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  • Analysis, Opinion, Telecommunications - Written by on Monday, June 2, 2014 15:14 - 60 Comments

    The ABC must now deal with its NBN problem

    nbn-turnbull-van-badham

    opinion Over the past month, the evidence has become overwhelming that the ABC is actively censoring coverage of the National Broadband Network issue in a way that runs counter to the public interest. The broadcaster must now face the issue squarely and deal with it head-on, or run the risk of losing credibility with its highly informed and vocal audience.

    If you’ve been reading Delimiter’s coverage over the past month relating to the ABC’s editorial approach to the National Broadband Network issue, you may have noticed a rather stark difference between this specific series of articles and Delimiter’s usual fare.

    Usually, when I publish detailed news articles on Delimiter, I include a separate section of content at the end of each straight news article separately labelled as ‘opinion/analysis’. I do this because it allows me to add context, insight and background to stories — as well as my own opinion about the facts — while still encouraging me to keep opinion and analysis separate. Readers like the format as well, and it provokes discussion.

    However, with respect to Delimiter’s recent articles about the ABC, I completely avoided this format, sticking to straight news. There was a very good reason why I did this.

    While I don’t like everything the ABC does (I can’t stand Chris Lilley, for example), and I have some of the usual independent publisher quibbles about some of its funding, I am a huge fan of much of the broadcaster’s content. I have been watching Media Watch for a decade. I try and catch up on 7:30 and Lateline before I hit the sack every night. Despite its flaws, I still watch Q&A regularly. And I also daily read and sometimes contribute to The Drum. Like most people who live and die on Australia’s news cycle, I have always considered the ABC a core part of my daily bread and butter media consumption.

    Before I began writing the series of articles on the ABC’s NBN coverage, I had been receiving requests from readers to analyse the topic for quite a few months, as well as information from sources about the situation. In addition, as an avid consumer of the ABC’s journalism, I had been independently aware that it rarely focused on the NBN. Like others, I had noted the regular escapes which Shadow- and then Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull had been making with respect to NBN questions, and the lack of depth in the ABC’s NBN coverage in general.

    However, I had previously viewed this as an anomaly rather than as a strong trend, and I didn’t want to dive head-first into slamming our national broadcaster at a time when it already had more than enough problems to deal with. So I avoided investigating the issue for some time.

    At a certain point in late April, however, the evidence that the ABC was actively censoring the NBN topic from being discussed on some of its shows became overwhelming. Behind the scenes and on the night, commentator Van Badham made every attempt possible to ensure that Turnbull would face questions on the 28 April episode of Q&A about the NBN. For her efforts, she was shut down live on air — twice, in front of a stupefied audience which wanted the discussion to progress.

    Following these events, and given the background information I already had, I really had no choice but to investigate the ABC’s coverage of the NBN. The evidence had been stacked up right in front of my eyes that something disturbing was going on, and many readers were repeatedly requesting that I stick my nose in. Even at that stage, however, I still maintained a lot of faith in the ABC and didn’t want to undercut one of the only mainstream media organisations which has actually covered the NBN in any objective sense at all.

    So I made the decision to avoid publishing opinion and analysis about the situation until the whole situation became clear. Given the contentious nature of the topic and the close relationship the ABC has with its many fans, as well as my personal feelings on the topic, I wanted to merely present the evidence that I was able to gather about the situation and let people decide for themselves about whether there was a “conspiracy” at the ABC to censor the NBN topic or not.

    The disturbing outcome from that approach is that it has gradually painted a picture which is even worse for the broadcaster than if I had been railing at the ABC with my own opinion from the start. The sheer bald facts of the matter are inescapable and rather shocking when collated together. They are as follows:

    • Malcolm Turnbull has appeared on the ABC’s flagship discussion show Q&A 12 times since he was appointed Shadow Communications Minister. He has faced extended questions on the NBN (his main policy area) just once. On all other occasions, the host has actively shut down the topic or avoided it completely.
    • The ABC’s flagship current affairs show 7:30 hasn’t covered the NBN at all in 2014, and covered it only sporadically and in a shallow fashion in 2013, ignoring almost all the ongoing criticism of the Coalition’s highly unpopular and damaging NBN policy.
    • Where other ABC flagships such as Lateline have covered the NBN, they have sometimes let Turnbull somewhat off the hook, such as when host Tony Jones failed to ask Turnbull about NBN Co’s decision to turf three of its most senior and competent executives on the day he was interviewed.
    • Where the NBN has been covered in detail by the ABC, it appears mainly to have been the efforts of individual passionate journalists which has spurred such coverage. However, those reporters have been sequentially deterred from pursuing that coverage. Emma Alberici had her pro-NBN article delayed until after the Federal Election, when its impact would be severely diminished. Nick Ross is popularly believed to have been silenced after his Media Watch debut. And Jake Sturmer was simply reassigned.

