ABC's lack of transparency must be stamped out

(First published in The Examiner 15 June 2021)

ABC – A Bit of Consistency?  If only.

Our national broadcaster (the ABC) has an important role to play and provides a vital service to us.

Yet our ABC, for which we pay well over $1000 million each and every year from our taxes, lets down itself and the Australian people.

The bias is palpable.  The hypocrisy unbearable.

The ABC is also part of the “Right to Know Coalition”, a group of media outlets insisting they should have relatively unfettered access to information and the right to report it. Listening to their advocacy at a hearing of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, you would be convinced butter wouldn’t melt in their mouth.

Fast forward to recent Senate hearings; the ABC had the audacity to claim a public interest immunity (the details of which have not yet been submitted) to avoid answering the question of why $55,000 of our taxpayers’ money was paid to an ABC employee – not as a salary but as a bonus!

Without even asking for the name, the denial of information was blocked at the most basic level of questioning of whether this outrageously high bonus was paid for journalistic endeavour or administrative skills.

Readers will recall the breathless reporting, including by the ABC, of the $3,000 Cartier watch bonuses provided at Australia Post because it was taxpayers’ money.  The silence at the ABC bonuses, the highest of which was $55,000, was truly deafening.

It is the same taxpayers’ money.

At Australia Post, we found out who got it and for what.

The ABC, which preaches transparency and the right to know, won’t tell us to whom or what for they paid a bonus worth about 18 Cartier watches to one person.

Senate hearings also revealed our taxpayers’ money to the ABC being diverted to pay $3,000 to a US Capitol Hill rioter who faces eight criminal charges and was known as a rioter to the ABC before he sold footage of the riot.  The moral compass?  Absent it would seem.  We are entitled to expect better from our national broadcaster. What’s more, US authorities have now confiscated monies earned by this rioter for the footage he took and sold.  Our taxes at work courtesy of the ABC.

This fellow was recorded on his own footage inciting the crowd encouraging the burning of the Capitol.  The ABC reports President Trump as being responsible for the riots and fails to mention that the person they contracted for the footage was actively inciting the crowd.  Hardly fair or reasonable, let alone open and transparent.

That aside, the recent Senate hearings also revealed a number of corrections and clarifications the ABC needed to make to various reports.  Fair enough. We all make errors.

But if all the errors are on one side of the ledger, the uninitiated and naïve might be forgiven for thinking there might be an issue of systemic bias.

The corrections and clarifications in recent times were all in relation to reports initially putting the federal government and its programmes in a poor light. No such corrections and clarifications were necessary for accidentally putting the government and its programmes into too positive a light.

Previous questioning about corrections to stories relating to areas as diverse as forestry and Israel showed all the errors were on the side of portraying both in too negative a light. Not once accidentally putting forestry or Israel in too positive a light.  Surely, we the taxpayers’ bankrolling the ABC deserve better.

Conservatives tend to be supportive of our truly renewable forestry sector.  They also tend to support the only liberal democracy which also believes in the rule of law in the Middle East – Israel.

In relation to Israel, the ABC broadcast stories asserting war crimes emanating from the UN which the UN later clarified as being incorrect.  So far, so good. 

Instead of airing the correction emanating from the UN, the story was simply corrected/clarified online. So all of us who listen or view the news as we are driving or making dinner and don’t go online to check for corrections were never advised of the truth.

At the time when questioned, the ABC advised it gave an on-air correction for accidentally misattributing a particular piece of music to the wrong composer.

An error so egregious it was worthy of an on-air correction the next day.

Vital to set the record straight on such a matter of importance. 

Yet, trivial issues such as alleging war crimes against a friendly nation are seemingly not worthy of similar treatment.  In an era of growing extreme right-wing activism and anti-Semitism, this is particularly concerning.

Let’s hope our ABC becomes A Bit more Credible.

About Eric

Eric Abetz has been a Liberal Senator for Tasmania since 1994 and has served in a range of Leadership, Ministerial and Shadow Ministerial roles.

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