Allan Takes Aim Blog

Democracy goes awry at ABC

Posted on: 24 August 2010

  First published The Chronicle, Canberra, 24 August 2010

 When I say ‘It’s all over bar the shouting’ I’m talking about the election because, over the next few months I have no doubt continual Opposition shouts of  ‘I told you so’ will assault our ears about every, or any, perceived fault it thinks they’ve found in Government policy.   

I put these shouts aside last week to look back at the many elections I’ve experienced in Australia. What did I see? I saw the continuing diminution of the political democratic process I lived with as a young man in Scotland, England, New Zealand, Australia and other parts of the world, that I thought would help make the world a better place.

People supported the democratic process because of what it promised, a world where peace, freedom and opportunity reigned while poverty and its permanent companion, ill health, if not totally eliminated, had been contained. Unfortunately, and to the world’s detriment, the democratic political process is now taken for granted. Indeed it disappears to reappear election time when some candidates, asked a difficult question, mention it to help cover up their lack of knowledge of what democracy means.

One would think that in Canberra, the political headquarters of Australia, the democratic political process would thrive. Unfortunately it does not.  It has to be said that, in Canberra, many elections arr viewed as inconveniences to avoid, if possible. What makes them inconvenient is that they disturb people’s leisure. Not that people don’t attend polling booths at election time: some do, but only to get their names marked off the electoral roll and so avoid being fined.

Sadly, too, for some Canberrans, elections are a means to an end, which is not that of using the political process to make the world a better place, but an opportunity to advance personal status and wealth. Unfortunately, Canberra has too many of these people. Some even try to become politicians. More unfortunately, some succeed.

But perhaps Canberra’s greatest misfortune is that at the last election, some in the community who sincerely wanted to try and make the world a better place were prevented from doing so by people who, even if not interested in doing so, arrogated to themselves the right to determine if people could see, hear or read of those who thought it could be done.

I make this comment because I am disturbed by how Darren Churchill, the Australian Democrats lead Senate candidate for Canberra, was denied the opportunity of putting his views to the community by the taxpayer funded ABC, which claims to be the community’s broadcaster. I can understand commercial media denying him that opportunity (not that it did), but what I cannot understand is his censoring by the ABC.

It could not have been because he was unknown to the ABC because he had been sending out press releases to the media, myself included, long before the election. As a result, I gave space to his views in the column on Tuesday, 27th July. On the following three weeks I gave other candidates the same space to air their views. 

While watching ABC Stateline on Friday 13th August I noted with some surprise, that only the Labor, Liberal and Greens senate candidates were interviewed but not Mr Churchill. When I telephoned him next day to ask why he replied that he had not been interviewed because Jeremy Thompson, the acting producer of the programme told him, that because the Australian Democrats obtained only 2% of the vote at the last election he didn’t think it worthwhile including him.

I wasn’t aware the Corporation’s Charter gave staff the right to deny broadcast time to candidates approved by the electoral commission because, at the last election the party they represented had not received a particular percentage of votes. I say this not only as interested observer of ACT politics but as a former President of the Friends of the ABC. 

If such a right exists not only is it nonsense, it is undemocratic. And with a week being a long time in politics the result of three years ago is irrelevant. As many politicians know to their cost, voters have a habit of changing their minds when they know what candidates think.

The Chronicle for Canberra’s best community news. Published every Tuesday


24 Responses to "Democracy goes awry at ABC"

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Things might change now that minor parties and independents are seen to be particularly important at the moment. If we all have to go back to the polling booths in the coming weeks, the Australian Democrats might even get a chance to be heard.

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Unfortunately this did not surprise me from the ABC. For a tax funded station, I think it is appalling, they need to change their way of thinking I feel.

The media bias leading up to the election was deeply concerning – how could it be that the ACT had only a handful of candidates yet the ABC could find no time (or see any imperative) to give them all at least some coverage? How can it be that as a country we send young men to die for democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan yet we do not care about the quality of our own democracy and the media allow themselves to be turned into mouthpieces for the major parties? The ABC needs to recognise the trust placed in it by the public to inform us reliably, critically and in an impartial manner. Thanks Don for taking on this issue – we can only hope the ABC listen.

It is no surprise a government funded TV broadcasts what the government wants it too.

The ABC will always fight for the status quo (that provides its funding). It has a significant incentive to do so.

Democracy as they say, is two wolves and a lamb deciding whats for dinner. There is no surprise the ABC sides with the two wolves in this situation.

Minor parties have their best chance with private media, and increasingly the internet, as shown by recent events. The less government in media, the and less unfair taxpayer funded competition, the better.

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