PAUL PERVERSI. An Open Letter to the ABC regarding its coverage of China in the recent past.

As a long-term consumer ABC services, I acknowledge its great achievements over the decades, despite the occasional skeleton in the closet, such as the Lateline story that sparked the Northern Territory intervention. I am very concerned, though, that in 2020 the ABC is becoming something of a laughing stock with respect to its coverage of China.

The 2000’s are often referred to as the ‘Chinese Century’, as the world becomes more entwined and interconnected with a burgeoning China. Whilst China is increasingly becoming a central world influence in so many respects, the ABC seems intent on trashing the country and its people at every opportunity. Is Aunty getting so old that she is subtly calling for her own voluntary euthanasia? Or perhaps she is losing her marbles. Or maybe she has just lost her mojo and wants to show everyone how smart and sassy she still is, oblivious to the embarrassment of everyone around her.

It seems the ABC’s anti-China bias has been escalating over the past year or so. Or, at least, that is the timeframe within which I have noticed it. Maybe it has a much longer history than I realise and I have just become more attuned to it. Over this timeframe, I have noticed literally hundreds of anti-Chinese news and current affairs stories, but I am hard-pressed to think of even one story that has been positive. It is possible that positive stories exist, although these may tend to be in specialist domains, such as business, science or arts. However, like many people, I just have time to follow the news and some current affairs programs. I could give dozens of particular examples off the top of my head, but I will stick to just one for now.

The Q+A program on ‘China and Australia – a Healthy Relationship?’ was aired on 24 February 2020. It was clear that the panel was not completely loaded. There were three past or present journalists from the ABC, including the presenter, along with one Chinese ambassador, one epidemiologist and one business-person with a Chinese background. But the tone of the show, as led by the presenter and the two ABC ‘plants’, smelt strongly of an ambush. Without going into a blow-by-blow description of the entire program, I will outline three points about the bias.

First, I would have expected the presenter to be unbiased and respectful of diplomatic guests, but this was clearly not the case. At one stage, when the Chinese ambassador was attempting to explain the Chinese system of voting for representatives in their government, in response to questions and statements clearly based in ignorance, the presenter was interrupting and mocking him. This occurred to the extent that the Chinese ambassador had to openly pull the presenter up. To the average Chinese person, the presenter’s behaviour must have looked like a petulant child throwing a tantrum. In Chinese culture, where respect is a key social value, I suggest that this type of open bias by the national broadcaster, combined with the disrespectful behaviour displayed, would have provided a similar impression that we would have if witnessing, say, fist-fighting politicians in a dysfunctional house of parliament in a third-world country.

A second example concerned the showing of footage of Chinese authorities forcibly removing people from their homes because of coronavirus fears. This was clearly a set-up to embarrass the Chinese ambassador. This then led the business-person, clearly feeling some need to appear to censure the behaviour in the footage, to suggest that this was an example of ‘bad China.’ But where was the context and the common sense? Credit to the epidemiologist, clearly a most sensible and balanced person. When asked, she simply pointed out that the same thing would happen in Australia. But the context was missing, presumably because it didn’t suit the narrative of the ABC. How many hours had the authorities spent trying to convince the people to leave for quarantine? From my understanding of the style of Chinese authorities, it was probably many. And furthermore, what alternatives were expected of the authorities, instead of carefully carrying them away? Use a tranquiliser gun? Or just let them stay there? As the ambassador pointed out, the Chinese measures have been astoundingly effective at huge cost to the Chinese. As at 13 March, Italy’s pro-rata deaths from coronavirus are already about 7 times those of China’s, with many more to come.

Finally, Stan Grant’s points about censorship lacked objectivity. Stan seems to be a major enigma. He is clearly one of the most convincing, authoritative and sensible voices on Aboriginal matters, but when it comes to his second interest, China, he often gushes nonsense. He referred to times when he was reporting from China, and how his reports were censored by the Chinese authorities. The point was unclear. Was he attempting to report to the Chinese population? I doubt it. I’m assuming that he meant he was restricted from collecting information. But how would the Australian government respond if an inflammatory journalist, in the employ of the Chinese government, set about aggressively digging up dirt and smearing the Australian government’s reputation internationally through excessively negative and biased reporting? Obviously, Stan was allowed into China, whereas many less threatening people, like David Icke, are refused Australian visas. The point he made at the very end of the program probably summarises his outlook, and possibly the main ABC line as well: ‘The idea always was that as China becomes more wealthy, they’ll become like us…’ I wonder how he would react to someone who said the same words to him, replacing the word ‘China’ with ‘Aboriginal Australia.’

