All media attention has been focused on Ita Buttrose as the likely candidate for the ABC chair position left by Justin Milne after he resigned. Likely because she was praised by Scott Morrison this week as the list of candidates for the job was shortlisted to three people. The only problem is, Buttrose was not on the panel’s shortlist. (Spot the joke: Morrison was concerned no women were on the shortlist. Hint, he is the joke.)
This is not a surprising occurrence – Media Watch’s Paul Barry was quick to fire out on Twitter accusing the government of, for the third time, ignoring the panel’s candidates and simply putting in place a choice of their own. The immediate issue this highlights is how the ABC’s independence is again being dwindled down to a token level, and that the Coalition continues to use the ABC to drift support towards them, or at least downplay criticism of them.
In a previous piece I stated how we needed to maintain a public broadcaster, but also that it defiantly remains public and independent from political interference. Sadly, while not as obvious as services like TeleSUR or Al Jazeera (in Latin America and Qatar respectively), the ABC has inevitably become more beholden to our current government. This has been a slow shift, exacerbated by budget cuts and the looming threat of privatisation.
A somewhat predictable outcome of all of that is the fact that a surprising number of Australians seem to believe that the ABC is left-leaning. Despite a number of government (note, government, Coalition) inquiries proving otherwise, the myth that the ABC is biased lives on. If it weren’t so disheartening, one would laugh at the comments accusing the ABC of that strangely undefined cultural Marxism, or the calls of privatisation on Facebook by people with pirates as their profile picture. This may seem contradictory – accusations of a left-wing bias while actually edging towards the right. But that’s just a shining example of how propaganda works.
I would certainly prefer an ABC run by a Coalition picked candidate than see it totally privatised and tossed, but it leaves a bitter taste and demands action to keep it independent. It is that carefully crafted narrative of a ‘left-wing’ ABC, however, that still gives pretext to wanting it privatised, at least in the minds of those who buy such theories. In the case of Ita Buttrose, it’s a hit and miss scenario. Yes, she has extensive history in the media and is quite well known, but she has previously had roles in the Murdoch press and the commercial stations (Channels 7, 9 and 10), all of which have benefitted greatly from the government in various ways, and would benefit more with the dumbing down of the ABC as a (to use Hywood’s term) ‘competitor’. I can’t speak for everyone, but having quality ABC reporting and entertainment as a competitor is a good thing – maybe the commercial channels won’t spout shit likes MAFS.
What I find most unbelievable, however, isn’t that the government is ignoring the panel again, but that they get to make this choice at all. For two reasons, the first being, again, independence – the ABC should be entrusted to make decisions that are for the benefit of the public. Secondly, the likelihood of the Coalition remaining in government after the election in May is miniscule. To have a Prime Minister, who was not (to relay it in a basic sense) elected but fell into the role, select a permanent member of any important board is absurd. Praising Buttrose and, if he does, choosing her to take on the role is a great election stunt to appear diverse while throwing one last ‘gotcha’ at the public broadcaster.
I may just be being overly cynical and doubting Buttrose, but anyone handpicked by Morrison immediately piques my suspicions about the future of the ABC. I find myself in agreement with Paul Barry when he questions the decisions being made by the Coalition, especially so close to an election.
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