One Nation ABC deal continues to haunt Turnbull Government

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(Image via Rod Moffatt‏ @Ozlandscapes)

The ABC is the Turnbull Government's bargaining chip for right-wing support and implied guarantees to voracious media groupings, writes Ranald Macdonald.

LAST WEEK, I began my summary of the Turnbull Government's negotiations aimed at getting its media reform bill through the Senate with the following:

Make a deal for political expediency and then unforseen consequences usually follow.

The ABC and its future is not a "bargaining chip" for the Government to use to pass legislation in the Senate.

Yet a deal brokered by Communications Minister Fifield to gain Liberal Democratic Senator David Leyonhjelm’s vote some months back, has already come back to haunt it ...

Well, the "haunting" continues.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull (like his counterpart Theresa May in the UK) must, on reflection, think that calling an early election has not proven an Einsteinian decision.

Having expected community adulation, it is hard to reconcile having to negotiate with parties with different values and ambitions to pass legislation.

So, deals are a fact of political life for both PMs — even recognising the considerable personal cost in achieving them, which leaves little room for attaining the moral high ground.

Political pork barrelling so an image can be spun of decisive and strong leadership, is a nasty business

Sadly, here in Australia, the ABC is being cynically used to ensure right-wing support within (and of) the Government — and to satisfy implied guarantees to the voracious media groupings.

Minister for Communications Mitch Fifield continues to say that all media leaders support the Government's media "reforms":

'The package has the unanimous support of the Australian media industry.'

As if that makes them worth supporting.

"Reform" is defined as change for the better. Many surely would challenge that in our current imbroglio — perhaps asking whether making media magnates more powerful and happier necessarily benefits all Australians.

And Senator Pauline Hanson is not satisfied with the ABC just being required to be "accurate and impartial" — rather that it should be "fair and balanced".

Leaving aside the question of her ability to judge truth from fiction, one thing those outside the media find hard to comprehend about journalism is the word "balance".

My mantra has always been that fairness and factual accuracy is Journalism 101.

Tell me how you achieve balance when you rely on sources, tip offs and in covering a story which is still unfolding — and how is it possible to get daily "balance" in reporting, for example, court cases?

There, the prosecution makes absolutely clear at the outset that the defendant is guilty. Then, later, the defence puts its case and often casts compelling doubts on his/her guilt.

Reporters give the dramatic first day "lead" by outlining the crime, the prosecution's case and the "perpetrator". Unless editors are ethically observant and strive for fairness, the drama of the accusation overwhelms what follows. Even when there is a "not guilty" verdict.

Returning to Pauline Hanson and her One Party dealings with the Government.

Fairness requires one to report that the Government is failing ethically, morally and maybe constitutionally in respecting the ABC's guarantee of political independence, the Broadcasting Act and its charter.

For a trusted and important institution with a vital role in ensuring intelligent and informed debate in democratic Australia, its management, staff and board are justified in feeling anger and resentment.

It is good to see the new Chariman Justin Milne entering the debate. I can only endorse his comments.

Mr Milne said:

As one of the world's most successful democracies, Australia has benefitted from a dual media system for 85 years, with public broadcasting existing alongside commercial media.

This media environment has ensured vibrancy and diversity, for the good of all Australians.

And while I am sympathetic to the concerns of the commercial sector as it seeks new business models in a severely disrupted media landscape, criticising the ABC is not the solution to their problems.'

Democracy demands diversity in what its citizens are able to read, watch and hear.

The way the ABC is being treated in Canberra is serious cause for concern.

Ranald Macdonald is a Friend of the ABC and the former editor-in-chief of The Age newspaperThis article was originally published on 'Pearls and Irritations' and is republished with permission.

Former Senator Scott Ludlam discusses the Turnbull Government's media reform package.

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