There are many other points that could be made, both regarding this program and too many others, but these must be left for a further discussion. In conclusion, I would like to pose a few questions that Aunty should ask herself, if she wants to earn respect.

How many of the ABC correspondents and journalists covering China are fluent in oral and written Chinese? What credence does the ABC give to foreign media outlets who report on Australia yet cannot understand spoken or written English? What are the qualifications for reporting on Chinese matters, especially in terms of understanding Chinese culture and history? Where are the voices of regular Chinese people on the ABC? Is it appropriate that polarised ABC reporters are fronted as experts, when there are plenty of real experts around? Where is the line between presenting news and self-promoting ABC views and products, such as other ABC programs?

Perhaps the final word should be the Chinese ambassador’s comment at the end of the program when told by the presenter that he would be welcome back: ‘I’ll be very happy to do that. I think the sensible voice is too stifled here. I hope I will have another opportunity to have in-depth discussion about whatever issue you are concerned with.’ Perhaps the ambassador is more confident than I am that reason will prevail.

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Dr Paul Perversi is a teacher who has lived, worked and travelled extensively in China for eight of the past twelve years. He holds a PhD in Health Informatics from Deakin University, where he studied collaborative group reasoning in healthcare.

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10 Responses to PAUL PERVERSI. An Open Letter to the ABC regarding its coverage of China in the recent past.

  1. Andrew McRae says:

    I more or less agree with all the observations made, although comparing Stan Grant and the deranged Icke was going a bit far. I wonder if the writer watched Q&A last night (Mon 4 May). I don’t think Paul would have been any more impressed by the chorus of Sharma and Fullilove on China, or even the often sometimes blanc-mange and wordy statements of Penny ‘I’d say this to you’ Wong. Only last night it was Penny’s turn to be ambushed, this time over Kristina Keneally’s bold statement about future immigration. She didn’t do a bad job, apparently supporting Keneally yet remaining vaguely non-committal about the issue itself; but the rest of the panel were – just as intended by the ABC and the host – predictable, with the usual ABC positions of ‘racist dog-whistling’, ‘irresponsible’ and ‘immigration good for the economy’ emanating from the other guests. Make no mistake, it was an ambush, a blatant set-up, with the host gunning for a ‘gotcha’ for the next day’s ABC news. Additionally, Insiders, which also seeks gotchas, has been taken over by Murdoch and ex-Murdoch commentators, like Simon Benson and that blonde woman from the Courier Mail), and bland LNP sympathisers like Savva, van Onselen and Karvelas. And people complain that the ABC is too far left!

  2. Cameron Leckie says:

    Hello Paul, I would extend your assessment to the ABCs coverage of a number of other countries, namely Russia, Iran, Syria and Venezuela. No surprise that these countries, and China, all have one thing in common. They resist US hegemony.

    Nothing ever positive is ever reported on by the ABC about these countries. Perhaps with the exception of Tom Switzer on Between the Lines, guests are overwhelmingly pro-Western/support the prevailing foreign policies of our governments. Important context is regularly left out to portray these countries in the worst possible light. Assertions are passed as fact even when they can be either disproven or subject to a large degree of uncertainty.

    I guess it should be no surprise. The ABC is after all a state broadcaster, just like RT (Russia’s state broadcaster). Unfortunately when it comes to coverage of foreign affairs I find the coverage of RT more reliable than that of the ABC. RT’s motto is ‘Question more.’ It’s a shame the ABC does not do a little more of this.

  3. Anthony Pun says:

    This response is extract of the full article found in “GONE ARE THE DAYS, WHEN THE ABC WAS THE PEOPLE’S VOICE” see: http://www.au123.com/view/ocean/20200227/520117.html

    Gone are the days when Auntie (the ABC) was the people’s voice, and the programs were intellectually and socially stimulating. The ABC Q&A Generated tremendous interest it talked about covid-19 and associated recent racist attacks on the 1.2 million Chinese Australians.

