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Thursday, 5 July 2018

Another brick in the wall: Liberal efforts to trash the ABC

Last month, at a Liberal Party conference delegates voted overwhelmingly to privatise the ABC, the national broadcaster. This step has for years been part of the policy platform advocated by the Institute of Public Affairs, a conservative think tank that is partly funded by Rupert Murdoch. Now, the Nauru government, probably at the instigation of Australian authorities, has said it will not make a valid visa for journalists from the ABC in advance of the upcoming Pacific Islands Forum to be held on the island.

The Australian government in essence is the main source of income for Nauru, where refugee internment camps have been operated on behalf of Australia for decades. The refugee offshore incarceration policy is part of the patty platform for both the Liberal-National coalition and the Australian Labor Party, but not for the Austrian Greens. Many people in the community are angry about the government’s continued neglect of refugees who have tried to come to Australia by boat, but who have been kept in limbo in tents on Nauru for years.

In response to the Nauru government’s ABC ban, the majority of Australian media outlets have said that they will not make journalists available to visit Nauru to cover the forum, with the exception of News Corp, which has said it will make journalists available to attend. The owner of News Corp is, of course, the same Rupert Murdoch who has been pushing for years to have the ABC privatised in order to enable his media properties in Australia to more effectively influence public debate. The National Broadband Network, which would have competed with his cable-TV properties, has already been neutered by his mates in the Liberal Party.

Yesterday at 8.02pm, Peter Greste, the journalist who was imprisoned in Egypt following accusations of aiding terrorists, after he had been in touch with the Muslim Brotherhood, the political party that the country’s junta has banned because it offers unwanted competition, got online to support the ABC. He tweeted:
I urge News Corp to stand in solidarity for the sake of media freedom. No government should be hand picking only the reporters they like and blocking those they don’t to get favourable coverage. I know where that leads.
His tweet had gone up in response to another one, from the Daily Telegraph’s Sharri Markson, who had tweeted in the morning of the same day:
News Corp does not support this ludicrous ban by the press gallery on covering a PM's trip to Nauru simply because an ABC cameraman cannot go. So, you can read all the news from the trip in News Corp papers, like @dailytelegraph and @australian but no where [sic] else.
News Corp is notorious for flaunting community expectations that it finds “too-PC”. Its sister outfit, Sky News, gave airtime to disgraced federal senator David Leyonhjelm after he had publicly slut-shamed Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young in Parliament. A junior staffer at the station was stood down in the wake of public outcry after the shoe screened. The meme “Sky News After Dark” appeared on Twitter from gonzo journalist John Birmingham to characterise the TV station’s tendency to plug an extreme ideological line that is at variance with the neutral and unbiased approach that the ABC uses in its coverage. The conservative government cannot stomach the ABC because it operates to bring attention to its extreme policies.

The ABC is an essential component of democracy in Australia. It brings people on the left and right together in one place where they can discuss issues in a respectful and considerate way. This is quite at odds with the way that Murdoch properties operate with their shrill headlines and incendiary editorials that demonise minorities and turn their noses up at such things as science. The ABC gives back to the community much more than the $1 billion that it costs each year to run, and it also sponsors avant-garde drama and comedy that would be too “difficult” for any of the lame commercial networks to run.

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