July 02, 2004


Frank Devine runs a red pen through the ABC News:

ABC: "An Islamic website proclaimed [the beheading of Paul Johnson] as a lesson to Westerners who dare venture to Saudi Arabia."

Rephrase or delete. Certainly cut "lesson" and "dare". The ABC shouldn't act as a mouthpiece for murderers.

"Mr Johnson's family and friends in New Jersey are devastated. [Unidentified man]: 'They've won one thing: my hatred. I've never been a racist a day in my life but today I'm finding myself very racist'."

Delete quote. Irresponsible to imply that (1) it's okay to be racist if a friend has been murdered or (2) New Jersey people turn racist when bad things happen or (3) Johnson's murder was the act of a race of people. Highlighting statements of individuals when distraught is unfair and often misleading.

"Russian President has revealed new intelligence claiming that Saddam Hussein's regime was planning to strike the United States ... For President George Bush the revelation may come as a relief."

Delete second sentence. Unsupported, not to say air-head, speculation.

"Just hours after the Russian President's statements [Bush] made a campaign stop to again tell troops Saddam was a threat."

Delete "campaign". The Democratic Party hasn't even chosen its nominee yet. Anyway, commanders-in-chief have other reasons to visit troops than to canvass their votes. Replace "was a threat" with "had been a threat". Saddam is in prison.

"[Quoting President Bush]: 'This is a regime that sheltered terrorist groups. This is a regime that hated America. And so we saw a threat and it was a real threat.' That claim is being disputed by the commission into the September 11 attacks."

Delete last sentence. The commission disputes nothing in this Bush statement. An ABC concoction. Sack scriptwriter and segment producer.

"Analysts believe Putin was trying to help the American president [with his statement that Russian intelligence showed Saddam planned to attack the US], hoping one day the favour might be returned."

Amazing speculation! Where is there an "analyst" so unhinged as to make it? If possible, shoot scriptwriter and segment producer while attempting to escape.

"[Quoting Opposition spokesman Kevin Rudd]: 'John Howard wants to run a cheap and nasty election campaign based exclusively on national security. Well, this is his national diversion strategy.' But it's a campaign the Government won't be easily diverted from."

Delete news-reader's ditzy comment. What won't the Government be diverted from? Cheapness and nastiness? Or will it refuse to be diverted from diversion?

"Al-Qa'ida is vowing to continue its holy war in Saudi Arabia."

Delete "holy".

Privatise ABC.

Posted by Tim Blair at July 2, 2004 01:37 PM

I don't know, maybe its just us? Stephen Mayne's site ( doesn't merit naming) was whining about how unfair the Australian has become, in that it is now some sort of right wing diatribe. Mr.Devine's piece will only enrage.

No comments about the ABC, SMH or the Age for some unknown reason.

Posted by: nic at July 2, 2004 at 02:12 PM

What's that silly old fart going on about ? That they shouldn't report the news ? They should get prettier nurses at his retirement home so that his tiny brain can be kept busy. I gave up reading the Australian after they brought him out of well deserved retirement. The bloke is a joke. Incidentally Timmie I assume the final conclusion "Privatise ABC" is all your own work. I will give you a clue : an argument follows from it premises via deductions to a conclusion.

Posted by: Bill O'Slatter at July 2, 2004 at 02:22 PM

Thank G-d we still have The Asutralian. I really wouldn't read anythign except blogs if it werent for the Aus.

Posted by: Troy at July 2, 2004 at 02:29 PM

To spell it out for you, if they want wrap political opinion up in their news stories, they should pay for it themselves and not do so at the expense of the taxpayer.

I would have thought that met all your criteria.

Posted by: amortiser at July 2, 2004 at 02:46 PM

"The ABC shouldn't act as a mouthpiece for murderers."

Quite true, Frank. But there's no evidence (at least in this instance) that the ABC is doing this. If the Islamic jihad website does use these terms, then the ABC is simply reporting the facts and leaving the viewers to form their own conclusions - this is a practice rare in all news coverage, ABC and otherwise, and is to be encouraged. Frank evidently thinks that the average Australian viewer, if not given adequate guidance, might be inclined to give great credence to the propaganda of people who behead innocent civilians. If so, the problem is less with the ABC than with Frank himself.

However, in other areas Frank is on the money. I share his disdain for the use of weasel words like "analysts" or "many commentators are saying" or, even worse, "there is a widespread belief/perception that...". But this is not a sin exclusive to the ABC. Frank should take the red pen to his own columns some time if this gets him hot under the collar.

