Unrelenting attacks: News Corp alleges the ABC is 'too left-wing'

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Caricature courtesy of Bruce Keogh,

The top four search results for the term "ABC left-wing" on Google produce articles from News Corp media institutions.

The first three come from Sky News commentary and the fourth result is an article by The Australian.

 The emotion-laden headlines read:

  • The ABC is a left-wing blob of boring, woke views;
  • ABC becoming too right-wing' following 'occasional conservative guest;
  • The ABC no longer even pretends to be balanced; and
  • Forces from within are destroying the ABC.

 The notion that "the ABC is too left-wing" seems to be gaining momentum. It appears that News Corp has played a significant role in furthering this narrative.

When the above stories are analysed, however, there is limited substance to back the claim. Sky News did nonetheless make a recent attempt to link in evidence to support it.

 The Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) is a right-wing think tank sponsored by major corporations.

In 2018, an IPA spokesperson cited a study's "finding" on Sky News: 

'ABC employees or journalists are five times more likely to vote for the Greens than the general population.'

Scratching the surface on this claim reveals it's misleading. The spokesperson failed to mention the author's caution against drawing such conclusions and that the margin of error when doing so would be substantial.

 When approaching an issue pragmatically, it is vital first to objectively define the topic. Claiming "the ABC is too left-wing" is a very loose statement when not backed by figures or definitions.

Its subjectivity lends itself to being on par with comments like "too far to the left" and "not right-wing enough". 

 A definition of "too left-wing" would be different from one person to the next, depending on where they sat on the political spectrum. For example, Liberal-National politician George Christensen claimed that Greenpeace was a "terrorist" group. Considering Mr Christensen's far-right stance, he would probably view most of his own Party's policies as being "too left-wing". 

On this basis, Sky News' statement might be interpreted as: "the ABC has a right-wing bias, just not as right-wing as News Corp's" (which is staunchly right-wing).  

Putting aside the vagueness of the statement, is there a way to measure a broadcaster's position on the political scale? To an extent. 

The most recent study on Australian media bias is from 2014, by the Guardian's "Data Blog". Media studies like these are rare because it is "resource-draining" to measure supposed bias.

The 2014 survey calculated airtime allocated to political parties in the lead up to the 2013 Federal Election. It found that the ABC gave 40 per cent airtime to the Labor Party (ALP) and 39.4 per cent to the Liberal National Party (LNP). This finding appears to contradict News Corp's claim.

So, if there is no evident reason to say the ABC is "too left-wing", why does News Corp persist with the label?

Here are four possible answers:

  • A commercial ploy to draw viewers away from the ABC. Sky News’ target demographic is 'over 55s'. This group is also the ABC's traditional demographic. They are direct competitors;
  • Attacking the ABC shifts the credibility "goalposts". News Corp's journalism starts to appear more "enticing" when the ABC's character is dragged through the mud. The majority of Australians view the ABC as the most trusted news source. It's in News Corp's interest for this to change;  
  • News Corp is a multibillion-dollar company looking out for its profit margin. It makes economic sense for them to be wary of any news outlet that provides a stage for any political party aiming to dent their bottom line. Affording the Labor party significant airtime (remember Shorten’s line "tax the top end of town") detracts from the positive light they shine on the Coalition, renowned for cutting corporate tax and diluting worker's rights; and
  • Deepening the political divide. In reality, the labelling of persons, politicians or media platforms as "left or right-wing" does nothing but entrench a sense of tribalism. This further polarises the voting public, creating an environment where emotions are manipulated for political and commercial gain. 

In the end, Australian voters would be wise not to take the one-liner "the ABC is too left-wing" at face value, especially considering the potential motives behind such a statement. 

Matthew Peel is a Physiotherapist with an interest in the importance of critical thinking, exposing media bias and promoting progressive policy. 

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