30 November 2013

Our ABC: a stultifying and intellectually unadventurous conformity to enforce a billion dollars' worth of narrow, left-wing ideology

From: The Australian, November 30, 2013, by: Greg Sheridan:
 
Spy story shows ABC at its left-wing worst
 
THE ABC emerges from the Indonesian spy scandal a diminished organisation, morally compromised and journalistically discredited. The problem is not that the ABC published stories which contained confidential national security information. Every decent media organisation does that from time to time.         
The problem is actually the reverse. The ABC did not behave as a credible media organisation.
Credible media organisations do not act as the handmaidens of competitor news organisations to amplify and dramatise their competitors' scoops. They may well report on those scoops, but the ABC did something altogether different.
It emerges as an organisation lacking effective accountability and with a leadership that is hopelessly confused and amateurish about how to behave when dealing with serious national security issues. It also emerges as an organisation effectively driven by a specific, narrow ideological worldview, and by the obsessions which emanate from that ideology.
The ABC presents itself as the beacon of courageous journalism in Australia. The problem with this episode is not only that it involved absolutely no courage. It also involved absolutely no journalism.
When the ABC first announced on air the scoop that the Australian Defence Signals Directorate in 2009 tapped the phone of Indonesia's President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, his wife and some of his senior associates, it presented this scoop as coming in substantial part from an ABC investigation.
But this investigation consisted of nothing more than giving the Guardian website its email address so the Guardian could send it the documents.
The Guardian newspaper in Britain has received a vast trove of secret intelligence documents stolen by Edward Snowden from the US National Security Agency. Snowden was a contractor for the NSA who worked as a systems administrator. The documents he stole represent one of the greatest assaults on Western intelligence in modern history. They are savagely damaging to the interests of the US and of its allies. They are particularly damaging to Australia. And The Guardian is apparently sorting through this vast amount of material and passing the Australian-related documents to the Guardian website in Australia.
What the ABC has decided to do has nothing to do with journalism as conventionally understood. Instead the ABC has decided to turn itself into the Australian broadcast arm of the Snowden/Guardian axis, to use every relevant part of its vast government-funded resources to promote The Guardian's scoop. This is not an act of journalism. This is an act of ideological commitment. It is an act of propaganda.
People could very easily die as a direct result of the ABC's decision. This is not inevitable, nor even the most likely outcome. But it is a serious possibility.
How so?
First, if the Indonesians seriously cut back on their efforts to disrupt people-smuggling, it is almost inevitable that a lot more boats will leave Indonesia for Australia. We know a proportion of those boats will sink and their sad human cargo drown at sea. We know 1100 people or more have perished that way already.
Second, if the Indonesians suspend the intimate counter-terrorist co-operation they have had with Australia, especially with the Australian Federal Police, it is more likely some terrorist plots will not be intercepted and will instead be successful. Nearly 100 Australians have died in terrorist attacks in Indonesia in the past 12 years. Many Indonesians have similarly died. Anyone with any familiarity with this field knows Australian co-operation with Indonesia has been central to uncovering plots, tracking terrorists and securing convictions. ABC commentators were among the many who, after the Bali bombings, denounced as an intelligence failure the inability of Australian authorities to predict these events.
A third way people could die is this. The political atmosphere created by these revelations makes it harder for an Indonesian president to exercise clemency for Australians on death row in Indonesia, by no means impossible, but more difficult. This is very grim, but it is true.
These are hard realities and a full comprehension of all their implications informs any serious journalist dealing with national security revelations.
Nonetheless, in general we are prepared to risk even the loss of life in the interests of a free media. That is the sort of hard but correct decision democratic societies make. But the ABC did not act as part of the free media.
It presumably is no coincidence that The Guardian's scoop fits so perfectly into the ABC's distorted, ideological world view.
We know this from the comments of the ABC managing director, Mark Scott, and those of Kate Torney, director of ABC News.
Scott and Torney have indicated their view that they have exposed a scandal, that the intelligence leaks reveal something wrong and reprehensible by Australia, akin to a criminal conspiracy.
This is monumentally wrong, and an unnecessary position to take in defence of publishing confidential material. But you have to believe the core ABC ideology is that there is something inherently wicked about Australian intelligence activities.
In fact all Australian intelligence agencies operate under specific legislation. They are extremely careful to operate within Australian law.
Here are some of Scott's remarks justifying the ABC's actions to a Senate estimates committee:
"There are a number of questions raised by this material. One is the nature and extent of intelligence activities undertaken by Australia. A second one is how those intelligence activities and the information gleaned is shared - and then how secure that information is."
Scott had a clear disposition to regard what the ABC had revealed as scandalous. He further commented: "(US) Senator Kerry said that the intelligence activities had reached too far and that some of that activity was on automatic pilot because the technology was there."
So far this is the sort of mild left liberalism, ABC ideology-lite, which Scott specialises in.
He then went on, however, to make a bizarre comparison:
"Yes, I appreciate that the release of some of this material might be embarrassing and that the release of some of this material may cause some difficulties in the Australia-Indonesia relationship in the short term. But, to draw a parallel with another story, the reporting that was done on the activities of the Australian Wheat Board certainly caused embarrassment and damage to Australia in the short term. But I think we would say that that reporting was absolutely in the public interest - and it was probably also in the national interest in the long term."
This is truly a grotesque thing for Scott to say. The AWB story centred on allegations that Australian officials had paid bribes or kickbacks to the regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq to secure commercial advantage. There is not the slightest, remotest comparison to the lawful activities of Australian intelligence agencies.
This is a tremendous insult to the dedicated men and women of the Australian intelligence services.
Not only that, it gives a clue to the kind of sub-Noam Chomsky, John Pilger, Guardian ideology which permeates so much ABC discussion. Though seldom made specific, this ideology holds that the very nature of Western societies and especially state power structures is somehow immoral or inherently to be opposed.
The way the ABC has behaved on this story has shocked many non-partisan national security officials in Australia. The ABC refused to redact the majority of the material which the intelligence agencies asked it to in the interests of national security. Any serious national security journalist has written or broadcast stories the government of the day is unhappy about. I certainly have, many times. But responsible journalists are also normally willing to leave unpublished the elements which will hurt the national interest most.
The ABC's decision to publish on its website so many original DSD slides is a case in point. Many times a media outlet writes or broadcasts a story quoting such documents without publishing them.
But the rank enthusiasm of the ABC in this story suggests it will go to great lengths to prosecute its endless war against the dark forces of conservative Australia.

