'Criticism part of democracy'
Acting opposition leader, Tanya Plibersek says the government is reacting negatively towards the ABC due to criticism. Nine News.PT2M41S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-31o5t 620 349 January 30, 2014
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Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has strongly defended the ABC's editorial independence in the face of Prime Minister Tony Abbott's attack on the national broadcaster, which he says ''instinctively takes everyone's side but Australia's''.
Mr Turnbull defended the Prime Minister's right to critique the ABC but, in comments that could be interpreted as resistance to Mr Abbott, he said the ABC was rightly accountable to its board of directors, not politicians.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott: said that the ABC ''instinctively takes everyone's side but Australia's''. Photo: Andrew Meares
''What's the alternative … the editor-in-chief [of the ABC] becomes the prime minister?'' he said. ''Politicians, whether prime ministers or communications ministers, will often be unhappy with the ABC … but you can't tell them what to write.''
Mr Turnbull's comments were supported by Liberal western Sydney MP Craig Laundy, who posted a spirited defence of free speech on Facebook on Thursday morning, arguing that if people did not like the ABC's work, they could change the channel.
''There are many great things about living in a democracy - one of them the luxury of free speech,'' he posted.
Malcolm Turnbull: strongly defended the ABC's editorial independence.
The furore was sparked by the emergence of a note on Wednesday from an ABC reporter who said of the broadcaster's allegations asylum seekers were burnt by navy staff: ''My boss believes the allegations are likely to be untrue …''
Mr Abbott told radio 2GB that Australians wanted ''some basic affection for the home team'', but Mr Turnbull said the broadcaster was more constrained by rules around editorial fairness than its competitors in commercial media.
''The ABC has to play it straight down the middle. The ABC has a bargain with the Australian people. They have to be rigorously balanced in their coverage.
''Remember, if it wasn't for the ABC and Fairfax we might not know of the latest round of union corruption.''
Labor's communications spokesman, Jason Clare, claimed Mr Abbott was laying the groundwork to cut back the ABC's $1 billion annual funding. The Australian has reported on Thursday that the government could axe the ABC's Australia Network Asian broadcasting service in the May budget.
The network provides television services across the Asia-Pacific region, but also is used as a vehicle for ''soft diplomacy' - building goodwill overseas through news and entertainment.
But it was reported that that cabinet ministers believed the ABC's coverage of Australia in the region was overly negative and failed to promote the nation as originally intended in the Australia Network's charter.
In 2011, the Labor government permanently awarded the ABC the contract. Sky News had also bid for the contract.
Backbencher defends ABC
In his Facebook post, Liberal MP Mr Laundy said: ''I've been watching, with interest, arguments over the ABC and the quality of their coverage of different issues. Do I believe they should have aired the story re Indonesia - probably not. Do I believe they should have run the story about abuse claims re the Navy - definitely not.
''However - as a proud Liberal, they ABSOLUTELY have the right to do so without fear or favour. The best part of 'freedom of the press' is that you get a HUGE variety of views - just as you get in society.
''My advice to those who don't like the job the ABC are doing, my colleagues included, is to do what those living a democracy have been doing since ’Adam was a boy’....change the channel, the dial, or the website you visit.''
Mr Laundy told Fairfax Media on Thursday that he was prompted to make the post because he had been ''loving the debate'' about the national broadcaster, adding that constituents had been emailing him, both for and against the ABC.
He stressed that he was not criticising the Prime Minister’s comments, noting that Mr Abbott had qualified his remarks on Wednesday by saying ''a lot of people feel at the moment that the ABC instinctively takes everyone’s side but Australia's''.
Mr Laundy said that people had also expressed the similar sentiments to himself.
He also praised the Mr Abbott for passing on robust feedback from the community. ''Most Prime Ministers will go back into a shell,'' he said.
There was some confusion on Thursday morning that Mr Laundy had taken down his passionate Facebook post, after it started to gain attention. The Member for Reid, who was elected for the first time in September, said it had briefly been taken down by a staff member to correct some spelling and grammar errors.
Mr Laundy explained he did all his own posts and it was difficult to type on an iPhone.
MPs have a crack at the ABC
Coalition senator Ian Macdonald vigorously supported the Prime Minister’s criticism of the ABC on Thursday, noting that constituents asked him, ''when are you going to get rid of the ABC?''
In an interview with ABC radio, the Queensland LNP senator said it would be ''nice'' to see the ABC ''occasionally reporting the positives and giving some balance''.
When asked to give an example of unbalanced reporting, Senator Macdonald replied that it was not one incident, but a ''general approach'' of the broadcaster in Sydney and Melbourne.
''I find local radio very, very good,'' he added.
Senator Macdonald - who last year slammed Mr Abbott office for excessive control - said many people said to him that the ABC had a ''clear left-Green agenda''.
He said that the ABC went ''on and on about minor matters that are derogatory'', nominating the issue of climate change.
''You get weeks of a story that supports the view of ABC producers and some journalist on their view on climate change, and you get barely a whimper from the majority who understand that the climate does change,'' he said.
Mr Abbott also found support from NSW Nationals senator John Williams.
While Senator Williams praised the ABC as a ''great contributor'' to regional Australia through programs such as Country Hour, he rubbished recent ABC reports such as the allegations of Navy abuse and the SBY phone tapping.
''The ABC should think carefully before it puts out stories that are damaging to [Australia's] reputation,'' he told Fairfax Media on Wednesday.
ABC managing director Mark Scott declined to comment on Mr Abbott's remarks. Mr Scott has spoken to Mr Turnbull about the coverage of the claims asylum seekers suffered burns to their hands due to mistreatment by Australians.
The minister said, in his view, criticism of the story was justified and unfounded allegations had been given too much weight. ''I thought the allegations were beyond implausible, I thought they bordered on inconceivable,'' he said.
Former ABC managing director David Hill savaged Mr Abbott's comments against the ABC's perceived lack of patriotism. ''It's an absurd proposition, laughable if it wasn't so dangerous,'' he said.
''This is the first serious suggestion I know of, certainly in the last half a century, where a prime minister of the country is suggesting the Australian public be denied access to the truth, and the first time that a prime minister has seriously intimated that the ABC should censor and withhold information from the Australian public.''
Mr Hill, who led the ABC from 1986 to 1995, dismissed Mr Abbott's view that the ABC should have had more ''basic affection for the home team'' when it joined with the Guardian newspaper to release leaked intelligence on Australian spying on Indonesia, supplied by the American Edward Snowden.
''Is it really being suggested that the ABC, in possession of information, should keep the public in the dark? Is it really being suggested that, however unsavoury the information, the Australian public should not be told the truth … that the ABC should only broadcast news and information that portrays Australia in a favourable light … that the ABC should not have published the information that our intelligence agencies were tapping the phone of the Indonesian president's wife?''
ABC communications director Michael Millett said the email from the ABC reporter ''could have been better worded'' but it did not indicate that the ABC had second thoughts about its original report. Rather, it was further ''interrogating'' the claims, not taking a position one way or the other.
Mr Abbott told 2GB listeners: ''Look, you know, if there's credible evidence, the ABC, like all other news organisations, is entitled to report it, but you can't leap to be critical - you should not leap to be critical of your own country. And you ought to be prepared to give the Australian navy and its hard-working personnel the benefit of the doubt.''
Mr Abbott said that he wanted the ABC to focus on being a ''straight news gathering and news reporting organisation''.