

Despite this, Bolt continues to falsify Justice Heydon’s findings and denigrate the former PM.

They are five major areas of deliberate dishonesty. Of course there are others.

Does this mean the ABC can never work with Andrew Bolt? Not at all. Four conditions would seem necessary, however, before taxpayer funds are spent in any project which will extend his malicious influence.

First, an admission that his campaigns attacking Jelena Popovic, Julia Gillard, climate scientists, the stolen generations, Pat Eatock and other Indigenous people consisted of deliberate lies.

Second, expressions of genuine regret and apology.

Third, a sincere commitment to reporting only what is verifiably true henceforward.

And fourth, departure from the employment of Rupert Murdoch who was found by a recent parliamentary inquiry in the United Kingdom to be ‘not a fit person’ to run a corporation.

Australia has abundant talent across the range of political opinion from far left to extreme right. The ABC does not need to resort to using an unrepentant liar. Whatever it might hope to gain in ratings will be outweighed many times over by what it loses in credibility and integrity.

‘Credibility depends heavily on factual accuracy.’

Yes. I’m sure I read that somewhere.

You can follow Alan Austin on Twitter @alantheamazing.

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