    The degree to which the ABC is aware of the criticism of its NBN coverage was demonstrated last week by the fact that its managing director Mark Scott turned up to Senate Estimates prepared with statistics showing how many NBN articles it had published over the past eight months (see Part 1 and Part 2 of his appearance on YouTube). However, the executive’s misleading statement to the Senate about the issue of Turnbull’s appearances on Q&A did much to undercut the high ground Scott was attempting to take, whether it was inadvertent or deliberate.

    (I’ve asked the ABC whether Scott will retract his inaccurate statement to the Senate that Turnbull has fielded NBN questions on Q&A on “very many” occasions. The answer was a flat “No comment”.)

    And already speculation is flying around that many of the “150″ NBN stories Scott boasted of were merely small articles relating to NBN Co’s rural NBN rollout, or straight news pieces regarding ministerial announcements. The deep analytical pieces of content on that list are likely to be few and far between.

    With the facts out there now, and most having had their chance to examine them, I felt it might be time this week to make my own opinion on the situation known.

    My first position is that I agree with Mark Scott when he says that there is no “conspiracy” at the ABC to censor coverage of the NBN. I’ve seen no evidence of a group of white, middle-aged men in a basement room fielding phone calls from Malcolm Turnbull and discussing how the ABC can better align with the doublespeak that Australia’s increasingly powerful Murdochracy is adept at delivering.

    I personally suspect there are two main reasons why the NBN censorship is occurring, both of them rather obvious. The first and most pernicious one is that senior ABC figures are doubtless leery of letting the broadcaster strongly criticise its own portfolio Minister over one of his other government projects. Doing so resulted in strong criticism from Turnbull in Opposition; one can only imagine how the Member for Wentworth would react in Government. Despite claiming to be a “friend” of the ABC, Turnbull has lost none of his bile as a Minister.

    Secondly, I suspect that most of the ABC’s editorial staff consider the NBN to be an unpopular topic which they, and the majority of Australia’s population, find hard to understand. Certainly Lateline and Q&A host Tony Jones appears to lack the specific interest in the topic which his colleague Emma Alberici clearly evinces. Unlike most major news organisations, the ABC employs almost no dedicated specialist technology journalists to aid with this understanding.

    (This results in a sometimes hilarious lack of expertise at the organisation. I often receive requests for information via email from ABC journalists across all its platforms who want me to provide expert commentary to their audience — something that doesn’t happen with other media organisations. Just last week a producer from one of the flagship TV shows mentioned in this article asked me for my views on password security — an issue that has been covered to death over the past decade. Few journalists at the ABC appear to understand how to deal with the technology sector or how to find an expert to comment on any kind of technology issues. I responded by pointing out that the NBN was a significantly more important issue and that they should look into that instead …)

    But at this point, it hardly matters. No matter what the reasons are, and no matter what’s going on behind the scenes, it remains accurate to say that the facts are that the ABC is censoring coverage of the NBN on its flagship outlets.

    Journalists at the broadcaster — even journalists as senior as Alberici — are just not free to openly and honestly write what they think about the NBN, without carefully considering the political ramifications for the broadcaster and, perhaps, their own career. And I am personally quite disturbed to discover that fact.

    My opinion is that this situation cannot be allowed to go on. The NBN represents Australia’s largest ever infrastructure project as well as an effort to restructure an entire industry and set in place fundamental bedrock that will underpin the entirety of the nation’s future economy. The ABC does not shy away from discussing complex economic, legal, regulatory, social, educational or health issues or projects. It should not shy away from discussing complex and important topics when they venture in the technology realm or into the shadow of its portfolio Minister. Malcolm Turnbull’s potentially disastrous overhaul of the NBN must not escape public scrutiny.

    I will leave readers with a quote from a speech the ABC’s director of Editorial Policies Paul Chadwick gave to a conference in September 2012 (PDF). At the time, Chadwick reminded the audience of the responsibility of the ABC to ensure it met standards of accuracy, impartiality, independence and integrity. Chadwick went on:

    “The extent to which the public broadcaster maintains those standards will have a bearing on whether it remains credible and trusted. Unless credible and trusted, a public broadcaster loses legitimacy. Questions arise about why it should be publicly supported. Those who covet its spectrum or its audiences grow restive. Those who would clip its independence grow bolder. Those who would ordinarily defend it grow doubtful. The cry goes up for more regulation.”

    The ABC exists in a fragile era, beset on one side by a commercial media which would love to see it cut or at least privatised, and on the other by an extremely conservative Federal Government which, spurred by free market think tanks such as the Institute of Public Affairs, would love to follow through on such requests.

