Excluding the ABC. John Menadue

Sep 2, 2013

It is disappointing, at least to me that the ABC has not been the host of the election debates between Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott.

Instead it is has been left to Fox News, 50% owned by Rupert Murdoch, who is keen to buy the other 50% from Telstra. When will the Murdoch monopoly end?

The ABC is the most trusted media organisation in the country. It used to be the logical host for major political events. It has been out manoeuvred by the Liberal Party.

In a survey by Essential Media late last year, the ABC was ranked second in the country as our most trusted institution. It was trusted by 59% of Australians. It was only bettered by the High Court which was trusted by 63 % of Australians. The Reserve Bank ranked third and was trusted by 53% of Australians. Interestingly, all are public institutions.

Other media groups were well down the list in terms of public trust – newspapers 31%, online news media e.g. Fox at 28%, and TV news media at 26%. If we further break out Murdoch’s media we find that his publications are the least trusted in the country, particularly the Herald Sun, the Courier Mail and least of all, the Daily Telegraph. This lack of trust was even before the recent Murdoch bullying and abuse of power in this election.

How has the ABC, the most trusted media organisation by far in the country, been out-manoeuvred in favour of Fox! I can only assume that the Liberal Party refused to participate in debates hosted by the ABC. Faced with this veto of the ABC, the ALP agreed to the alternative of Fox News and with all superficial floss that followed.

I recall many years ago when I worked for Gough Whitlam that the ABC always insisted that for the sake of ‘balance’ it would not interview him unless there was a Liberal minister who agreed to participate. Not many ministers were keen to debate Gough Whitlam so the proposed interview was inevitably dropped by the ABC. The Liberal Party veto had worked.

Fortunately Gough Whitlam persuaded the reluctant ABC management that the Liberal Party should not be allowed to have its programing determined by a Liberal Party veto. The ABC agreed that if a Liberal Party participant could not be found, the interview, although with a different format would proceed.

Consistent with its role as the pre-eminent and most trusted media organisation in the country, the ABC should insist that if either major party will not participate in a properly structured debate then an alternative with only one political leader will proceed. The ABC must stop being bluffed. It must assert its leadership role.

The ABC is the last, perhaps the only hope, to stem the downward spiral of media abuse in this country.

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