Adjournment - Australian Broadcasting Corporation - 19/06/2014

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (18:49): In March this year I spoke about an issue related to some of the very fine journalists and presenters of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. I was at that time critical of the ABC and its blase approach to the disclosure of speaking fees that many of their journalists and presenters receive moonlighting. I called upon the ABC to be more transparent.

Tonight, instead of criticising the all-embracing ABC for various faults, I wish to praise a particular program of the ABC and that is in addition to their regional radio, their Heywire program and their Landline program, which I am constantly and consistently in praise of.

Tonight I want to praise some recent good journalism in a program that, believe it or not, is Media Watch. But I praise Media Watch on the condition that they lay off my favourite newspaper, the NT News.

On Monday, Media Watch host Paul Barry had good cause to mention the lack of coverage that some media outlets have given to the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption. The commission has so far shed light on many of the allegations of fraud and corruption. Last Thursday was an especially revealing day at the royal commission. This was reflected on the commercial TV networks that night, as well as on the front pages of The Australian and The Daily Telegraph and a few others the next day.

Media Watch noted that two media organisations chose to ignore this massive story. Despite it being one of the top stories of the day, these outlets were overly subdued in their coverage. First of all, Media Watch noted that Fairfax's The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald gave the commission no coverage on their front page. Then Media Watch rightly criticised their own organisation, the ABC, about ignoring the story. Paul Barry said:

And amazingly it was missing entirely from the previous evening’s 7pm bulletins on ABC TV in Brisbane, Adelaide, Hobart and Darwin.

The day before, when evidence was given about wads of cash being handed to Ms Gillard to fund her home renovations ... ABC TV’s 7pm bulletins in three of those capitals also failed to report the news.

While in Sydney it was down the bottom of the bulletin just before the sport.

It is passing strange that such enormous revelations came out of the royal commission last week yet were not treated as news. Mr Barry continued:

The ABC has done little and has long been accused of refusing to investigate.

…   …   …

Up till now, perhaps, one might have given the ABC the benefit of the doubt.

But with sensational evidence being given under oath last week to a Royal Commission there is surely no justification for ignoring it.

He then agreed with journalist Andrew Bolt, who said:

The ABC has run absolutely dead on the Julia Gillard slush fund scandal, absolutely dead. It's been not a story, it's been terrible. The rare time say, in Melbourne, the 774 presenter Jon Faine, has ever talked to reporters covering it , it has been to yell at them and heckle them

Bolt pointed out that Jon Faine has been an extremely vocal critic of the royal commission, right up and through to him reading out an alleged statement from a then future commission witness on his program on June 10. Bolt says Faine has, over the length of the commission:

… played down or largely ignored the AWU slush fund scandal involving Julia Gillard.

… has fudged incriminating details.

… dismissed the allegations—now being investigated by Victoria Police and a royal commission into union corruption—as a 'house of cards'

… has conducted belligerent and hostile interviews of journalists Michael Smith and Mark Baker, who uncovered many details of the scandal.

According to Bolt, Jon Faine also:

… attacks the royal commission as 'intensely political'

… refers to the royal commission as an investigation into 'skulduggery', declining to use the word 'corruption' in its title—

and says some very curious things about the commission

In fact just yesterday, Mr Faine made some extraordinary claims about the royal commission when according to The Australianhe called it 'bizarre' and 'Kafkaesque.' Joining Mr Faine in this supposedly unbiased commentary was someone equally impartial to the commission's objectives—that is, ACTU assistant secretary Tim Lyons. Incredibly Mr Faine said:

We may get to share a cell if we're found to be in contempt but this royal commission to me seems to be becoming more bizarre by the day.

You would not be surprised to hear that Mr Lyons agreed. Mr Faine has been reprimanded before by his bosses for not being impartial to the royal commission. He needs to be reprimanded again.

You might recall, Mr President, back in 2011, an Insiders panellist, the respected reporter and journalist Glenn Milne, got fired by the ABC for daring to raise questions about some of the parties now being named in the royal commission. So it seems ABC News—and, in particular, their TV division—have joined their colleague Mr Faine by imposing a reporting ban on any critical news out of the royal commission. The ABC's editor-in-chief, Mr Scott, needs to review his organisation's coverage of the royal commission and instruct them to report accurately, widely and fairly. That is what the public demands for their dollar.

I do not usually conduct witch-hunts into the ABC but I cannot help but say today's lead news item on News Radio this morning as I was waking reported that, in the long-running saga of Slipper v Ashby, the court case had been dropped—a fair news report. It then went on to give prominence to Mr Slipper's version of the reason for the cessation of the case.

The ABC quoted Mr Slipper as saying that the dropping of the case absolutely vindicated him, completely exonerated him from all blame, and showed that it was all a witch-hunt. I do not want to get into the rights or wrongs of that case—the further I keep away from it, the better—but I am talking about the ABC news coverage of that statement. They played at some length Mr Slipper's view on what the cessation of the court proceedings meant but nowhere did the ABC report Mr Ashby's view.

Reading The Australian—I assume this is correct—Mr Ashby said:

Mr Slipper has been mentally unwell … under such circumstances, I do not wish to continue lengthy proceedings that could potentially cause him great harm.

Why wouldn't the ABC give both sides of the story? I am not saying which one is right but, if you are going to present one, you must surely present the other.

The Australian said:

In putting an end to the long-running sexual harassment case against his former boss, Mr Ashby cited Mr Slipper’s emotional well-being and a desire to avoid 'deep pocket' litigation brought about by the federal government’s agreement to pay Mr Slipper’s legal bills.

Again, I do not want to get into that, but ABC News reporting would have you believe that it was Senator Brandis and the Abbott government that had agreed to pay Mr Slipper's legal bills. But any of us that know the reality of it recall that it was the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd government that agreed to pay Mr Slipper's legal costs. I do not necessarily challenge that. I know Mr Slipper kept the Gillard government in power for some time. That is a matter not for my comment.

Wouldn't you think the ABC would make it clear that it wasn't Senator Brandis and the Abbott government that was paying Mr Slipper's costs but a decision by the Gillard government to fund Mr Slipper? This allowed Mr Slipper to continue these cases to such an extent that Mr Ashby did not want to be involved in what he called 'deep pocket litigation', because the federal taxpayers were now subsidising Mr Slipper's defence. As I say, I do not want to get into the issue but I am talking about the ABC's lack of balance in a story which does have two sides.

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