Torney was in some ways even more revealing than Scott. In connection with the Indonesian spy story she wrote:
"It is rare that any story about potential abuse of power fails to result in repercussions and damage to reputations and relationships. It is easy to forget that it is the original act that is the problem and not the fact that it was brought to light."
So there you have it. Australian intelligence activities directed at Indonesia, activities which have surely saved Australian and indeed Indonesian lives, are, without any specific supporting analysis, an "abuse of power".
Torney's undergraduate leftism is so egregious, and yet apparently all unconscious, that it leads her to a statement so ridiculous you can barely imagine an adult making it.
Every considerable nation in the world maintains intelligence services. Virtually all of them direct some intelligence gathering at foreign targets. Absolutely all of this would be embarrassing if made public.
It is absolutely not "the original act" which causes the problem, but the "fact that it was brought to light".
Torney's apparent view, that Western and specifically Australian intelligence activities constitute an abuse of power, is in fact the corporate ABC view.
If the ABC brought such matters to light through its own journalistic efforts it would probably be forgivable corporate and journalistic egotism for it to highlight this.
But in this case the ABC was acting for a foreign, anti-Western axis of a committed left-wing newspaper and an espionage traitor.
It is unclear why Australian taxpayers need to pay $1.1 billion of their money to support these activities.
The ABC is a public broadcaster, financed by taxes paid by all Australians. Half those Australians, more or less, vote centre Right, and half, more or less, vote centre Left.
But the ABC's worldview runs entirely from centre Left to far Left.
The ABC does vigorously criticise both the Labor Party and the Coalition, though very seldom the Greens. But as Gerard Henderson has pointed out with devastating force, it criticises both sides of Australian politics from the Left.
Take almost any contentious contemporary issue. Asylum-seekers is a good one. I have never heard an ABC presenter ask a politician a question based on the premise that too many illegal immigrants are coming to Australia by boat and that this will have deleterious effects on Australia. ABC presenters ask many tough questions on this issue, but always from the point of view that tough policies to stop boats are inhumane, and morally objectionable. Yet the vast majority of Australians vote for parties which support such tough policies.
The same is true of climate change, where former ABC chairman Maurice Newman has accused the ABC of group-think.
It is not that every ABC commentator needs to reflect the majority Australian view, but the fact that none of them does that signifies the problem of the narrow, orthodox, ideological worldview which governs virtually the whole of the ABC.
This also has expression in those outside commentators the ABC chooses to make stars. David Marr is the ABC ideal. He has worked at Fairfax, the ABC itself and now The Guardian. He is a committed man of the Left who hates conservative views and conservative Australia. Yet every pamphlet he writes is treated as a new book of holy scripture by the ABC. His scabrous pamphlet on Tony Abbott, replete with factual errors, earned him a worshipful interview with Emma Alberici on Lateline.
This week when the Abbott government criticised China for provocative actions in the East China Sea, the ABC went to its favourite strategic commentator, Hugh White, not only for its national radio current affairs flagship, PM, but for Lateline as well.
White suits the ABC because in his view everything is America's fault and Canberra's mistake is to align itself too closely with Washington. But in the whole of Australia is there really only one strategic commentator the ABC can find?
The same thing applies with Tim Flannery and all the other ABC pets.
Because the ABC spends hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayer money on current affairs TV and radio, it naturally dominates this area. It is impossible for a commercial organisation, which must make a profit, to contest that space.
Now the ABC's move into online publishing is further corrupting its proper role in two main ways. First, it is again providing unfair competition to everybody else. It is plain socialism for the government to run a business in competition with existing private businesses. By its nature the government engages in predatory pricing and tends towards monopoly.
And second, the online space encourages all ABC personalities to become opinion writers, which further diminishes the tiny residual discipline in the ABC about fairness, impartiality, or the distinction between fact and opinion, or between the normal restraints which should apply to any activity conducted with taxpayers' money.
The ABC's dominance in Australia does not aid diversity of views. It fosters a stultifying and intellectually unadventurous conformity.
One question out of the Indonesian spy scandal is whether the ABC intends to continue as the propaganda arm of the Snowden/Guardian axis.
Another is whether we taxpayers are wisely using our money to enforce a billion dollars' worth of conformist, narrow, left-wing ideology.