ABC's knockers listen with tin ears

THE ABC wishes to apologise for the Queensland drought. It is also sorry that the Liberal Party did not win the South Australian election and it very much regrets its role in events in Ukraine.

Most of all it apologises to tender media commentator Andrew Bolt for the remarks by Aboriginal academic Professor Marcia Langton on March 10 on its Q&A program.

For those who missed it, in a discussion on proposed amendments to the Racial Discrimination Act, Langton said a column that Bolt wrote some years back mounted a political attack on Dr Misty Jenkins. "It was simply racial abuse," she said. "He argued that she had no right to claim that she was Aboriginal and, like most fools who put this argument in public, we are expected to deny our parents and our grandparents because somebody believes in race theories."

Bolt took offence at the comments and, in an exchange with him on commercial radio, Langton apologised. In a later long statement explaining her position Langton said that if a section of the Racial Discrimination Act was removed - as Bolt wants - he and others who share his views would be free to attack Aboriginal people on the grounds of the colour of their skin. She maintained that Bolt's obsessive writing about the colour of the skin of particular Aboriginal people was malicious and cowardly.

Not satisfied with Langton's radio apology, Bolt also demanded that the ABC apologise for broadcasting the remark. As a result, last Monday Q&A's Tony Jones acknowledged that Langton had apologised and said that consequently the ABC apologised for broadcasting her remark.

This is still not good enough for Bolt.


In line with the current right-wing campaign to undermine the ABC, he wants the broadcasting organisation to take responsibility, not only for reporting accurately what people say and do, but also for the actions and words of the individuals themselves.

That is not the ABC's role. Take the Q&A matter, for example. Q&A is a live discussion program in which people from different walks of life express their opinions. It is only worth having if the guests speak their mind and if the ABC allows their views to go to air uncensored.

The anti-ABC campaigners hope that if they cannot shut down the ABC, they can at least make its journalists fearful of raising issues that are damaging to the government.

We saw this in their campaign against the reporting of refugees' allegations that they were mistreated and had their hands burnt when their boat was intercepted by the Australian navy in January. Some reporting of these claims may have led listeners to believe that the ABC accepted the allegations; ABC managing director Mark Scott issued a statement saying he regretted any such imputation. It was a small mistake and in fairness to the reporter, it has to be said that in these days of instant news one doesn't always find the right words to kick off a story.

The report also has to be seen in the context of the thousands of stories the ABC carries every day.

Sometimes I wonder if the critics of the ABC actually listen to, or watch, programs on the network. Often it seems as if they have an alert service only to the broadcasts they disagree with.

They're quick to seize on anything said on Barrie Cassidy's Insiders program but never think to remark on the time slot of the broadcast. Cassidy has the dead-spot of 9am on Sunday but because of the program's quality and entertainment value, it has wide impact. Bolt also goes to air on Sunday morning, but he is not taken seriously and has half the audience.

The range of programs and views on the ABC are vast, providing items of interest for a wide cross-section of the Australian community.

We hear nothing from conservative commentators about the many programs promoting conservative agendas, such as rural affairs and religion.

ABC Rural has 70 reporters spread around the country. Frequently, conservative representatives - members of the various rural organisations - are sought out for comment.

Tailored rural broadcasts are transmitted at local, state and national level to farmers, their communities and anyone else who chooses to listen. Every weekday there are Rural News, The Country Hour and Bush Telegraph. (It should be noted here that manufacturing industry and unions gets no such special attention.) Then we have weekly broadcasts with Macca's Australia All Over, with its focus on a stereotypical, narrow segment of the Australian population, and television's Landline.

All these programs have a political aspect to them, as do the programs devoted to religion.

If you think religious sections are free of politics take a look at Antoine Arjakovsky's article on Ukraine on the ABC website. This puts a highly contentious argument - dressed up as an explanation of the role of the churches in Ukraine - and prompted a comment that it was a prejudiced and vindictive attack on the Orthodox Church and ethnic Russians.

On television we have Compass and never-ending Mary MacKillop supine programs or references - Mary Recognisably, episodes of Pilgrim's Progress and Letter from Rome, a poem called The Tomb of Mary MacKillop. On radio we have Encounter, The Religion and Ethics Report, The Spirit of Things (with its annoyingly smarmy Rachael Kohn), Sunday Nights and even ABC Classic's For the God Who Sings.

As I am an atheist, this God doesn't sing for me. But in a pluralist society you live with such things.

Of course, the anti-ABC conspirators see and hear nothing of this. Nor do they note the ABC coverage of, and breaking news on, Labor Party corruption.

To them, the ABC is "left"-biased.

But despite the space devoted to pushing this line by media organisations with vested interests, the public is not to be fooled. Surveys consistently show that 70 per cent of the population thinks the ABC's news and current affairs can be trusted - a much higher percentage than that achieved by the critics' newspapers.