    The Abbott administration has already taken its first swing at the ABC in this year’s Federal Budget. Thus far, the only thing protecting the public broadcaster is the abiding love and trust the public has for it. If that trust is diminished — as in, for example, if the ABC fails to impartially cover important national issues such as the NBN — then its defence against its attackers will be weakened. Appeals to Peppa Pig will not save it.

    Now is not for the time for the ABC to step quietly in an effort to appease the will of its supposed political masters. Now is the time for the kind of fearless journalism that the broadcaster has been known for in the past, and still applies in some arenas, such as its sterling and ongoing investigation of the refugee situation. Ignoring complex issues such as the NBN will not make them go away; it will just make the ABC’s audience turn away. And that is something the broadcaster just cannot afford.

    Image credit: Screenshot of the ABC’s Q&A program, believed to be covered under Fair Dealing

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    60 Comments

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    1. Harley
      Posted 02/06/2014 at 3:36 pm | Permalink |

      This article seems like a lot of words to say that the ABC hasn’t covered the NBN very much. It provides no actual evidence of conspiracy.

      • Soth
        Posted 02/06/2014 at 3:55 pm | Permalink |

        Lucky it’s in the opinion section then eh :)

      • TL
        Posted 02/06/2014 at 4:01 pm | Permalink |

        “Now, Mark Scott says, and I believe, that there is no “conspiracy” at the ABC to censor coverage of the NBN.”

        Please read the whole article before you comment.

      • Myke
        Posted 02/06/2014 at 4:04 pm | Permalink |

        read it again?

        “Now, Mark Scott says, and I believe, that there is no “conspiracy” at the ABC to censor coverage of the NBN.”

        The general thrust is: failing to cover an important topic for whatever reason, please explain.

      • Posted 02/06/2014 at 4:16 pm | Permalink |

        “It provides no actual evidence of conspiracy.”
        Lucky the article writer openly states he believes there is no conspiracy, while linking to numerous researched, fact-based, unbiased articles throughout.

        • Ryan
          Posted 02/06/2014 at 5:19 pm | Permalink |

          As Renai always does.

      • Peter
        Posted 02/06/2014 at 5:13 pm | Permalink |

        Read the articles in the “Related posts”. That’s where you’ll find all the evidence.

        • Harley
          Posted 02/06/2014 at 5:56 pm | Permalink |

          Damn, wrong word. No evidence of “censorship” in the article. Although to be honest, secret censorship would be a conspiracy.

          • Joey
            Posted 02/06/2014 at 6:29 pm | Permalink |

            Dam right no examples….

            ….. except for the examples listed in point form, spaced and indented right in the middle of the article maybe?

            Not to mention youd think NBN Co’s deal with Telstra potentially being 6 months late or FTTN trials have failed to even begin because of not being able to source power to the appropriate places would be news worthy. I mean… it only affects the whole dam country.

            • A Nonymous
              Posted 03/06/2014 at 11:19 am | Permalink |

              So, where was the coverage when a journalist could have taken the coverage maps and searched for evidence of construction?

              Where was the coverage when NBNCo sought to ban telstra from upgrading the hfc network via ACC actively chasing a worse consumer outcome?

              Where was the coverage when NBNCo was over a year behind schedule and dropping further behind?

              About the only thing I’ve seen from the ABC was a report on the lack of demonstrable progress displayed by the Tasmanian NBNCo and how the regulatory nightmare was causing great pains to greenfield estates. They’ve similarly maintained an observer stance when it comes to discussing TPG’s cherrypicking.

              To continue to fail to report on the issue in depth is about as politically neutral as you can get. To now start arcing up because a bunch of tech sites are shouting “dey took our fiberz” (pro tip: premises are being connected faster now than they ever were under the previous government) is about as reactionary as you can get, and is no better than most of the reporting they’ve been criticised for in the past year.

              I’d like to see SImon Hackett do an ‘NBN for Dummies’ that breaks down the rollout schedules, pros and cons of both guardianships to the layman, sure. But I don’t think you’ll find him adhering as blindly to an anti-mtm monopoly as delimiter wants either.

              And for the layman, all of the nbn benefits we can advertise boil down to “skype”. Something that many people are already able to do on HFC or ADSL.

              Sure, I’d love huge bandwidth for private prototype hosting, ad-hoc offsite backups, and conferencing from my living room, but those aren’t things I can readily explain or sell to Joe Average who currently gets “fast enough” internets to instantly view youtube videos. And to be fair, it’s not *such* a disgrace that we’re targeting the average use case as a goal.

              • jasmcd
                Posted 03/06/2014 at 1:02 pm | Permalink |

                You obviously don’t get it. Censoring debate is only limiting the number of voices engaging with the public . There have been numerous investigations into the media coverage on the NBN and it biased approach across the board.