    At the start of the program, the audience were told to be polite to the Mr Wang Xining, the Minister for the PRC Embassy in Canberra. However, it turned out that Mr Wang was “ambushed” by “attack dogs” planted in the program. Particularly nasty was a video of person claiming Uighur background seeking to get his wife out from Xinjiang. The savagery of the attack is very pronounced abetted by Ms Vicky Xu.

    We respect Ms Xu right to freedom of expression but she has to take the responsibility for making the matters worse, not only made no contributions to comfort us from racists taunts but also projected an unpleasant stereotype of Chinese Australians with her anti-Chinese demeanour.

    Mr Wang Xining, defended his country as well as he could despite all the loaded questions trying to pick faults on China. The views from Jason Li and Prof Raina McIntyre were more balanced and geopolitically non-partisan”. We can understand the remarks from Stan Grant as a Western journalist.

    The anti-China Western media are very good at picking up Chinese dissidents to rubbish China especially some from US. We must give credit to ABC, being at least brave enough to invite Mr Wang Xining to present the China’s case.

    However, we believe the great majority of 1.2 million Chinese Australians do not appreciate the ABC using their programs to rubbish China for no reason other than geopolitical partisanship. Some programs of ABC have indeed gyrated to the far right and in on par with some of the Murdoch press. That is no good for the health of our society. No country is perfect. We can always learn from each other including governance issues if we have a healthy Australia- China relation.
    Dr Anthony Pun OAM, National President, CCCA
    D Ka Sing Chua, National Senior Adviser, CCCA

  4. Richard England says:

    There are exceptions, but I find the average ABC non-science journalist to be deeply silly and oozing with malice. The pedlars of vacuity in the commercial media are far happier and less obnoxious.

  5. Andrew Glikson says:

    Ethics and moralily are mostly foreign to politics and the notions of “good” and “bad” countries/nations defies the lessons of history, namely, that countries/nations act more in view of their self interest (or the interests of their major allies) than any kind of “moral superiority”. China is very far from perfect, given what heppened to the uyghur muslims and in Tibet, nor is the US given the 6 million killed in Viet Nam and near 1 million in Iraq. The ABC is now populated with conservative to right wing Journalists pushing adversarial views, conveying their political bias instead of objectively reporting events on the ground. To balance the ABC needs more exposures to journalists such as John Pilger

    • Barney Zwartz says:

      I don’t know whether Chris Kenny or Andrew Bolt read P&I but I hope so. They’d be apoplectic with rage and disdain. Don’t you know that the ABC is a card-carrying slavering monster of the Left, incapable of fairness or balance let alone drifting to the moral purity of the Right? They know it with the utmost certainty.
      Thanks for giving me a big smile.

  6. Evan Hadkins says:

    Hmm. I agree with the thrust of this. We need people doing education about China and how it sees the world (a good series on The Century of Humiliation would be a major benefit).

    But the specific points aren’t great. Is the average Chinese person the decider on how hosts behave?

    Most media coverage is negative. And sensationalism is less prevalent on the ABC than elsewhere (though becoming more prevalent since the past editor of a woman’s magazine was put in charge).

    And asserting that Stan Grants reporting was excessively negative and biased is made without evidence. Comparing Stan Grant to David Icke probably exposes the level that this piece is writing at.

    • Mark Freeman says:

      After decades of of board stacking, threats, funding cuts and dubious staff appointments, ABC news and current affairs is a shadow of its former self. Media Watch and sometimes 4 Corners are exceptions. SBS is now a long way in front.

      I’ve never understood the appeal of Grant at all. He started out as a top n tailer for a commercial tv tabloid and remains in my mind the inspiration for Frontline’s Mike Moore. He writes overly wordy unoriginal pieces as if paid by the word. I much prefer pretty much anyone else on aboriginal matters.

    • Lynne Newington says:

      We need to take stock in relation to the attitude towards China, the ABC is just doing it’s job in my opinion. …a couple of interviews [one not with the ABC that I can recall but stand to be corrected} that leaves a bad trail for the Australian average citizen….
      https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/w3cszbx5
      .https://smallcaps.com.au/tensions-between-china-australia-rising-covid-19-investigation-economic-coercion/

      .

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