Conflicted guests compromise the ABC’s standards

THE Australian Broadcasting Corporation is a government-funded entity which operates on the lines of the BBC. It provides some of the better media content in the country, but this is not surprising since the standards of the rest are abysmally low. Murdoch-owned media constitute about 70 per cent of the country’s industry – that should say it all.

Given that it lives off the taxpayer, the ABC has many rules and regulations that govern its operations. It is meant to be accountable. But, then politicians are also meant to be accountable. And both often get away with blue murder.

The ABC’s arrogance is visible on occasion, though for the most part it hides behind the weasel words that are so much a part of public life today. The following incident will illustrate the level of contempt the corporation – living off the public teat, in case one has forgotten – shows.

On Friday, the local morning programme on the ABC in Melbourne has a segment called The Friday Wrap. It is a lazy attempt to consume time — after all, this means one does not have to think up a fresh idea to fill half an hour of a three-hour program — and in the manner of a dog returning to its vomit, attempts to look at politics during the week that has gone by.

There is a strange obsession with “balance” in Australia and the ABC’s charter insists on this. So, we have guests who come in to comment, guests who have to be from both sides of the divide, left and right. Given that the guests who appear on The Wrap are more political than politicians, it would probably be better to invite the politicians themselves.

But, no, that would be obvious. And the ABC likes to appear impartial. So the host Jon Faine has two people, one a lawyer named Liberty Sanger, and the other a talking head from the Institute of Public Affairs, to provide comment.

With an election around the corner, any discussion on politics can influence people one way or the other. Hence it is necessary to know the biases which guests on a segment such as this have.

Sanger is married to David Feeney, a member of the Australian Labor Party’s right-wing faction. Feeney is better known as being one of the so-called “faceless men” who helped to topple an elected prime minister, Kevin Rudd, in June 2010.

For his role in helping to guillotine Rudd, and put Julia Gillard in power, Feeney has been rewarded with a safe seat to contest in the forthcoming general election – he will be in parliament during the three years beginning from 2014. (Gillard has now been toppled herself and will retire from politics at the next election.)

The IPA is more or less an extension of the Liberal Party, the main right-wing political party in the country. It receives funds from tobacco companies and mining companies – and yet is often allowed to shamelessly spruik for these industries.

The important thing is that these affiliations were not disclosed before the segment began. Conflicts of interest are supposed to be declared.

Faine allowed Sanger to comment on pre-selections for the lower-house seat of Lalor in Melbourne which is being vacated by Gillard. The fact that one of the people vying for preselection, Kimberley Kitching, had been a bridesmaid at Sanger’s wedding was a fact that Faine kept from his viewers. How can one comment on an issue when one is so hopelessly conflicted? (Kitching has now withdrawn from the race to contest the seat.)

But Faine kept silent and gave his guests free reign.

Just a day prior to that, Faine had rightly eviscerated another would-be candidate for Lalor, Lisa Clutterham, exposing the fact that she had absolutely no connection with the area. In other words, Faine can show some rigour in his method when he wants.

But he is clearly inclined to let some people have their way on the program which he controls. If he wants to retain the credibility he has, then full disclosure is advised.


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