                At least if the ABC was present it could give a unbiased approach. The NBN missed deadlines, interview the head of NBNco, problems with asbestos, what does Conroy have to say about it? Issues with contractors, what does the chairperson NBNCO will do to move forward and what are the longterm implications?

                Instead we mostly got piece after piece in the MSM slamming every single issue that arose and little to nothing from the ABC. Even if the ABC reporting was negative, at least it would be known to be somewhat independant in its analysis. The ABC not reporting the good the bad or the ugly was a disservice.

    2. Peter Gossner
      Posted 02/06/2014 at 3:39 pm | Permalink |

      None of the major News outlets has any real expertise in
      Networking technologies or arguably Communications Technologies
      beyond whatever is on their GUI or word typing thingy.

      For whatever reasons thats just a sad fact.

      There may be a partial solution to this sort of under reporting:

      4 Corners

      • Bern
        Posted 02/06/2014 at 4:16 pm | Permalink |

        “4 Corners”

        You know, that was just what I was thinking…

    3. Dumbfounded
      Posted 02/06/2014 at 3:45 pm | Permalink |

      I’m only going to attempt to address one of the many (and there are a lot) derp points made in this article, but you can hardly use the ABC’s invitations to use you as an expert on IT subjects as an example of its IT ineptitude. You should be well aware that many of the major news outlets regularly ask IT journos from other publications to be interviewed as an expert.

      • richard
        Posted 02/06/2014 at 3:53 pm | Permalink |

        I think Renai was simply saying that is is strange that the ABC needs to go outside for a view on something as simple as password security when they have in house commentators on just about every other topic you can imagine from different people for different sports, music, movies, politics, books, education etc. With so much news revolving around the tech sector, not just the NBN but also security, privacy (facebook etc.) hacking and the impact the sector has on other areas like government budgets or the finance sector even a part time in house commentator would seem to make sense.

      • Liam
        Posted 02/06/2014 at 3:53 pm | Permalink |

        I think the point made that they have no technology experts specifically focussed on the NBN covers that point, don’t you?

      • Posted 02/06/2014 at 4:15 pm | Permalink |

        hey mate,

        I get requests from ABC journos to provide expert technical comment about twice a month. Have done for the past several years. I don’t get such requests from Fairfax or News Ltd journos, because those mastheads employ technology journos who can source expert industry comment on the issue — you know, what journalists should actually do.

        The irony of a senior producer from an ABC flagship asking me to comment on online password security, while that same outlet appears to be avoiding coverage of the much larger NBN — and during a week in which I was criticising the ABC over this topic — should be self-evident. It speaks to a lack of expertise in this area.

        Renai

        • Michael
          Posted 02/06/2014 at 8:16 pm | Permalink |

          Renai,

          As the ABC subcontracts out its IT journalism to you (and others I assume) I wonder how its budget compares to the turnover of the other mastheads (Fairfax / News Ltd.)?

          Is the ABC doing more with less or less with more?

    4. Brad Cann
      Posted 02/06/2014 at 3:52 pm | Permalink |

      Its really really simple, when your boss says if you criticise me you will either lose your job or lose your funding thus losing your job, what are you going to do? I’ll quote al gore who quotes I can’t remember from an inconvenient truth:

      “It’s difficult to get a man to understand something if his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”

      There is really nothing more to be said if you really and truly understand the above quote.

    5. Douglas
      Posted 02/06/2014 at 4:08 pm | Permalink |

      ABC – Another Bloody Conservative network.

    6. Paul Grenfell
      Posted 02/06/2014 at 4:12 pm | Permalink |

      The evidence is clear.. The nbn is off limits to the ABC.. Tony Jones made that clear. And the sudden silence of Nick Ross, confirms it. If you disagree, then where is the evidence otherwise?

      • sarcasm man
        Posted 02/06/2014 at 7:51 pm | Permalink |

        Tony Jones has a responsibility to cover the NBN. Maybe “punches have been thrown” by NBN supporters, just like the punches that student fee protesters have thrown – at least that is what Tony JOnes claims student protesters did and Tony JOnes is always right.

    7. Posted 02/06/2014 at 4:24 pm | Permalink |

      I only stumbled across your articles because of the concern that was generated when I read a headline suggesting the ABC actively ignored the NBN issue on a panel show featuring two people largely outspoken on the subject.

      I stayed because the popcorn bucket is bottomless.

      Sure am glad you finally decided to look into this, Renai. If the voice of the people actively ignore one topic, which topic is swept under the rug next?

    8. Lindsay
      Posted 02/06/2014 at 5:25 pm | Permalink |

      I wonder about culture bias as well – I get the feeling the ABC regards technological issues, particularly computer ones as beneath them and just not something humanity degrees should be bothering themselves with.