And as for Tim B's wish for a privatised ABC: what makes him think that a such a beast would necessarily produced a more objective, unbiased news coverage? Doesn't that rather depend on who buys it?

Posted by: tim g at July 2, 2004 at 02:54 PM

Troy, presumably you meant to say "...if it were not for the Asu."

Posted by: Greg at July 2, 2004 at 02:56 PM

Devines point/point analysis of the ABC piece I reckon was well done. It does indeed do proper analysis with regards to identifying speculation, comment and factual. It is not a icon of absolute correctness, many of Devines points are just as commentary, spectulative and biased as the ABC material he is critiquing.

Indeed I'm always doing the exact same process in analysing various articles, essays and reports that you see. On both left and right sides in fact.

I've actually stopped reading indymedia (in a serious fashion), for the same reason I come to this site for the odd giggle (I certainly don't take anything here seriously). Generally the commentary is baised to the point of un-usability and so-called intellectual debate is full of sophostic gibbering.

In the ABC article Devine is winging about, I don't think he's made a sufficient a case to use his scary, MOT, ABC Fifth Column Conspiricy imagery at the beginning......it's just a rant and should be taken as such, like much of the rants in this forum (hint, if you think this place is a bastian of truth, justice and un-biased reporting.....look at the URL at the top of your browser).

One thing that is terribly fallacious is to assume that journalism is simply to provide information, unbiased and without commentary. If you want raw data, then the ABC, The Bulletin, The Australian, SMH etc would all be reduced to a simple database of text. Nonsense, journalism is about providing honestly this information, in context and with speculation if needed. Note the qualifier, it is the honesty which is important. If a journalist provides knowingly false information, out of context information or does not clearly differentiates between speculation and facts then there is a problem. You clearly differentiate it, then speculate all you want.
With regards to ABC being funded by the Australian taxpayer and some taxpayers don't like the way it goes, well elect another government that will do something about it. I suggest if Blair and cronies are so incensed about the ABC that they elect another government other than the current one which has had several years of trying to kill it..and failed....why not try the greens or democrats. It's your right, go and vote.
Last comment, I'd be worried if suddenly all newspapers, radio and TV gave equal time to both sides. It should devote all time to logical argument, as Bill above notes. Example, lets assume a serious issue. One side is lying, the other is not (most cases both will be lying and telling the truth simultaneously.....multiskilling in politics, what a wonderful thing). The problem with giving both sides, unbiased and without analysis is that one side might be fibbing, lying or decieving others. If journalists simply repeat whatever each side in an issue releases as statements, then they are culpuble in whichever side is lying or behaving badly. Simply because they are giving equal time to the other side doesn't cancel it out, it's not like a kharmic balance or electrical charge equation. If journalists do not examine the issues and present analysis honestly they are not being journalists, merely data entry clerks. If journalists are doing honest analysis, but doing so incompetently, complain to the ABC about the journalist, not winge about the ABC itself.
....mmmm do you think that Devine has another motive behind his anal attack on the ABC beyond trying to save money for the taxpayers?

Posted by: bemused spectator at July 2, 2004 at 03:19 PM

tim g

At least then we will not be compelled to pay for it. A privatised ABC can say what it pleases, but not on my coin.

Posted by: Antipodean at July 2, 2004 at 03:20 PM

You seem to a bit behind the times. Tim is running a BLOG. Tim pays for it, and gets to express his opinion. He is not a speaker in a debating team who must conform to your standard of debate.

Note that he is not responsible for running a wholly taxpayer funded NEWS organisation.

I realise computers didn't exist when you went to school Bill, and you didn't ever surf a web-page until long after your wife stopped having hot flushes - but do try and keep up old chap.

Or go off and retire or something ...

Posted by: Robet Blair at July 2, 2004 at 03:20 PM

Quite true, Frank. But there's no evidence (at least in this instance) that the ABC is doing this. If the Islamic jihad website does use these terms, then the ABC is simply reporting the facts and leaving the viewers to form their own conclusions

It ought to put the words in quotation / scare marks.

Posted by: Andjam at July 2, 2004 at 03:28 PM

"Bemused", your post was very long and meandering. Are you high?

Does anybody know why public broadcasters in Britain, Autralia, Canada, and the USA all tilt the way they do? Is it some unavoidable consequence of being on the public dole? Can anyone explain the mechanics/economics?

Posted by: Joe Geoghegan at July 2, 2004 at 03:32 PM

"Privatise ABC."

Amen to that.

