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The ABC will prosper with much less public funding

By Chris Lewis - posted Thursday, 21 May 2020


With regard to his belief that public funding should not fund political bias, he states:

Many if not most journalists (not just taxpayer-funded ones) echo the opinions of the elites, whom they tend to use as sources. The difference here is taxpayer involvement. Problems inevitably arise when taxpayers are asked to fund the work of journalists. Teaching children to count can be done in a neutral fashion, as can a cultural series on Shakespeare. The nature of public affairs itself, however, tends toward politicization. A documentary on the Vietnam War or climate change will by necessity involve opinion. The problems become all the more acute when one side of the political spectrum perceives persistent bias.

As noted in 1991 by Walter Goodman (New York Times), who wrote PBS documentaries, by seeking to provide "an alternative to the commercial networks", public television was "almost forced into an adversarial role" that acts as a "a rebuke to a profit-driven society". (Critic's Notebook; "Documentaries That Lean Left", The New York Times, 6 May 1991)

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In Australia, the centre-right (led by the IPA and supporters) has long criticised the ABC for being primarily left of centre over the years when discussing the labour-market, the economy, border protection, the republic, multiculturalism, same-sex marriage; civil liberties, gender, Aboriginal rights, global warming, the United Nations, the environment, corporations, and energy sources.

While the ABC will always try to achieve some balance with some centre-right staff appointments, it is impossible for journalists and supporters not to express their bias with regard to key policy issues.

For example, take the February 2020 Q+A show when Hamish Macdonald pushed the Liberal senator Jim Molan on the link between human activity and global warming. With Molan suggesting that the science on climate change was not settled and that his "mind was open" on whether human caused rising temperatures, he drew heckling and laughter from the audience.

While I agree with the view that human activity is the major cause of global warming, no opposing view should ever be excluded from debate, especially when it involves public resources.

It would indeed be a dangerous and arrogant precedent for any key player in a liberal democracy to stifle debate, as proposed by The Conversation Australia on 17 September 2019 when the editorial team decided to implement "a zero-tolerance approach to moderating climate change deniers, and sceptics. Not only will we be removing their comments, we'll be locking their accounts".

The simple truth is that most policy questions rightfully will have a difference of opinion on how best to address a complex policy issue.

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With regard to global warming, while I too hope that the world will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and support less polluting energy sources, I also recognise that Australia has to create enough wealth in order to adapt to adverse effects that are being caused by climate change given that global fossil fuel use continues to increase.

How nations actually address such contradictory aims also reflects our own personal struggle to address one's carbon footprint, a task that is often not fulfilled from the loudest voices concerned by human activity.

No matter the question, there is often complexity that deserves greater attention. For example, while few would disagree that inclusion and diversity are important, conservatives (and even progressives) have every right to warn about the chance that some subnational groups can erode national solidarity, as argued by the Liberal Peter Beinart in his 2017 essay "How the Democrats Lost Their Way on Immigration".

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About the Author

Chris Lewis has an interest in all economic, social and environmental issues, but believes that the struggle for the ‘right’ policy mix remains an elusive goal in such a complex and competitive world.

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Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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