    9. CMOTDibbler
      Posted 02/06/2014 at 5:36 pm | Permalink |

      I share your opinion that Nick Ross has been silenced by the powers that be at the ABC.

      According to a poster on Whirlpool, Turnbull is scheduled to appear on 7.30 tonight. Whilst the ABC might be able to claim his appearances on Q&A were not specific to his ministerial position, this cannot be the case on 7.30. Let’s see what happens.

      • skywake
        Posted 02/06/2014 at 7:29 pm | Permalink |

        I’d be surprised if they covered the NBN when talking to Turnbull tonight. Even if there wasn’t a history of them dodging the topic. There’s the whole leadership speculation thing combined with the Andrew Bolt stuffs. It shouldn’t take precedent over the NBN but we know it will every time

    10. Observer
      Posted 02/06/2014 at 7:05 pm | Permalink |

      Turnbull is not scheduled to appear tonight. His wife is.

    11. RichardU
      Posted 02/06/2014 at 7:15 pm | Permalink |

      Despite it being in their interests to be so, surprisingly few people, even those with poor communication services, seem as engaged in this issue as one would expect. And Malcolm Turnbull has form when it comes to pulling the wool over the eyes of these people or sending them to sleep.

      There is something to be said for not being too concerned if the NBN debate does not get too much attention for the time being: an election is two years away.

      The time for this issue to get a good airing is when there is ample evidence on the record that the lavish deliverables have not been delivered. Indications are emerging that, as forecast, this will prove to be the case.

    12. sarcasm man
      Posted 02/06/2014 at 7:55 pm | Permalink |

      Andrew Bolt is more important than the NBN. Tonight the whole 7:30 program has to be about Mr Bolt. He is an integral part of our cultural matrix, history and sense of identity as Australians. Fibre to the node might never get faster than a string and two cans. But if Bolt gets onto TV then I can relax and all is right with the world.

    13. MikeW
      Posted 03/06/2014 at 3:43 am | Permalink |

      I can comment from the UK, where there is a similar lack of coverage of BT’s rollout of their superfast network – whether it is the commercial rollout, or the publicly-subsidised “BDUK” rollout. We hear almost nothing from “standard” sources of journalism, including the likes of the BBC.

      Granted that our rollout doesn’t quite generate as much hype as a full FTTH rollout would, but still: there should be something out there in more than the most technical of online sites.

      I put it down to “bikeshedding” (Parkinson’s law of triviality), because understanding the technical issues is way beyond the average audience, and not many more will cope with the long-term financial issues either.

      I guess media organisations always have to figure out what their audience will be able to understand, and (as a prelude) figure out what they themselves understand. I suspect that this issue manages to fit between the gaps.

    14. White Cane
      Posted 03/06/2014 at 7:36 am | Permalink |

      First time to Whirlpool looking for a site with topics and opinions. Wondering what involvement the ABC had in the NBN, I meandered through this article, trying to work out what it was saying. At the end it refers to the refugee situation. All of a sudden I see a political opinion. Why not state it upfront and save time for the normal people.

      • Posted 03/06/2014 at 7:55 am | Permalink |

        .

      • Posted 03/06/2014 at 8:41 am | Permalink |

        I suggest you read the previous articles in this series …

      • AJ
        Posted 03/06/2014 at 4:56 pm | Permalink |

        Seems some Liberal Trolls found this and are sharing it with their friends attacking the man as all good Liberal supporters do

        • White Cane
          Posted 03/06/2014 at 7:28 pm | Permalink |

          Thanks AJ. I stopped reading Pickering because I got the same sort of drivel responses there. Renai, partial retraction and apology, but I am still in the dark as to why the ABC would run and hide on NBN, yet be prepared to be at least embarrassing about their position on other Q&A type topics. Are they scared of Turnbull? The government would not be so stupid as to hamstring the ABC beyond some well deserved budget restraint. By the way, my business still gets ADSL with something like “pair gain” as the excuse, and no joy on the horizon ahead.

    15. quink
      Posted 03/06/2014 at 7:40 am | Permalink |

      And published in Fairfax today: Malcolm Turnbull says ABC, SBS got off lightly in budget and must cut more.

      • Posted 03/06/2014 at 7:56 am | Permalink |

        Friends of the ABC!

        • Soth
          Posted 03/06/2014 at 9:00 am | Permalink |

          BFFs most definitely!

    16. Chas
      Posted 03/06/2014 at 9:51 am | Permalink |

      “nothing is more important to a democracy than a well-informed electorate” – Will McAvoy, Newsroom

      It may be from an Aaron Sorkin TV show, but that in no way diminishes the truth of that quote.
      It seems to me that the ABC is badly failing it’s responsibility as a leader of the “Fourth Estate” here in Oz.
      I am not yet regretting their funding, but it is imperative that they remember the reason for their existence…to inform the electorate, not cover their own backsides!

