March 21, 2003

ABC RADIO in Sydney yesterday

ABC RADIO in Sydney yesterday opened its lines to talkback callers, urging them to voice their opinions on the war. The first several callers were predictably anti-war; one wanted the Governor-General to fire the Prime Minister; a young woman complained that Australia's involvement had "destroyed the security" of her children's generation; several condemned "this illegal war" and urged people to attend a demonstration at Town Hall.

Eventually a pro-war caller got through. In heavily-accented English, he praised John Howard as a "brave man". Next, a furious female caller said she was "disgusted" by Australian appeasers. She was followed by an Italian woman who hailed America as "our ally".

I expected that to be the end of reason, but the pro-war callers kept coming. "I've never voted anything other than Labor all my life," said one oldtimer, announcing his conversion to Howard. "It's great to live in Australia, where you can protest and not get your tongue cut out," noted the next pro-warrior. Another dismissed the UN as "a bunch of wimps". "I'm from the Middle East myself," said yet another, calling for Saddam's violent removal.

At a guess - and I didn't hear all the calls, so this could be totally inaccurate - there were more pro-war calls than there were anti. Australian readers, who are aware of the usual preferences of the ABC and its audience, might be surprised. I was.

Two calls in particular stood out. One came from a woman whose brother, working for a western company fifteen years ago in Iraq, was kidnapped by Iraqi secret police. "He was an absolute mess" when returned to his family, she said. He'd been held captive and tortured for nearly a month.

The other came from an older woman named Jill. Her family had migrated to Australia after WWII. "I wish we'd had politicians in the 1930s with the guts of Tony Blair and John Howard," she said, her voice catching slightly. "Why?" asked the host.

She answered through a rush of tears. "Because then I'd have a lot more relatives."

UPDATE. Gareth Parker monitors commercial radio, and discovers exactly the opposite talk-back trend.

Posted by Tim Blair at March 21, 2003 02:12 AM