Posted by: Michael Sutcliffe at July 2, 2004 at 03:42 PM

"Can anyone explain the mechanics/economics?"

Probably the same reason that so many academics are leftists, and so many public sevvants are unenemployable outside the public service (and also leftists) - they, and their ideologies, would wither and die in the private sector once people were free to not subsidize their crap.

Posted by: HippyKiller at July 2, 2004 at 03:46 PM

HK, that explanation only takes us so far. In fact, some of these broadcasting services produce high quality content that people *would* pay for, I think. As Damian Penny noted, the Beeb has some wonderful science programming, and NPR puts together fantastic music shows. Come to think of it, private benefactors donate heavily to NPR on the strength of their music programming.

Now, as far as the political programs being sucky and not viable in a free market, well, your local Lyndon LaRouche supporter can't make it past the bus stop, but the "sneering left" has a monopoly on the Beeb et al. Why does this particular brand of politics get showcased on public broadcasters? It must be palatable to somebody.

Posted by: Joe Geoghegan at July 2, 2004 at 03:57 PM

I'm sure it is more than palatable to some people - but let them pay for it with their own dollars, not mine. I have to pay to subscribe if I want movie channels, fox, Naked News, whatever...either that or watch free-to-air punctuated by ad breaks. What's so special about ABC viewers that the rest of us have to pay for their ad-free viewing?

Posted by: HippyKiller at July 2, 2004 at 04:44 PM

That's my whole damn point. How did public broadcasters throughout the whole Anglosphere get captured by that narrow interest?

Posted by: Joe Geoghegan at July 2, 2004 at 04:47 PM

It's not just broadcasting, it is all public services with any influence over public policy, aided by relevant unions. Health, education, social welfare, local councils, you name it.

While the West won the cold war and dismantled communism, its very wealth caused it to build massive and unaccountable public service bureaucracies, especially after WWII, which provide the perfect refuge for the unaccountable to propagate their agendas.

Posted by: ilibcc at July 2, 2004 at 05:12 PM

Bemused, you say that "journalism is about providing honestly this information, in context and with speculation if needed."
Bullshit. Journalism is the accurate reporting of facts so that sensible people can form an opinion of their own. Speculation has no valid part in this process.
There are a myriad of institutions that pump out opinion and that is fine. What I expect from the ABC is fact without opinion, unless it is clearly indicated that what I am about to hear is someones opinion. If I want to hear Green Left Weekly opinions, I will buy it. I don't want opinion sprouted as fact. That is all.

Posted by: Gibbo at July 2, 2004 at 05:14 PM

I was going to write a long, in depth analysis but I've got a real job to make money at, so fuck that - Privatise the AB fucking C. Nuff said.

Posted by: Razor at July 2, 2004 at 06:00 PM

"It ought to put the words in quotation / scare marks."

Andjam: Frank was working off a transcript of spoken news. If there were no scarequotes, you can really only blame the transcripter. Although it would be funny to see Red Kerry hold his fingers up "waynes world" style when quoting someone ;)

"And as for Tim B's wish for a privatised ABC: what makes him think that a such a beast would necessarily produced a more objective, unbiased news coverage? Doesn't that rather depend on who buys it?"

We don't care, tim g. If it's privately funded, they can be biased in any fashion they choose. The problem I and many others here have with the ABC is that they are providing biased reporting which we are forced to pay for.

Posted by: yobbo at July 2, 2004 at 06:56 PM

How about a dose of reality? The ABC is never going to be privatised, because all politicians, and indeed all of us if we're honest, know that privatisation basically equates to abolition. Most of the ABC's activities could never conceivably turn a profit (eg regional radio, distance education) and so would either cease to exist or be scaled down so markedly that they would die a natural death. I know that most of you guys wouldn't mourn the loss of Phillip Adams and co, but people who live outside the Sydney-Canberra-Melbourne triangle might feel differently about losing things like Country Hour, which is not exactly a hotbed of pinko radicalism. And if they feel differently, so might the pollies trying to win or retain the marginal seats in which they live.

So, by all means, argue for higher standards, at the ABC and the Australian media generally. But as for privatisation - get real.

Posted by: tim g at July 2, 2004 at 07:09 PM

Yeah, do it for Country Hour and other fine programs that people would only want to pay for if they were forced!

Posted by: Sortelli at July 2, 2004 at 07:38 PM

Frank Devine is a columnist who is paid to express his opinion, not report the news.
The ABC News on the other hand is there to report the news, not put in their ten cents worth of opinion while they're doing it.
PS A few years ago the ABC News used their programme to "out" Frank as a drain on the public purse* after he savaged them. They may do it again after this.