      BTW, I am not suggesting a hatchet job on Turnbull or anybody else, but if they don’t understand the NBN then they should LEARN (and fast!). Then they need to teach the rest of the population and open up serious debate.

    17. Robw
      Posted 03/06/2014 at 11:18 am | Permalink |

      Any issue has its partisan aspects to it and the NBN is no different in this to any other “political” matter. However assuming that this articles main point is in fact to promote a “pro NBN” agenda by employing an attack on the ABC’s effectiveness as a truly even handed and independent provider of news services to Australia, then the choice of strategy is a poor one, the ABC long ago lost any claims to being such an entity, perhaps not entirely unexpected as we have seen across the board a steady erosion of the separation of policy and execution (Parliament / Civil Service ) – The NBN is in fact a reasonable investment of public monies however like many other productive and deserving targets for public investment this one has suffered at the hand of successive popularist political agenda’s from both sides of our body politic. Sadly targeting this spend was always going to be good wedge politics for the current party in power. Oh and IMHO a failure to invest in the current NBN model is not the end of the world .. a Fibre backbone with tails / back haul networks using a mix of delivery models IS a must do for a country like ours with our incredibly long distances and patchy population densities .. shame I cannot recall hearing any of that kind of discussion in the mixes .. me thinks this is just another piece of partisan politics !

      • Chas
        Posted 03/06/2014 at 11:22 am | Permalink |

        “assuming that this articles main point is in fact to promote a “pro NBN” agenda”

        I don’t see that as the agenda here at all…I see it as a demand that the ABC actually recognize the issue and do their jobs with it. I have not seen Renai state that the ABC is anti or pro NBN, they are just ignoring it and in fact actively censoring the entire subject.

        BTW, the rest of your post just seems to be a rant with a political agenda…not what this story is about at all.

    18. JB
      Posted 03/06/2014 at 11:54 am | Permalink |

      How does a public broadcaster engage in bringing issues out into the open for examination if a potentially aggrieved participant will brook no prisoners?

      I recall the [oft labelled leftie and intellectual] Philip Adams talking with Derek Guille on late night live about the dilemma of ABC balance and its perceived bias, and the suggestion in that discussion was that it was more important to allow a discourse of voices so that the listener was engaged and informed:
      The example was the climate change debate and the obligation that public broadcasters felt they had to allow the pseudo-science climate change deny-ers equal time, when they represented such a minority of scientific opinion.

      The New Right, in politics and in the media, appear to brook no critics in the “winner-take-all” society. This makes a difficult challenge for a public broadcaster, post-election: if a policy, platform or decision is made that may be controversial, how does a public broadcaster examine such in an open, unbiased and fearless manner without potentially offending the government?
      If a government or minister is sensitive to criticism, asking searching questions as part of professional and researched journalism may be rejected as anti-government. So there may be a furious scramble for “independent commentators” to invite as guests to a discussion program, where the public broadcaster is merely a host for third parties to comment or pass judgement on the policy, platform or decision. And to ensure that at least progressive and conservative opinions are represented. [aka the Drum, for example]

      But what if the majority public opinion is not sympathetic to the government of the day? – all governments are different, and crusading organisations with a cause these days do not take kindly to having their positions brought into public focus, and crusading organisations exist across the political, social and religious spectrum.

      If the public broadcaster knows that a policy or position is a dog, and the public knows it’s a dog, and even the drover’s dog knows it’s a dog, how does the public broadcaster provide informed debate without risking being seen as biased? It becomes the elephant in the room, and perhaps it is believed that if you tread softly and pretend it’s not really there in the corner it will go away and be overtaken by other issues, and hopefully the public wont notice that you really didn’t provide the thoroughness of examination that your charter obliges you too.

      It is not an easy time to be in public broadcasting, and conservatives and their supporters appear more sensitive to intellectual and thorough examination, so if you dare to ask why, you must be from the left [Yes the logic in that statement is meant to be flawed] On the other side, progressives have an obligation too to argue their positions and be able to take sustained examination of same.

      And for us, the public who are both observers and participants? Do we wish to see our politics move towards authoritarian, pro-government, divided and intolerant? Public broadcasting, I believe is essential for informed and participative democracy and the attacks on public broadcasting from certain quarters are more vehement than ever. Even though they wont always get it right, or “Right” [pun intended], Public broadcasting needs our support and that does also include critical support.

      Renai, I’m sure you are well aware of the tightrope you are walking in opening up this discussion. :)

    19. Brendan
      Posted 03/06/2014 at 12:11 pm | Permalink |

      Given the shouting match that was last night’s Q&A, if they were afraid NBN was a bit of a confrontational they had no issues letting people shout down others on the panel, over such sins as valuing science and research, hey.

