Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Australia's ABC makes no secret of bias

Gavin Atkins

FOLLOWING the recent anti-carbon tax protests, the editor of The Drum, the ABC's opinion website, contacted me looking to commission an article.

Jonathan Green had first gone to Twitter to try to find someone to write a story from the perspective of the carbon tax protesters but come up empty.

He eventually tracked me down, but it's telling that none of his regular contributors or 7000 Twitter followers could help him accommodate the views held by 60 per cent of Australians. I suspect the reason he was so keen to get the story is once my article had appeared he was off the hook.

The ABC opinion website is not compelled by editorial policies to demonstrate any form of balance but merely to provide a "range of subjects from a diversity of perspectives".

At The Drum, one conservative opinion is all it requires to legitimise a dozen from the Left. Take, for example, the death of Osama bin Laden. Since his death, Drum readers have been provided with pretty much the same opinion every day from a total of nine writers: it was an extrajudiciary killing; the US was working outside the rule of law; celebrations of his death were disgraceful.

One of these writers, Greg Barns, went so far as to appear on The Drum's television show to express doubt that bin Laden was responsible for 9/11.

Two contributors were eventually published wishing good riddance to bad rubbish, enough for the ABC to claim it has provided a diversity of perspectives, and publish another brace of tales from the hand-wringers.

But it is ridiculous to assert, as the ABC's chief executive Mark Scott did following the launch of the ABC's editorial policies in 2006, that this fulfils an expectation that "audiences must not be able to reasonably conclude that the ABC has taken an editorial stand on matters of contention and public debate".

The real measure of bias at The Drum is not the range of opinion, it's the frequency. Until the end of last month, 98 writers had been published eight or more times at The Drum, producing a total of 1880 articles. Only eight of these contributors (one in 12) would pass muster as being on the right of the political spectrum: Glenn Milne, David Barnett, Chris Berg, Kevin Donnelly, Tom Switzer, John Hewson, Niki Savva and Sinclair Davidson.

Of these, Milne is first and foremost a journalist rather than an opinion writer, Hewson rarely expresses any conservative viewpoint, and others are specialists in areas such as education or economics rather than political issues of the day.

This means, for example, that of all the writers who are given a regular platform on the ABC website, I could find only four articles that were in some way supportive of Israel and none in favour of the war in Afghanistan.

By comparison, there are dozens of anti-Israel and anti-Afghan war pieces on the taxpayer-funded website, most of them accusatory and damning. For example, there are at least nine anti-Israel articles by Antony Loewenstein alone, 12 anti-Afghanistan war rants by Kellie Tranter, and many more from Labor Party speechwriter Bob Ellis scattered among his 110 contributions

Similarly, among the regular contributors to The Drum, there have been more than 20 articles critical of farmers on the Murray-Darling Basin, and none that I can find in support.

A few people were unearthed to write from the point of view of the farmers, so the ABC may now claim to have shown a range of perspectives but, like me, the editor would have had to search for them, and there will be no plans for these people to contribute again to The Drum any time soon.

Compared with a tally of at least 50 stories sympathetic to the plight of asylum-seekers, there does not appear to be a single article from one of the top 98 contributors advocating the border protection policies of the Coalition.

When asylum-seekers drowned at Christmas Island, there were no conservatives available at The Drum to question the policies that lured them here in the first place, only the usual queue of regulars writing from their default setting of confected moral indignation.

Think of just about any other issue that divides the Right and Left - say, David Hicks, nuclear energy or the National Broadband Network - and you will find reams of left-leaning group-think at The Drum. Thanks to its regular writers, this bias is structural and predictable. But it doesn't stop there. The Drum has started up a Twitter round-up on ABC online while question time is on in the House of Representatives. These efforts by a clubby group of left-leaning journalists, have been dominated by Green's former workmates at the Crikey website, including Green himself and Crikey contributors.

While the ABC's internet sites attract more than 25 million hits a month, a big concern is all of this frivolous online activity appears to be distracting our public broadcaster from giving us the news. The ABC is coy about exactly how much we are paying contributors to The Drum, saying only that the innovations division of which it is a part cost taxpayers nearly $10 million last financial year.

In the meantime, significant problems with the ABC's news have been exposed. ABC News 24 missed most of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami on the day it occurred and ABC1 failed to cut into regular programming as the news broke about bin Laden.

Now here's a radical idea: if the ABC concentrated on giving us the news instead of this online puffery, it could help solve two problems at once.


"Asylum-seeker" influx sees Australia's detention costs rocket

THE influx of asylum-seekers by boat into Australia has led to an explosion in the costs of running the nation's immigration detention centres, blowing out previous budget allocations by more than $1 billion.

