AUSTRALIA: Let’s Keep it Classy, ABC

AMBER VERNETTI WRITES – The government of Prime Minister Tony Abbot hopes to sever the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s ties to its international broadcasting service, the Australian Network.

As reported in The GuardianJulie Bishop, the foreign affairs minister, has questioned the overall quality of the Australian Network’s service and contends it may not be fulfilling its duty as a “tool of public diplomacy.” Further, Abbot himself has called for a careful appraisal of ABC, saying that it “dismays Australians when the national broadcaster appears to take everybody’s side but our own.”

This public criticism of ABC follows the broadcaster’s reports that asylum seekers were allegedly mistreated by members of the Australian Navy. Abbot said that ABC should have been more “patriotic and should be inclined to give the Navy the benefit of the doubt.”

When questioned about the accuracy of the supposed claims of mistreatment, ABC took the necessary actions to investigate the validity of these statements. Sydney’s Daily Telegraph included a statement from Abbot’s main business consultant and previous ABC chairman, Maurice Newman, saying, “In relation to the navy, [ABC has] given credence to the idea that the navy may well have tortured people…I think [the allegations] are inimical to Australia’s best interests.”

Malcolm Turnbull, the communications minister, took a more accepting approach to the debate, saying, “Politicians, whether prime ministers or communications ministers, will often be unhappy with the ABC … but you can’t tell them what to write.”

On the other side of the conversation, Mark Scott, the managing director of ABC, says that, “As (Communications Minister) Malcolm Turnbull said the other day, the ABC raises passions and will have critics from time to time.” Scott added, “I accept that and understand that. The important thing I am looking to do … is ensure the ABC is doing an outstanding job fulfilling our charter, informing, educating and entertaining the people of Australia.”

Whether ABC’s original story is true, Turnbull and Scott have a point. It is not the media’s job to make the government happy.

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