      Tony Jones was struggling to maintain any order.

      Do I stop the guy going on a religious bender about how chaplains are good, all other spending is evil, or silence the science guy being told people of his profession don’t matter and shut down his response?

      How the hell did we get to the point that a debate has to be a fucking slanging match? So much for “adults” being in charge.

      It’s a bunch of science-phobic argumentative angry people trying to blame everyone for “rent seeking” (the new meta, apparently) and why can’t you all just learn to love our chaplains and hate science?

      Bernardi’s response to climate change was hysterical.

      I genuinely weep at the level debate in this country has descended to. Bar room brawls and stupid cock fights over who is right.

      Forget reasoned argument. Facts. Nah. God has this covered so STFU. Honestly..

      It’s absolutely any wonder that the ABC can even operate under such ridiculous circumstances.

      • Brendan
        Posted 03/06/2014 at 12:56 pm | Permalink |

        I should suffix this with the notion that rigorous debate is important. Providing evidence to support a theory is part of this.

        When you elect to remove rigour from such a debate (this is just as important in scientific debate as it is religious consideration; new theories and proving of old will always advance understanding) you weaken the sum of that debate.

        The ABC has a charter to provide balanced debate and handle topics of the day. They need support and a clear platform to do this. It’s important that we realise and value what they actually stand for, and not seek (as some do) to tear the institution apart.

        Q&A isn’t afraid to tackle complex issues. Somehow, NBN seems to have dropped to such a lowly valued consideration, that it’s discussion has all but ceased.

        I’m not sure if that just proves how effective Turnbull has been at side-lining it, or that so many have just accepted the outcome.

      • Bern
        Posted 03/06/2014 at 1:02 pm | Permalink |

        It seems to be a trend, lately, that whenever conservative politicians are asked for evidence to back up their assertions, they immediately resort to cries of “Bias!”, and never do provide any evidence for their claims.

        The times they do, their “evidence” is usually shot down in flames within minutes, but, sadly, it’s extraordinarily rare to see such refutation in the media. Normally the most outrageous claims are let pass, as if they were on a level footing with the product of decades of careful research & analysis.

        • Chas
          Posted 03/06/2014 at 1:38 pm | Permalink |

          ” it’s extraordinarily rare to see such refutation in the media. Normally the most outrageous claims are let pass, as if they were on a level footing with the product of decades of careful research & analysis.”

          Agreed…the corruption of the Fourth Estate is fast becoming a fait accompli. It was started by Ted Turner and Rupert Murdoch, and it has been fast leading to the total dumbing down of the vast majority.
          News (it appears) is another area where capitalism doesn’t work very well in achieving the end goals (that of education).

    20. Grail
      Posted 03/06/2014 at 1:37 pm | Permalink |

      There is no conspiracy. I expect the ABC is being held at knifepoint: “utter so much as a peep about the NBN, I’ll stick you!”

      One can imagine the ABC’s Lando Calrissian vs Malcolm’s Darth Vader: “I am altering the deal. Pray I don’t alter it further.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jsW9MlYu31g

    21. Rory
      Posted 03/06/2014 at 2:18 pm | Permalink |

      Much as I would like to read more into this, I fear this is just a result of the powerful cognitive bias Hostile Media Effect (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hostile_media_effect).

      There is probably a submarine enthusiast’s forum or blog which is currently decrying the lack of coverage in the media of the $40bn Future Submarine Program.

      • Chas
        Posted 03/06/2014 at 3:33 pm | Permalink |

        ” I fear this is just a result of the powerful cognitive bias”

        If Renai had not proven his case with such an overwhelming multitude of examples, I would say that even he might agree with you. As it is, I don’t see how you could be correct…

      • Relim
        Posted 03/06/2014 at 5:34 pm | Permalink |

        “The NBN represents Australia’s largest ever infrastructure project as well as an effort to restructure an entire industry and set in place fundamental bedrock that will underpin the entirety of the nation’s future economy.”

        Consequently, it is also of significant interest to all Australians. Not only that, but the current government is working towards a policy that goes against not merely the wishes of Australian consumers and businesses but against the advice of all experts as well, so it is something that needs to be scrutinised.

        How does the Future Submarine Program compare?

        Or put more succinctly: Apples and oranges.

        It is without a doubt self-censorship of the NBN topic by the ABC. An implicit conspiracy if not an explicit one.

