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.