On announcing his intention to step down next year as the managing director of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), Mark Scott informed his staff, inter alia: “Can I add how pleased I am with our commitment to the main priority this year, serving the nation as the independent home of Australian conversations, culture and stories? On television, we have broadcast remarkable dramas, documentaries and comedies. Our radio services continue to connect millions of Australians each day … In news, we are breaking stories of significance every week; stories with great impact …”
Yet, like the BBC, the ABC constantly flouts the obligations on which its public funding ostensible depends, in order to present a left-liberal agenda, and to hawk, especially, a favourite core of issues, one of which is asylum and “refugee” migration. Rarely does the ABC present an alternative view on this issue to that of the Green Left; it interviews with astonishing regularity Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, an arch-critic of “refugee” detention and “turning back the boats,” giving her a great deal of air time – a courtesy it seldom accords to politicians or activists of the opposing viewpoint.
Some of its top presenters supplement their generous salaries by sounding off in newspaper columns on issues of the day, thus revealing the personal political standpoints that they are meant to conceal in the interests of perceived even-handedness, and which undermines their pretensions to objectivity. As with the BBC, an arrogant thumb-our-noses-at-the-guidelines attitude together with a left-liberal perspective is, if not pervasive throughout the Corporation, then certainly widely palpable. Take, for instance, the veteran political presenter Barrie Cassidy. He recently blogged a puerile, mocking personal attack on conservatively-inclined prime minister Tony Abbot soon after the latter lost his position in a tawdry coup: ‘…This week Tony Abbott broke free of the shackles and exposed his creed: a fundamental rejection of negotiation and compromise, and a refusal to allow compassion to get in the way of a nation's self-interest… He urged Europe to study Australia's experience, turning boats around and denying entry at the borders. "It will require some force," he declared. Fight. Fight. Fight. Even against desperate refugees…’
The ABC ethos that accepts that everyone seeking illegal entry into this country is a genuine “refugee” is also part of the BBC’s. It’s broadcast and tweeted constantly by these Tweedledums and Tweedledees. The BBC’s Matthew Price has been one industrious propagandist to this effect. So has the BBC’s man in Sydney, Jon Donnison, who makes snide tweets about Australia’s asylum policy (and Britain’s) every chance he gets, as well as making highly partisan tweets relating to Gaza and the West Bank, where he was previously based, and where his heart apparently resides.
Each week the ABC’s flagship current affairs show Q&A, the broadcaster’s equivalent to the BBC’s Question Time, packs its panel with leftists, with just a token sprinkling of proponents of the other side. Among regular panellists are two leftist Jews highly critical of Israel: elderly Viennese-born feminist Eva Cox, and Louise Adler, a member of Alternative Australian Jewish Voices. Dr Adler heads Melbourne University Press, which under her aegis has published Antony Loewenstein’s My Israel Question and London University Professor Jacqueline Rose’s Out of Zion. Perhaps needless to say, the ABC has given publicity to both books and their authors.
Writes Zeddy Lawrence, editor of the Australian Jewish News, in the current issue of that paper (http://www.jewishnews.net.au/abc-must-tackle-bias/50538):
‘Earlier this year, the corporation’s editorial integrity became a matter of public concern after Zaky Mallah was allowed to ask a question on the broadcaster’s flagship Q&A program. But for members of the Jewish community, the ABC’s editorial integrity was already in doubt, with a number of reports from Israel not only exhibiting a distinct lack of balance, but in some cases reflecting individual journalists’ personal political opinions. Readers will no doubt recall February 2014’s Four Corners episode in which the IDF was accused of targeting Palestinian children for arrest in the middle of the night, assaulting them while in detention and forcing confessions from them. The report omitted key facts about the cases it highlighted, relied on unverified allegations from sources with questionable credibility that were subsequently repudiated, failed to give context and, moreover, quoted negative UNICEF findings about the IDF, without mentioning more recent UNICEF findings that actually noted significant improvements in the IDF’s operations.
Fast-forward to July 2014 and the war with Hamas, and there were numerous cases where the ABC’s focus was on Israel’s targeted airstrikes rather than the rockets being fired indiscriminately at Israeli cities from Gaza. In one instance, seemingly oblivious to Hamas’s tactics of using human shields and the IDF’s warnings to civilians to evacuate ahead of strikes, the ABC’s Sarah Ferguson asked Benjamin Netanyahu’s spokesman Mark Regev: “Do you take enough care to avoid those casualties, ‘cause it appears the answer is no?”
In the past year alone, the ABC has featured no fewer than 20 times in our Media Week column from AIJAC [the Australian Jewish Public Affairs Council], with the same problems noted in each instance. Whether discussing subsequent investigations into the war, house demolitions, the blockade of Gaza, the Jewish connection to Jerusalem or other issues, there’s a lack of context, a lack of balance, the omission of relevant facts, interviewees with a clear agenda, and little, if any, official Israeli responses or explanations of the matters under discussion. Throw into the mix, a two-part documentary this July produced by a prominent BDS activist that effectively accused Israel of apartheid, and even included claims that Jerusalem was “being ethnically cleansed” and that the Jewish State was “imposed” and “artificial”, and the ABC appears to be acting, in some cases, as a pro-Palestinian propaganda mouthpiece.’
