Murdoch & Morrison v. The ABC – GetUp fails a commendable mission

Feb 8, 2021

GetUp has added public broadcasting to environmental justice, human rights and other worthy issues. Through the just-released video, Murdoch & Morrison v. The ABC, it’s trying to arouse anger against the impact of News Corp’s never-ending siege of the national broadcaster 

The 26-minute video is billed as “an explosive new documentary revealing the conservative campaign to gut, discredit and ultimately abolish our iconic public broadcaster …”  It exposes the work of the Murdoch media, the Institute of Public Affairs and their allies in the Morrison Government to abolish the ABC.

That promo should rally all who uphold John Reith’s broadcasting principles; presumably that includes GetUp’s reputed one-million members. But three days after going on-line the YouTube page had recorded only 9,000 views.

If that audience included conservative politicians and News Corp directors they’d have clicked away before the credits, realising nothing to fear. There are useful backgrounds and sober observations by former ABC senior executive Michael Ward and Macquarie Uni’s Professor Ed Davis; however no damaging disclosures which might lead viewers to cancel subs to Murdoch’s mags and rags.

The video does three things wrong: It preaches to the choir which knows the sermons by heart, it neither exposes anything new, nor examines the criticisms, and it’s poorly constructed.

GetUp trumpeted “no TV station is going to air it”,  and how Scott Morrison and the Murdoch Press will do everything in their power to discredit it.

The more pedestrian reason for rejection is that it’s not good enough. Maybe the discrediting is coming, though so far it seems the PM and News Corp have more important things to do.

The video stresses the ABC’s value in emergencies. Correct, though overdone since smartphones have outsmarted transistor radios. During the current conflagration north of Perth, the Department of Fire and Emergency Services’ website continually updated warnings and tracked the inferno.

A strong case for investigating alleged political influence on the ABC is the cancellation of its ABC Life website after a carpet bombing by News Corp.  According to the site’s former deputy editor Osman Faruqi, the “idea was that Life’s team of digital journalists would work with already existing ABC programs to help their stories travel further.” The second goal was to help the ABC connect with audiences that had little affiliation with the broadcaster. ABC Life’s key performance indicators were explicit: develop a relationship with these Australians by producing content relevant to their lives, and bring them into the broader ABC fold.

Faruqi features  saying he was packaged by Andrew Bolt as “a green Muslim leftist” even before ABC Life was launched in 2018. News Corp’s search engines must have flagged a non-Anglo to vilify. Mum Mehreen is a Greens senator and on the rabid rights’ hate list.

Faruqi said ABC Life had exceeded expectations. His case would have been strengthened with data and supportive internal reports. Why no questioning of management and its decision to kill?

Those hoping for a punchy doco with certainties delivered by respected thought-leaders on public broadcasting’s importance to democracy will be weeping at the lost chance.

Where are the views of scholars who’ve studied the British original, the catastrophe in NZ when the national telecaster went semi-commercial, the situation in Canada and the struggling PBS and NPR in the US?

At times it looks more like a home movie. Six minutes are wasted with members clapping the ABC and staff frolicking as Bananas in Pyjamas.

Cute stuff, but confronting a machine as ruthless and formidable as News Corp needs loading heavy artillery with tungsten-tipped facts.

Unaddressed questions could have included: What’s an adequate service? Should the budget be indexed? The formula “ABC good, News Corp bad” is too simplistic for serious debate. ABC defenders anxious about issues like overstocked and overpaid management worry they’ll give ammo to opponents, but need to be clear-eyed to stay authentic.

Why weren’t the ABC’s stalkers questioned about their reasoning? Even though they can’t walk straight, ideologues need the odd plywood prop of truth and lackey band of logic to stay upright.

The PM’s Trumpism: “there are no further cuts (to the ABC budget) because there are no cuts” should have been forensically examined. Last year the mainstream media reported $84 million and 250 jobs slashed.

Likewise, former IPA director James Paterson’s bubble that “the case for privatising the ABC is getting stronger every year.” British philosopher Bertrand Russell said it well: “The fact that an opinion has been widely held is no evidence whatever that it is not utterly absurd.”

Bolt’s fatuous assertion that the “toxic ABC is a menace to our democracy” should have been challenged face-to-face. Why does he dread diversity and quality?

We’re aware he’s feeding the trolls, but if he quivers at being confronted by the likes of Paul Barry he should be lampooned. The gap left by the late John Clarke and Bryan Dawe has still to be filled.

One sector crippled by a lack of funds and ignored is the overseas service ABC Australia. Originally a showcase of our values, talents and culture, it’s now stuffed with AFL, repeat promos and state news. Only marginally better than a test pattern.

Reluctantly kept on life support because transmission is compulsory under the ABC charter, it ranks below other international services. That’s so shameful even the Dirty Digger in a New York apartment should be squirming at how his birthplace presents itself to the world.

Murdoch & Morrison v. The ABC was a fine ambition, poorly executed. The job should have been given to a tough producer who knows how and where to hit heavyweights. It’s worth watching to hear Ward, Davis and Faruqi, but otherwise sad to say this time GetUp has stuffed up.

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