Ignorant and ideologically biased ABC staff need re-educating
THOSE concerned about ABC bias may be disappointed in the ABC's new director of editorial policies, Paul Chadwick."During the selection process I made it clear that if the ABC wanted a chief censor, I did not want the job," Chadwick said after news of his appointment last week.
"The fact that it was offered and the fact I accepted reflected the understanding that this is not a chief censor role."
There has been hope among critics of ABC bias that the new director of editorial policies role, which attracts a salary of at least $280,000 a year, would redress fundamental concerns over ideological bias among ABC staff. But Chadwick's emphasis - indeed, his insistence - on the point that he will not act as a censor at the ABC raises the concern that such hopes are illusory.
Accusations of ABC bias are a problem that will certainly recur in 2007, if only because the partisans of one major political party or the other are unhappy with the broadcaster's coverage.
I believe that ABC bias is one of the central problems in our national media. It is a problem I have observed both at close first hand and at the distance of consumption of ABC broadcasting products.
From both perspectives, the problem reveals itself as coming from the same source: the spiritual and metaphysical rootlessness of the tertiary-educated Australian middle class.
I have always contended that dealing with this problem at its roots will require nothing less than the complete philosophical re-education of those ABC staff members engaged in intellectual tasks.
Short of outright privatisation, this is the only way to arrest the endemic anti-Western bias which, at our ABC, expresses itself as partisan political passion, with the institutions and figureheads of Western liberal democracy as its principal targets.
The ABC represents the Australian intellectual class in miniature. The journalists, writers and artists who make up that class suffer broadly from the confused values that have characterised Western intellectual elites since the late 19th century. There is political passion without historical knowledge. There is philosophical scepticism, without the well thought-out metaphysical beliefs to make that scepticism useful. There is a nihilistic tendency that goes beyond the call of reason, and summons those afflicted with it to a fundamentalist rejection of the society in which they live, and which on the whole treats them very well.
This is the sort of problem that I talk about when I talk of ABC bias. It is not the problem of whether seven minutes or 12 minutes are given to Liberal and Labor spokesmen on the environment in the course of a tedious ABC interview.
Much more important than such technical trivia is the question of the underlying and perhaps unconscious attitudes of those doing the interviewing, the editing and the production work on the program.
In a sense, the problem is not the creation of ABC culture as such. It is rather a problem of the Australian tertiary-educated middle class. As flag-bearers for that class, media workers naturally carry most of its baggage.
In most social situations, this does not matter at all. A journalist riding the train or ferry to work in the morning is no more dangerous or offensive than another kind of office worker, or the person driving the train or boat. But once at work, ensconced in a position of command over the tools of mass communications media, the ideas at the back of a journalist's mind become more significant, and potentially threatening.
Where commercial market forces impose the disciplines of punchiness, topicality and brevity in news, the menace factor is correspondingly reduced.
Where journalists in this country have the liberality to do their thing, as at a commercial-free ABC where ratings are irrelevant and the only professional issue of importance is the estimation of one's peers, the danger from their philosophical disconnectedness from society correspondingly increases.
Given the attitudes of the Australian tertiary-educated class, ABC bias is the inevitable consequence of having a public broadcaster that does not operate on commercial principles.
Some say that the ABC board, with all its Howard Government appointees, ensures that the ABC cannot be biased. I have always contended that the ABC board is virtually irrelevant to the broadcaster's operating culture.
The board could become, to a man and woman, more right-wing than Keith Windschuttle in his most right-wing moments. This will never affect the Monday-to-Friday newsroom thinking of an ABC journalist whose day-to-day contact is with other ABC journalists.
If anything, the persistent stacking of the board with right-wing figureheads is likely to merely reinforce the crusader mentality of those excitable ABC staff members who have come to believe that their own positions, and perhaps the future of civilisation as they understand it, are under threat from the Howard Government.
Similarly I do not predict any great change in ABC operating culture as a result of the creation of any number of so-called opinion programs loaded with predictable voices from various spots on the ideological spectrum.
Opinion programs, particularly if they are labelled as such (and one hopes they will be), are unlikely to carry much persuasive value one way or the other. The impact of the programs will depend entirely on the quality of work done by presenters.
Like the opinion pages of newspapers, opinion programs on the ABC may provide a forum for the nation's salient political ideas. But in and by themselves, they will not change the content of any overwhelming bias that lies within the hearts and minds of our intellectual class.
Perhaps those making the coffee at ABC staff cafeterias may be excused from the need to learn the basic outlines of Western metaphysical discourse: the tension between utopian political ideologies and the doctrine of original sin, for example.
But any staffer who is paid to write, record, edit or in any other way contribute to the production of verbal output through the media of ABC TV and radio should be trained to recognise the key elements in historical Western intellectual discussion.
Re-education, leading to a broadened view of the traditions of Western civilisation itself, is the only way to counter the deep-seated anti-Western hostility that characterises our intellectual elites in the modern era.
Paul Gray is a columnist with the Herald Sun, a News Limited publication.
Original piece is http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,20867,20979039-7583,00.html