As mentioned on my own blog in March, the ABC’s then newly-appointed exclusive Jerusalem-based Middle East correspondent, young Sophie McNeill, was appointed to that post despite – or maybe because of – a history of pro-Palestinian activism (a remarkable state of affairs discussed by a concerned Ahron Shapiro here http://www.jwire.com.au/should-the-abc-have-given-advocacy-journalist-sophie-mcneill-the-keys-to-its-jerusalem-bureau-asks-ahron-shapiro/). In an interview she gave in 2011, Ms McNeill, who has credited Robert Fisk’s Hidden Histories with inspiring her to be a journalist, said: "If you just try to frame stories from the point of view of the people who are really suffering in a situation, be it in Lebanon, if you’re hanging out in a Palestinian refugee camp, [or] in Gaza … One of the saddest things I’ve seen in my whole life is spending some time filming in a children’s cancer ward in Gaza. I just think if you just – if you look at a situation and you just – yeah, I guess just try to spend time with the people who are – who really don t have any power and it is hard, you know, for them to have a voice. Then that’s, yeah, that’s the kind of journalism I want to do.... Everyone knew what was happening in Gaza ... you saw all the horrific videos ... a lot of people died ... there are no excuses any more..."
There have been a number of instances in which Ms McNeill’s subsequent reporting and tweeting has chagrined or indeed outraged the Australian Jewish community, overwhelmingly pro-Israel as it is, as well as numerous fair-minded non-Jewish commentators. Late last month, in a segment on the ABC’s 7.30 current affairs program, Ms McNeill informed viewers that, “after they tried to board a school bus south of Jerusalem,” two Palestinians were shot by Israeli security forces. What she failed to reveal was the crucial information that the two had just knifed someone, were armed, and were intent on attacking schoolchildren on that bus. Ms McNeill also told, hardly objectively, of a dead sixteen-year old Palestinian student who had been fatally shot at a checkpoint: “Israeli soldiers say that this friendly, gifted student tried to stab them, so they shot her dead”. There was lachrymose footage of the girl’s empty desk at school as Ms McNeill described her, in the opinion of relatives, as “so affectionate … very talented …” and, in the opinion of friends, as a “martyr … dying for Palestine”. Neglecting to tell of the incitement to violence caused by circulating canards that Israel was denying Palestinians access to their holy site in Jerusalem, Ms McNeill put her own spin on things by asserting that “Tensions are being fuelled by the building of Jewish settlements on Palestinian land”.
Little wonder that an excellent article in the Brisbane Courier-Mail by Rowan Dean expressed revulsion at a segment on the ABC’s 7.30 current affairs program, in which Sophie McNeill, expressed revulsion at the segment for portrayed the murderous young Palestinians concerned ‘almost as heroes, engaged in some noble struggle …. Even the segment’s title – “Meet the young generation of Palestinians behind the third intifada” – was a disgrace, sounding like some hip, funky show … Throughout eight turgid minutes, the show failed to point the finger of blame where it belongs: at those political and religious predators in the West Bank and Gaza who for a generation have tutored and groomed young Palestinians to desire to murder Jews. Muslim clerics in Palestinian mosques have been urging their followers in recent weeks to go out and hack Jews to death in the name of Allah. For the Islamist, the “cause” of “liberating” Palestine is just another facet of jihadist terrorism, the goal being the genocide of all nonbelievers, particularly Jews…’ Instead, there was ‘funky rap music, “cool” interviews, sentimental claptrap about an empty desk at a girl’s school and so on’.
Over the years, examples of ABC bias against Israel have been itemised by AIJAC and, where sufficiently egregious to warrant it, officially protested by the ECAJ. But as the ECAJ’s executive director, Peter Wertheim, has recently written, “Even when our complaints have been upheld, corrective action by the ABC has been half-hearted or slow to occur”. However, a media survey undertaken in June shows that, in Mr Wertheim’s words, “although ABC radio and television remain the nation’s most trusted sources of news and current affairs, trust levels have fallen significantly in the last five years and the ABC’s lead over commercial broadcasters and newspapers has narrowed markedly”. Thus, he continues, “For its own sake, the ABC needs a new system of oversight to guarantee its integrity. Its internal complaints unit is not independent of the organisation, nor is it sufficiently insulated from the influence of those who work there.” (To those familiar with the in-house complaints procedure at the BBC, where a functionary called Fraser Stele appears to be the sole arbiter of what does and does not constitute bias, that will sound depressingly familiar.)
Mr Wertheim goes on: “We need a completely independent ombudsman outside the ABC, appointed on a cross-partisan basis by Parliament through a public selection process, to monitor public broadcasting, assess complaints about news, current affairs programs and documentaries and report regularly to the Australian people.” Amen to that.
As Zeddy Lawrence points out: “Let us be quite clear, we are not calling for Israel, its government or its army to be declared sacrosanct or off limits. We merely want factual, balanced and fair reporting that is not skewed by the prejudices of particular reporters or that panders to popular or propaganda-driven misconceptions of the reality on the ground. To that end, in appointing the new managing director, we urge the ABC board to consider not just how well the potential candidates can manage the corporation from a business perspective, but whether they have what it takes to confront and weed out the bias, and uphold the standards of balance and impartiality that we expect our national broadcaster to embody.”
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