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What's happening with 'Insiders'?

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(Screenshot via ABC Insiders)

Has the ABC’s Insiders program become a vehicle for the promotion of News Corp? Alan Austin has been watching with interest and alarm.

AN INTRIGUING development in Australia’s media landscape this year is that it appears ABC's Insiders, a substantial television program paid for by taxpayers, has become a vehicle for the rehabilitation and promotion of Rupert Murdoch’s tawdry media empire.

Take the April 19 episode. It opened with a montage of the past week’s television news and featured Murdoch’s logo Sky News along with Sunrise, Today, SBS and 7.30, implying these are equally reputable.

Then followed a sequence of eight print articles, introduced with, “Let’s see what’s making news”. Seven of the eight were from News Corp publications — the Herald Sun, the Sunday Mail, the Sunday Herald Sun and two each from the Daily Telegraph and the Sunday Telegraph. They squeezed in one from the Sunday Age.

The three studio guests included two current Murdoch people — Annika Smethurst at the Daily Telegraph and Greg Sheridan at The Australian. The host was David Speers, fresh from nearly 20 years with News Corp.

This is not unusual. The first 12 Insiders episodes since Speers’ arrival as host, have featured 36 guest appearances. Of these, 12 have been current News Corp employees and another four, recent departees. So 44 per cent of all guests from one stable.

There is no need for the ABC to reference anything from News Corp — certainly not as the key source of information. Australia has more than 30 important media organisations. It is itself a well-resourced generator of news and news analysis. Murdoch’s minions are entirely dispensable.

News Corp a legitimate news organisation?

News Corp is not a reliable source of information. It has long since abandoned any commitment to media codes of ethics. The Australian Press Council routinely finds News Corp outlets violate media codes of ethics. Fact-checkers in the UK and the USA have found the same.

Murdoch’s Fox News in the USA is the go-to outlet for President Donald Trump whenever he wishes to share his fabrications and falsehoods. According to the Washington Post, the U.S. President told 16,241 clearly identified lies in his first three years in office. Many of these were Fox exclusives.

In Australia, several senior Murdoch employees have been found guilty of serious falsehoods — and were then rewarded by their employer.

In the celebrated racial discrimination case Eatock v Bolt, Murdoch’s Andrew Bolt was found to have concocted at least 19 damaging false assertions against the Indigenous people he was attacking.

In the wrongful dismissal case of former editor Bruce Guthrie, the judge found two senior News Corp executives had been untruthful in their testimony before the court.

In Britain, Murdoch’s publications have lied, cheated, bribed police and engaged in an extensive range of criminal misconduct. A British Parliamentary Inquiry in 2012 found that Rupert Murdoch was ‘not a fit person’ to run a company in Britain.

As a result of police investigations into Britain’s phone-hacking scandal, a large number of News Corp personnel were arrested and convicted of criminal offences.

Political bias and the ABC

News Corp outlets spruik the commercial interests of the owners, which almost inevitably means supporting right-wing political parties. Normally this is not a great problem. Political biases are fine, provided they are balanced by other political biases. The issue with News Corp is much more insidious than just bias, as shown above.

But political bias is an issue for the national broadcaster.

On 5 April, Patricia Karvelas – ex-Murdoch employee now with the ABC – declared that “given its historical position on issues around debt, [the Morrison Government] does want to pay down debt.” No, it doesn’t. The verifiable fact is that of all OECD economies, Australia is one of two – along with Chile – which has stacked on the most debt since 2013. 

On the same show, in which all contributors were current or former News Corp personnel, The Australian’s Simon Benson said, “Scott Morrison is emerging as one of the most capable prime ministers this country has seen for a long time.”

On 19 April, Greg Sheridan quoted Donald Trump as a reputable authority on China.

Ruthless and remorseless

Among Australia’s most profound wrongdoings in recent times have been The Australian’s malicious condemnations of men and women who have served the nation well.

Professor Robert Manne of La Trobe University wrote this of the recent campaign against the Australian Human Rights Commission and its former president:

The attack launched by The Australian on Gillian Triggs and the Human Rights Commission has been obsessive, petty, relentless, remorseless and ruthless. In 'Bad News' I documented similar campaigns – against Larissa Behrendt and Julie Posetti. But neither reached either the level of malevolence or the cultural significance of the current anti-Triggs campaign ... What is happening to Gillian Triggs – a fine lawyer, a fine Australian, a fine human being – must be resisted with all the moral and rhetorical muscle liberal Australians can muster.

Other prominent people The Australian has sought to tear down with its frenzied campaigns of hate, include Carmen Lawrence, Joan Kirner, Wendy Bacon, Natasha Stott Despoja, Margaret Simons, Christine Nixon, Roz Ward, Clover Moore, Margo Kingston, Anna Bligh, Kristina Keneally, Julian Disney, Emma Husar, Yassmin Abdel-Magied, Julia Gillard and Jacinda Ardern.

So it was with nauseating hypocrisy the Australian’s Greg Sheridan used the final seconds of Insiders to declare:

I think the ABC was tremendously unfair to [Catholic Cardinal] George Pell over the last five or six years ... Current affairs and news take a set against someone, all the non-specialist journalists follow the lead of their specialist colleague ... and I think they just need to reflect on the disparity in power between this giant corporation and a single individual they attack.

Speers laughed awkwardly and closed the program: “Well, we are literally out of time to debate that one. But thank you for making the point, at least ...”

Yes. And News Corp thanks the ABC also. Very much.

Alan Austin’s defamation matter is nearly over. You can read the latest update here and help out by contributing to the crowd-funding campaign HERE. Alan Austin is an Independent Australia columnist and freelance journalist. You can follow him on Twitter @AlanAustin001.

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