The costs of running offshore processing, primarily on the Christmas Island detention centre, have forced the government to spend $290 million extra in the current financial year, but the estimated blowout for offshore detention will skyrocket by $819m next financial year and total just over $1bn by the end of 2013-14.

Between the next financial year and the end of 2014-15, the government estimates it will have spent $2.5bn on offshore processing.

Running onshore detention centres, such as the troubled Villawood facility in Sydney, has cost the government $88m this year, bringing the total cost of running Australia's detention centres to about $788m in 2010-11.

The total cost for the program in the upcoming financial year will be $1.05bn for offshore processing and $90m for onshore processing.

In 2012-13 the total program cost of offshore centres will reach $677m, and the government will spend $401m in 2013-14. The government expects offshore costs to decline to $366m in 2014-15.

But signals point to the government opening more offshore processing centres with the costs associated with onshore processing remaining stable. Spending on onshore detention will decline over the next four years from previous expectations by about $10m.

The government has been in talks with Papua New Guinea over the possibility of reopening the Manus Island detention centre to deal with the influx, after the centre was closed down under the Rudd government.

The increasing price tag does not include costs associated with the new $300m Malaysian refugee exchange policy announced by the Prime Minister before the budget. Nor does it include $129m set aside for extra costs associated with building new centres and expanding facilities at Northam, Christmas Island, Darwin and Curtin detention centres.

The Department of Immigration will bear the brunt of the blowout with $200m set to be cut from the department in the next four years. According to the budget papers, the cuts will be achieved by "reducing expenditure on corporate support, policy and program design and service delivery function".

There will be an extra $107.7m provided over the next four years devoted specifically to fighting legal appeals to offshore arrivals.

Last year the High Court ruled that offshore arrivals should be given the benefit of offshore review, and the funds will be used to increase the number of reviewers and appeals hearings.

Yesterday a spokesman for Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said the increased costs in offshore processing flowed from the expectation of new arrivals over the coming years, but said they would decline with the introduction of the Malaysian agreement.


MP proposes tough love for prisoners, saying prisons 'like hotels'

Mr McLindon is the sole representative of his party so will not have much influence. But he represents a rural electorate so some LNP people might take up his ideas

PRISONERS would have to go without air-conditioners, 24/7 electricity and porn in a proposed new "tough love" approach.

Following an inspection of the Townsville Men's and Women's Correctional Centres, the Queensland Party will today propose new restrictions to be placed on prisoners across the state. Leader of the Queensland Party, Aidan McLindon, will make these suggestions to Parliament today, including that prisoners be put on the same medical waiting lists as other Queenslanders.

"I spent four hours touring the facility and saw that prisoners had access to electricity, air conditioning and the latest DVDs along with stockpiles of pornos," said Mr McLindon. "It is no wonder that there is a 70 per cent re-offending rate in Townsville.

"Additionally, offenders have direct and instant access to medical treatment while everyday Queenslanders are left waiting for years."

Mr McLindon said the Queensland Party are looking to end the "easy living conditions" and replace them with "tough love". "Prisons are becoming hotels whilst the prison guards act as nothing less than glorified room service," Mr McLindon said.

"Queensland prison guards are doing the very best they can under these ludicrous circumstances and somebody has to lift the lid on this stupidity."


"Chief scientist": I'm a lobbyist

If anyone was under any illusions about the true role of government chief scientists, this interview with the new occupant of that role in the Australian civil service should dispel them.
Science advocate

Chubb says that he will be a proactive lobbyist for science, helping the government and the public to appreciate the role of science in coping with the major challenges facing society. Doing this, he says, should help to insulate science from budget cuts. "If we can get science and its value to the community sufficiently high up the priority list," he says, "the job should be half-made each year before you go into bat for specifics."

Commendable honesty, but why on earth should scientists have their own lobbists on the inside of government? This reminds me of the recent scandals here in the UK, where healthcare trusts were revealed to be paying for union reps out of the public purse. Paying for union reps and paying for lobbyists does not seem materially different to me. Either way, these recipients of all this public largesse are not working for the benefit of the people but for themselves and their pals.

I wonder if [Britain's] Sir John Beddington also sees himself as a union rep for the scientific community who just happens to be paid out of public coffers?


1 comment:

Paul said...

Electricity and porn? Let the good times roll!

Seriously though, the indigenous rate of incarceration makes them 78% of the prison population, and rape and sexual assault is a common cause of that incarceration. Something is seriously wrong here.