Rules are clear: park your opinions or leave Aunty - The Centre for Independent Studies
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Rules are clear: park your opinions or leave Aunty

There is a serious problem at our public broadcaster. As the fracas over Laura Tingle’s rant shows, journalistic polemics represent a flagrant breach of impartiality; and Auntie has become too big, too institutionally left-wing and too arrogant to deal with wayward journalists.
For nearly a decade, I presented a program at the ABC called Between the Lines. It was a show primarily about politics, international relations and modern history, and I tried to distinguish it from other Radio National programs by either inviting — and testing — conservative, classical liberal or centre-right guests or challenging what passed as the ABC conventional wisdom on any given subject.
It was the only Radio National program last year, for instance, to host genuine debates about the Voice to Parliament. Other ABC shows gave airtime predominantly to Yes advocates and hardly subjected them to much scrutiny.  Never mind it is not the ABC’s job to follow or adopt a particular opinion; it should fairly reflect a wide range of views according to their weight in the national discourse.
In any case, I sincerely enjoyed hosting BTL every week, and I was very grateful to all the producers and sound engineers with whom I worked. Sure, I occasionally caused some consternation whenever I’d interview sceptics of the energy transition, the Russian-Trump collusion narrative and the post-modernist campaign to decolonise the curriculum at schools and universities.
Still, I was proud of my association with the ABC — and for good reason. There have been long periods in its 90-year history when Auntie was a genuine national broadcaster, and viewers and listeners, albeit in declining numbers, still feel strong affection for it because they remember those times.
The ABC has long enjoyed a special place at the heart of our national conversation. This means that there is an implicit deal between the public broadcaster and the Australian people: it exists by means of a generous taxpayer-funded subsidy, and it is expected to reflect liberal values of fair-mindedness, tolerance and, crucially, impartiality.
Sadly, it is increasingly clear that the ABC fails to keep its side of the bargain, and this negligence is upsetting and isolating many Australians. Rather than representing the nation as a whole, it has become a vital resource for a left–liberal elite, who, despite what they think, only represent a very small minority.
ABC journalists used to deny this charge outright. Many used to say: “I leave my personal politics at home when I go to work,” or “You have no idea what my political views are.”
However, as the Tingle scandal demonstrates, even ABC people have been forced to acknowledge the weight of evidence, notwithstanding a few shining journalists who strive to be impartial. The organisation has swallowed every progressive orthodoxy – from detention centres and decarbonisation to multiculturalism and the Middle East — while viewing with naked contempt the concerns of ordinary Australians.
Anyone who proclaims ABC impartiality and who then hires David Marr to replace Phillip Adams as presenter of “Late Night Live” has a curious idea of impartiality. Like his predecessor, Marr decries everything John Howard and Tony Abbott stood for and opposed it all bitterly and viscerally. He was, and remains, a polished polemicist; he never has been, and never could be, impartial.
Such journalists are often accused of living in a bubble. It’s a fair point. Even after the Voice referendum landslide defeat by 61-39, they seem unaware that millions of Australians do not share their views.
Many ABC journalists — mainly those from Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra —are just ignorant of the legitimate, defensible and entirely respectable opinions outside the narrow consensus within which they move. Rarely do they see the story in a tax rise or in higher energy bills. Rarely do they recognise the accumulating resentments about the costs and inconveniences of net zero policies. And rarely do they expose the rise in national debt or investigate the perils of higher government spending.
All this is why, when Malcolm Turnbull became Liberal leader and prime minister in 2015, one of his colleagues told me Coalition policy would be framed to ensure the party got a fair hearing on the ABC. It was proof of the Liberal party’s sensitivity to, and perceived helplessness in the face of, the institutional leftism of the public broadcaster.
That institutional leftism made the Tingle tirade possible. It put politics before journalistic standards. It has gone on too long and has now done serious damage.
The left would agree with Tingle’s view that Australia remains a racist nation and that Peter Dutton is stoking the fires of xenophobia; conservatives don’t. But those Australians hard to typecast politically who heard Tingle’s rant will agree that it was an expression of opinion. It was not a statement of fact: it was a denunciation of both the federal Liberal leader and the country at large.
Tingle has form: she once slammed Scott Morrison’s “ideological bastardry.” She recently complained – at, yes, another one of those writers festivals! — that our greatest living prime minister, John Howard, was responsible for poisoning public discourse. And during the Gillard years, she regularly criticised and wrote off Tony Abbott, hoping, presumably, that the then-opposition leader would crumble before the 2013 election, which he won in a landslide.
In Britain, a high-level BBC journalist who emulated Tingle’s style of journalism would be howled down by the right-wing press and forced to apologise, though it is unlikely that the BBC would jettison them, because it’s also run by people who have the same leftist views and assumptions. But it appears Tingle isn’t even being made to grovel, however insincerely.
Why? Years ago the esteemed ABC journalist Mark Colvin told me that the problem with many of our colleagues was that they thought more about getting kudos from like-minded journalists, Twitter followers and metropolitan sophisticates than about the taxpayers who pay their wages. They yearn for their peers’ praise for, as the saying goes, “speaking truth to power,” even though they are the ones who are unanswerable to the critics.
But the rules are clear: if you work as a journalist in news and current affairs for a public broadcaster, you try to observe impartiality; and if you wish to speak out on controversial subjects, you must follow the logic of your position, ditch any claims to objective journalism and leave the ABC.
This is why it is now vital the ABC Board intervenes.
It should not just address criticism that there is a left-liberal bias or groupthink at the ABC. It should also warn Tingle, and the people to whom she answers, that this is her and their last warning. If anything remotely like this happens again, she and they are finished at the public broadcaster.
If new chairman Kim Williams follows this logic, the ABC would pay more than lip service to its key founding principles of impartiality.
If he fails, then the ABC will lose the trust of even more of the Australian people whose tax dollars keep it in existence. As a result, audiences will keep drifting away as the media market fragments.
Tom Switzer is executive director of the Centre for Independent Studies in Sydney.