* he had received a small sum for some free-lancing.

Posted by: david at July 2, 2004 at 08:23 PM

New Jersey people turn racist when bad things happen

naw, we just get off at the wrong exit...

Posted by: Mr. Bingley at July 2, 2004 at 10:40 PM

Tim G maybe you should get real. It will take time but we will get the ABC. They hit us and we will take them right out of the game. Our day WILL come.

Posted by: Just Another Bloody Lawyer at July 2, 2004 at 10:50 PM

I see Bill O'Slatter has been taken off his medication again.

Posted by: Sue at July 2, 2004 at 11:02 PM

"Mr Johnson's family and friends in New Jersey are devastated. [Unidentified man]: 'They've won one thing: my hatred. I've never been a racist a day in my life but today I'm finding myself very racist'."

I am almost 100% certain that quote was fabricated by the reporter. The original was actually a (likely phony) sign.

Posted by: Ken Summers at July 3, 2004 at 01:00 AM

I also noticed in a interview today with John Laws that Latham claimed he never touched the elderly man in question (RE: assault charges).

Well on the late news the elderly man in question had little doubt about what had happened and that Latham had indeed assaulted him and punched him in the face.

Is Mark Latham now claiming that this man is lying???

As the Footy Show says Latham "you're Goooone"

Posted by: scott at July 3, 2004 at 01:02 AM

It's unbelievable that any part of the press is government controlled or funded. That's not freedom of information in any form. If one penny goes from government to press, the press is bought and you cannot believe a word of it.

Posted by: Easycure at July 3, 2004 at 01:35 AM

tim g says:

"The ABC is never going to be privatised, because all politicians, and indeed all of us if we're honest, know that privatisation basically equates to abolition."

That's the point everyone's trying to drill into your skull, me lad.

Posted by: Harry at July 3, 2004 at 01:42 AM

Of course the ABC won't be abolished.

The ABC Board provides a nice sinecure to which current politicians appoint their ex-politician mates.

Posted by: peggy sue at July 3, 2004 at 12:25 PM

On specific responders.

Hi Joe, sorry about the long rambling rant, no I'm not high, I just write that way!

Gibbo, I'll disagree with you on simply reporting facts but certainly agree with you on clearly indicated speculation. Quickly re-iterating the ramble above, it is speculation and opinion that helps to identify false facts.

In General:
Regarding opinion/speculation on public purse. Again I have no problem, as long as it is, as Gibbo mentioned, clearly indicated. It is possible to learn much from someones opinion, even if you disagree. I learn much from this place (in a bemused fashion that is).
Privatisation of the ABC, no way, never ever. There is a lot of media consolidation, which maybe great for business, but terrible for functioning democracy. It is vital, even if it is uncomfortable, vital, that powers of any sort are balanced in a democracy. In this case, the government interests are balanced by the ABC criticism (and the courts, and the senate, and the elections every few years etc). Remember Keating tried to scuttle the ABC as well, so it is not just a left/right issue.
Privatisation would just suck the ABC into whatever coorporate mothership bought it, this would weaken the stability of our little brand of democracy. Reports would be as the boss tells them to be. Because of media consolidation, the market which in capitalists terms would self-regulate, is thus not provided with enough differentiation to select for the 'best'.
I don't see paying for the ABC as a niggling pain, nor a outrage, nor even am I indifferent, I see it as a duty to keep these institutions going. There are others, community services, regulation of business etc all balancing institutions are important as those that they balance. In this case, public media vs privatised media.


Posted by: bemused spectator at July 5, 2004 at 05:13 PM

Do you Aussies have ANY privately owned media? Here in the US the only govt subsidizied media is NPR. It was originally set up by the Kennedys to bring "culture" to the rest of us savagages. Musical, theater, etc. are ok, but I think that any publically funded media ought be barred, by law, from commenting on any issue less that 150 years old.

Posted by: rabidfox at July 10, 2004 at 04:42 AM

rabidfox: PBS also recieves government funding, or did that stop while I wasn't looking?

Joe: In answer to your original question, I'd say if follows that since public media are govt funded, and leftist politics favor govt funding, they have a vested interest in leaning that way.

tim g: Our private media seem to do okay in turning a profit. I guess Americans are just so much wealthier that we can afford it.

America - Even our poor people are fat.

Posted by: Arnold at July 10, 2004 at 07:15 AM