The Guardian July 30, 2003


Alston pursues vendetta against ABC

by Peter Mac

Enraged at rejection of his latest criticism of the ABC, federal 
Communications Minister Richard Alston is considering referring matters to 
the Australian Broadcasting Authority (ABA), and has recommended the 
establishment of a special committee to monitor ABC "bias".

Alston had attacked ABC for its coverage of the war on Iraq, and in 
particular for a degree of criticism of the war by ABC Radio's current 
affairs program AM. However, in a 130-page report, the ABC complaints 
review section rejected 66 of Alston's 68 points of criticism of the war 
coverage.

The review team's conclusion, which was backed by ABC management, was that 
only one news item was "sarcastic", and another "speculative". Neither 
constituted a serious breach of journalistic standards, and the Minister's 
bjte noire, journalist Linda Mottram, was not found guilty of any such 
breach.

The ABC's complaints review executive, Murray Green, stated bluntly last 
week that the Minister seemed to want the ABC to be either passive or pro-
Coalition, in its news reporting.

He accused the Minister of selectively quoting out-of-context passages from 
ABC broadcasts, and of ignoring the ABC editorial charter's requirement 
that the pursuit of issues be both questioning and enterprising.

In point of fact, the AM program was one of the few sections of the 
Australian media to adopt such a principled approach during the attack of 
the "coalition of the willing" on Iraq. Most news and current affairs 
programs (including, alas, most of the other ABC programs) were either 
aggressively chauvinistic, or meekly submissive to government claims that 
the war was justified and necessary.

The Minister is not the only strident critic of the ABC, which now has the 
most popular news service in Australia. The imperiously conservative 
chairman of the ABA, Professor David Flint, has frequently voiced 
contemptuous and highly personal criticism of ABC personnel, and of the 
organisation's coverage of the war.

However, when push came to shove, Alston's attacks on the national 
broadcaster were not backed by the ABA, which has upheld only two 
complaints against the ABC over the last three years, as opposed to20 
against the Channel Nine network  hence the Minister's "fall-back" 
recommendation for an ABC committee of review.

The Prime Minister stopped short of adopting his Minister's recommendation 
for a permanent ABC committee of review, and stated only that he agreed 
with "some" of Alston's 68 points of criticism.

In an intriguing sequel to the Alston complaints saga, ABC management has 
so far resisted pressure from the Israeli ambassador to cancel a planned 
screening of the program Israel's Secret Weapon, which examines Israel's 
development of weapons of mass destruction. The screening is scheduled for 
August 21.

An ABC spokesman stated that "The ABC strongly believes that the program in 
question is appropriate for the scheduled timeslot, and encourages 
Australians to watch it and make up their own minds". And so do we.

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