The Far-Right ABC: The elephant in the corner of the room

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Steve Bannon is fascinated by Mussolini (Image by Mike Licht via Flickr)

Recent events suggest the ABC is pandering more and more flagrantly to the Far-Right, writes Dr Geoff Davies.


MONDAY 3RD of September was a good night for the Far-Right on the ABC. There was a 45-minute exclusive platform for Steve Bannon, Alt-Right champion and Trump booster, in an interview on the Four Corners program. Later Q&A, which regularly includes at least one Far Right panel member, had three out of five, including – spare us – radio shock jock Alan Jones, as if he needs another megaphone.

This while the ABC is re-running a version of “It’s your ABC” promos, featuring nostalgic clips of the Bananas in Pajamas and the lovely Noni of Playschool. Only it’s not our ABC any more. It has been the Liberal Party’s ABC for some time.

Other than on Independent Australia, I have seen little comment on this flagrant lack of balance — even on sites that regularly comment on the media (apart from Helen Razer on Crikey($), who called the Bannon interview weak and negligent, among other things).

No doubt the ABC would defend the Bannon interview by claiming the interviewer asked tough questions and subjected Bannon’s views to a forensic critique. This, if it were genuine, would reflect a complete failure to understand communication, supposedly a core activity of the ABC.

George Lakoff spelt out the essence rather clearly in his book Don’t Think of an Elephant.

I hope you’re not thinking of an elephant. Don’t listen to Steve Bannon. Don’t take in his body language, his reasonable-sounding code words or the implication that he’s another mainstream figure we should be taking seriously. Don’t be concerned that he's in Australia to foment a workers’ revolt — of the Pauline Hanson kind.

The ABC could take note of Bannon’s own words, actually spoken during the Four Corners interview, when he said that racists are

"... an infinitesimal percentage of people and they’re only made important because the left media gives them a microphone."

Those words were quoted by The Guardian’s Arwa Mahdawi, commenting on the furore around New Yorker magazine’s inviting Bannon, then un-inviting him, into one of its talk fests. As Mahdawi says, it is perfectly possible to discuss Bannon without giving him a platform.

To remind ourselves, Bannon founded Breitbart News, which exceeds Fox News in airhead rants, he argued for the exclusion from the U.S. anyone coming from certain Muslim countries and even told supporters of France’s National Front to wear the term "racist" as a badge of honour. Perhaps Bannon and his ilk are just naive in their claims that they are not racist, even though their message incites racists.

Then there was the Monday, 3 September Q&A. It featured News Corp tabloid journalist Annika Smethurst, conservative broadcaster Alan Jones and Liberal Minister Steve Ciobo, along with Labor frontbencher Anthony Albanese and "People's Panellist" Elmari Whyte. Smethurst and Jones are obviously Far-Right. Ciobo’s party has been hijacked by the Far Right. Albanese, the de rigueur Labor panelist for the night, is called Left but modern Labor is well to the Right of Menzies.

Q&A maintains a show of "balance", but by any casual count it is regularly weighted heavily to the Right, with typically a Liberal and perhaps someone from the Institute for Public Affairs. Apparently we are to consider their blinkered range to be normal. When was the last actual socialist or Marxist on Q&A? They apparently concur with The Australian and regard the centrist Greens as extreme Left.

Q&A represents the echo chamber of the political mainstream, but not the balance of the Australian people. The Liberal Party is tearing itself apart precisely because its Far-Right hijackers can’t seem to get the people to follow, so they blame the latest leader.

Remember when Q&A admitted an Islamic State suicide bomber into its studio? At least, that’s what the News Corp tabloids portrayed on their front pages after Zaky Mallah asked a question from the audience. Mallah had admitted to making threats against the lives of ASIO officers and served his time, but had been cleared of a terrorism charge. He was working to prevent young Muslim men from being sucked into ISIS.

There was a robust exchange. The Liberal panelist basically dismissed the legal process and said Mallah should simply be deported at the Minister’s discretion. Malah responded that the Liberal’s attitude would provoke young Muslim Australians to join ISIS. He was shut down by Tony Jones and a Murdoch frenzy ensued. The ABC grovelled and disavowed actual robust debate.

But it was Liberal John Howard’s Government that joined the illegal invasion of Iraq against the clear wishes of the Australian people and in the face of clear warnings, amply vindicated, that it would make us a target of terrorists. Who’s putting us more in danger?

Beyond that, Far-Right extremists advocate radical social engineering, steadily dismantle our open society and democracy, and exploit racism, xenophobia and any other social division they can get their tyre iron into.

But the Far-Right is OK. It’s just part of our Liberal Party. It’s normal. Nothing to see here.

Dr Geoff Davies is an author, commentator and scientist. He is a retired geophysicist at the Australian National University and the author of The Rise and Failure of the Radical Right (May 2017) Desperately Seeking the Fair Go (2017). He blogs at BetterNature.

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