    22. Tone-deaf
      Posted 03/06/2014 at 6:13 pm | Permalink |

      Gee it’s nice to see a tech mag recently reverse its decision on the NBN and then go after another news organisation after they’ve lost all credibility. We blew our load in the wrong direction, so to avoid ant blame we’ll go after the easy target of the ABC and suggest that organisation antagonise the man who holds their purse stings, who is constantly threatening to remove their funding.
      Really, you’re having a go because a government run station does not support your recently reconstructed views? You missed out mentioning your own sad history and that of the MMS. Primary School children’s time capsules from the 1980′s have more credibility that your sad publication.
      While I don’t condone the ABC’s relative silence on this issue, to call this article disingenuous is doing it a huge favour.

      • Alex (NBN)
        Posted 03/06/2014 at 7:23 pm | Permalink |

        Que?

      • Posted 03/06/2014 at 8:05 pm | Permalink |

        “reverse its decision”

        Riiight.

        My position was always clear on the Coalition’s policy. As I wrote when it was released, it was a sensible alternative but inferior to Labor’s option.

        http://delimiter.com.au/2013/04/16/the-coalitions-policy-is-a-sensible-nbn-alternative/

        “So, do I personally prefer the Coalition’s policy?

        No. I don’t. Fundamentally, it’s a worse policy than Labor’s. Its critics are right; it betrays a tragic loss of long-term vision for Australia’s telecommunications infrastructure. Fibre to the node is a dead-end technology which will, in several decades, be already fading into memory. By investing in fibre to the node, the Coalition isn’t skating to where the puck is going to be, nor even where it is now. It is looking backwards, not forwards, and by doing so it is throwing away the opportunity for Australia’s economy to transition from digging things up out of the ground to a more sustainable knowledge-based export economy — you know, the kind of economy which countries such as Germany and Japan already have.”

        I would point out that since the Election, the Coalition has abandoned its April 2013 NBN policy. And so I have changed my position that they have a sensible policy. I base my views and what I say on evidence ;)

    23. quink
      Posted 04/06/2014 at 7:39 am | Permalink |

      I just realised something. I’ve made an appearance on the 7:30 Report quite a number of years back. The total words I have spoken outnumbered those spoken this year on 7:30 on the NBN until May 21. That’s when the solitary sentence:

      > In 2012, Chinese telco Huawei was banned from tendering for NBN contracts.

      Helped let the cumulative NBN coverage this year surpass my appearance on some B-roll with a small background speaking part in quantity of words. Darn this NBN, it’s outshining me!

    24. Gordon Drennan
      Posted 04/06/2014 at 12:58 pm | Permalink |

      The ABC doesn’t have a “highly informed” audience, it has a highly opinionated audience. There’s a lot of difference between the two. The highly opinionated, whether its the ABC and its audience, or Andrew Bolt and his audience at the other end of the political spectrum, or Renai Lemay and his readers on the NBN,are the same. They don’t want to be told the truth. They want to be told that careful selection of the facts, and interpretations of them, that support what they believe. And they loudly abuse anyone who tells them anything that conflicts with that.

      • Alex (NBN)
        Posted 06/06/2014 at 8:59 am | Permalink |

        @ Gordon…

        Difference being, relating to the NBN… Renai LeMay and his readers (well most… who are here genuinely) are actually very knowledgeable when it comes to comms and the NBN.

        So speaking about not wanting to be told the truth, listen carefully…

        Having both knowledge and hands-on experience, most here have formed opinions based exclusively on the merits of FttP vs. FttN/copper, future needs, ubiquity, affordability, cost/return, the Telstra factor, etc, etc… “not blind political ideology”. As such those here can recognise and more importantly “accept”, which of the two alternatives is superior on almost every level…

        And the clincher, all of us saw the original NBN have a small number of issues and hold-ups (end of the world according to the detractors). But now having seen the alternative stall and stumble from one fiasco to the next (enter previous detractor silence…… here) it should now start to become clear to even the most ideological FttP opponent that… “shit, the Delimiter crew were actually right” and an admission, if one is actually fair dinkum, that the old plan was actually pretty good. And then another admission that the new plan is a sad shambles…

        Thing is, no matter how many times Bolt and Jones say otherwise and keep spewing forth their uneducated drivel (think lasers) they can spin the facts to suit their crusade, but they can’t rewrite the history books….

    25. Not Me
      Posted 05/06/2014 at 12:47 pm | Permalink |

      Typical Abbott style of rule … tell everyone to be quiet on any unwanted matter and then there isn’t any content to cover by the media …. he did for the boat ppl and he’s still doing it today.

      http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-09-22/government-to-hold-weekly-asylum-seeker-briefings-says-morrison/4973512

    26. Brett Haydon
      Posted 05/06/2014 at 8:33 pm | Permalink |

      Lol. A more ‘unhinged’ commentator might think there was a conspiracy Renai. You call the abc on censorship and they arrange an interview on 7.30 with Malcolm and both pretend that he’s there to talk about the NBN o_O




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