Sunday’s final ABC 'Insiders' program for the year showed again why the flagship current affairs program has fallen short in 2020. Alan Austin reports.
Most Australians expect the national broadcaster to be factual, accurate, neutral and to resist the control Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp exerts over Australia’s news media. Most editions of Insiders this year have disappointed.
Opening yet another soft interview with a Morrison Government minister on Sunday (13 December), presenter David Speers asked Communications Minister Paul Fletcher whether Google or Facebook – which the Federal Government has ineptly attacked – had indicated if they would disallow Australian news content on their platforms. Easy yes or no question.
After a long, uninterrupted ramble, viewers received no clarity. Fletcher answered a different question: What wonderful things has your marvellous Government done in this policy area? He was not pushed on the original question.
More disturbingly, guest panellist Jennifer Hewett from Nine Entertainment’s Australian Financial Review (AFR) on Sunday defended the Federal Government on jobs policy, saying:
“ABS statistics show the casualisation of the workforce stayed at about twenty per cent over 20 years.”
That is not true. When Hewett has asserted this in the AFR – where she is free to say whatever she wishes – she has not quoted any dataset. Current ABS reports put the figure much higher. Most analysis shows casualisation has increased in recent decades and accelerated over the last four years, pre-COVID.
Most instances where Insiders now spruiks News Corp’s false anti-Labor and pro-Coalition narrative relate to the economy.
A week earlier, on 6 December, Speers said, “I want to turn to the economy", and then did so with a clip from Treasurer Josh Frydenberg:
“The Australian economy has demonstrated its remarkable resilience. And Australia is as well-positioned as any other nation on earth.”
Panellist Phillip Coorey, also from Nine Entertainment’s AFR, followed this with:
“It’s unarguably good news. You’d much rather be in our position than probably anywhere else on the globe at the moment, economically.”
These claims asserted that compared with other countries, Australia’s economy is faring well. This is clearly and demonstrably false.
The hook for this segment was the quarterly growth figure in gross domestic product (GDP) which had just come in at 3.3%. But of the 55 countries which had reported quarterly GDP growth for the September quarter, Australia’s 3.3% growth ranked equal 47th out of the 55. The average was 9.9% growth – three times higher than Australia’s puny 3.3%.
Australia’s jobless rate is now 7.03%. This ranks 41st out of 91 countries with current data at Trading Economics.
Australia’s economic rankings are currently the lowest they have ever been. Clearly, the comments by Frydenberg and Coorey are not just inaccurate, but the opposite of the truth. (This segment has been the subject of a formal complaint to the ABC.)
Yet no-one on the panel corrected them. They were all happy for this false impression to be broadcast.
The recent Federal Budget papers showed the Coalition had added more gross debt in the preceding seven months than the previous Labor Government incurred in five years and nine months.
In brave defiance of the prevailing ethos that negative stories about the economy are suppressed, The Age’s Shane Wright referred on 11 October to the 'huge amount of debt' and 'a sea of absolute red' in the Budget.
Speers dismissed that with a nonchalant shrug:
“We’re getting used to it, I guess.”
Then changed the subject.
Speers asked new Finance Minister Simon Birmingham on 29 November the cost to taxpayers of flying his predecessor, Mathias Cormann, around the world chasing an OECD job in Paris he has zero chance of getting.
The Minister ducked and weaved, prattling instead, untruthfully, about Australia having a great economy and being a global player — for three minutes and 52 seconds.
The presenter should have halted the interview, asked the Minister to get the number, then come back before the program ended to complete the interview but Speers did not.
Questioned on the specific benefits to Australia of Cormann getting the OECD job, Birmingham again had no answer and wasn’t pressed. Cormann’s manifest failures as Finance Minister – worst debt increase in the OECD, severe loss of national net worth, ever-deepening deficits and others – were, as usual, assiduously avoided.
Audio was played on 15 November of Attorney-General Christian Porter addressing the direct question:
“Did you ever have intimate relations with a staffer?”
Porter’s contorted response was anything but a negative. Yet Insiders panellist Lanai Scarr, an ex-Murdoch reporter, agreed with Speers that it was a sound answer:
“Yeah, absolutely. It was a denial by him that he had slept with a member of staff.”
It was not. Yet no-one on the panel called this out.
News Corp still sets the agenda
Insiders has not shifted its reliance on News Corp personnel since this was highlighted by IA in April here and, hilariously, here by Jordan Shanks in July.
Of 138 guest appearances in the 46 programs this year, 36 were current News Corp employees, another 23 were recent departees (Lanai Scarr, Patricia Karvelas, Dennis Atkins and others). If we include David Speers’ 46 appearances, that is a total of 105 News Corp appearances out of 184. That’s 57%.
There is no need to use anyone from News Corp. It ceased to be a genuine news outlet years ago, as confirmed by the company itself and a U.S. Federal judge in September. In McDougal v Fox News, News Corp lawyers argued – successfully – that their reporters could not be guilty of defamation because they do not report factually. They are employed to concoct "non-literal commentary" — also known as falsehoods.
If we add talent from the other pro-Coalition media giant, Nine Entertainment, the number of 2020 Insiders appearances was 138. That’s 75%.
With more than 30 major media organisations in Australia and 56 newsrooms represented in the Canberra Press Gallery, there is no justification for the ABC’s continuing collaboration with information manipulators.
Alan Austin’s defamation matter is nearly over. You can read an update HERE and contribute to the crowd-funding campaign HERE. Alan Austin is an Independent Australia columnist, Daily Kos diarist and freelance journalist. You can follow him on Twitter @AlanAustin001.
Support independent journalism Subscribe to IA.