The Australian Broadcasting Corporation is copping it from all parts of the political spectrum these days with regards “balance” as well as impartial reporting of news events, though much less the latter. But lately it’s been the left, the core constituency of the ABC that have been the loudest to decry the direction that the publicly funded news organisation is taking in relation to their approach to guest spots on the 6pm political panel show The Drum. All this has been happening while many on the right of the political spectrum still continue to amp up over what is still seen as a left wing bias of the entire news organisation.
The biggest complaint of recent months has been that the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA), particularly through regular guests Tim Wilson, Chris Berg and James Paterson appears more than any other think-tank on the daily political commentary show.
It is a simple fact that the IPA has appeared more than any other think-tank that exists in the Australian political landscape. IPA guests have taken up 42% of the appearances of representatives of these organisations for the of the period between June 2011 and June 2012 according to an investigation by Andrew Kos for Independent Australia here
The investigation found that the next highest appearance rate for think-tanks was the Centre for Independent Studies (CIS) at just under half the rate of the IPA (at 18%), followed by Per Capita with 16% of appearances and then the Centre for Policy Development responsible for 10% of the guest spots over the year examined.
So clearly the vast majority of think-tank appearances have been as a result of guests from the Institute of Public Affairs. An undeniable fact. But does this automatically translate into a right-wing bias on the part of our state-funded national broadcaster? Sorry, rhetorical question there. The answer is a clear ‘no’.
Sure the IPA and the other major right-wing policy body the CIS have dominated 60%, over half of thinky body spots on the show but to measure bias because of the higher appearance of one or two think-tanks over any other is a pretty ridiculous measure.
A much better way would be to measure based on political leanings of each individual guest, cumulative over each and every time that The Drum has aired.
Even without having done the raw numbers it is also an incontrovertible fact, that, like the IPA dominating the guest list, those that outwardly appear on the left of the political spectrum strongly outnumber those that identify with the right side of the political spectrum. You simply lose count of the times when two of the three panelists are of the left.
The very idea that you can have any form of political balance on a panel when a show, before it even starts has an uneven number of people as commentators, regardless of political affiliation is completely laughable.
The same goes for the other major free-to-air program in the realm of politics, Q&A and the Sunday program Insiders. With the formeryou have a regular panel of another uneven number, 5 guests where again people of the right side of politics are always strongly outnumbered. Sure, you’ll find your regular Q&A panel has a wider diversity of guests than The Drum, which usually leans toward those of the left that support Labor but there’s still not an overall balanced cross-section of views displayed due to the panel size and choices.
As for Insiders, again, like The Drum, you have 3 panelists, journalists from both Fairfax and News Ltd and the occasional freelance writer. Again too you have a political imbalance, always slanted to the left, partly because of the number of commentators on the show, partly because of the overwhelming number of writers who identify with the political ideology of the left.
So please, to my friends on the left, quit with the whingeing and whining about what you perceive as a right-wing political bias creeping into the political programs of your ABC. You have nothing to worry about, it’s still tilted nicely in your favour. You only need to start worrying if the number of guests representing your beliefs is tilted in the other direction. If balance is truly what you want, then call for an equal number of spots on each of the political shows. But I suspect that deep down you might just be complaining you don’t like what you’re hearing from a small number of people.
The fact that now everyone, left and right, are getting their knickers in a knot tends to indicate that maybe, just maybe, the ABC is heading toward less of a bias toward the left.
Many astute and regular political observers know that there are many limits to the freedoms that should be fully enjoyed in a liberal democracy like we have by name here in Australia. Our freedom of speech and expression and other key rights have been given limits by governments of all political colours and been maintained by those same parties. Many people would be surprised to know however that the use of parliamentary footage for satirical purposes is verboten under federal regulations and that is a laughable position to be held and yet has been maintained by both Liberal and Labor Governments.
This week, Craig Reucassel of Chaser fame brought a crusade of sorts to Canberra on behalf of television satirists around the nation to push the Gillard Government to overturn this archaic and undemocratic, frankly joke of a law as soon as possible. It seems counter-intuitive that not all material from parliament, which is often a cruel joke anyway is not fair game of comedians and television networks to be used and derided to their hearts content.
In interviews Mr Reucassel made the argument that television shows, like Insiders on the ABC and Meet The Press on the Ten Network, from time to time attempt make light of parliamentary footage in their otherwise serious programs. These shows often begin with the use of sound bites, selective editing and the use of the now much dreaded musical montage which begins just about every political show and attempt to cast bits of politics from the week in a comedic light. Thankfully though for the shows like these attempts to make light of political events often fall flat with the audience and therefore escape the provisions of the legislation governing the use of parliamentary footage.
The Chaser co-star also raised that cartoonists in this nation have, since time immemorial had the freedom to be able to satirise in the national and local papers not just parliamentary goings on, but even going as far as picking on character and personality as well as physical traits and embellishing ’til the cows come home.
Although not related to satire of parliamentary footage, it is worth noting that Queensland also has little freedom with the usage of parliamentary footage being banned for political advertising and the LNP needed to withdraw an ad from broadcast because it used footage from the parliament in prosecuting its message. This is also an area that needs to be addressed in both state and federal jurisdictions.
YouTube has a very healthy selection of videos which make fun of parliamentarians, adding farting noises and displaying clips of our politicians in compromising positions such as picking their noses and being made to appear on occasions that they were mimicking interesting acts, yet no knickers in a collective knot there.
We really should not continue to go down a path where a television network is not able to highlight and make people laugh at the “facepalm” moments that happen on a regular basis in our parliaments around Australia. All shows should be allowed to attempt to make fun of events that occur regardless of whether the jokes end up falling flat on the audience and parliamentary footage should be free for use in any medium for any purpose. This laughable joke of a piece of legislation must be removed, people already laugh in ironic astonishment at some of the things some of our politicians do and should have the ability to laugh at the kinds of things that political cartoonists have been ad nauseam. Anything less than complete freedom of political expression is a laughable joke.