In a dust up over the reporting of spying revelations, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation has been called unAustralian by prime minister Tony Abbott, who has also called for a review of its funding.
The ABC, known affectionately as “Auntie”, has long been accused of left-wing bias by both conservative media and politicians and the prime minister is just the latest, saying in late January, “a lot of people feel at the moment that the ABC instinctively takes everyone’s side but Australia’s. I think it is a problem.”
The problems Abbott was referring to were revelations broadcast by ABC, prompted by documents released by former US National Security Agency contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden, that Australia’s government had tapped the phones of the Indonesian prime minister Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and his wife in 2009. Snowden was described by Abbott as a “traitor” and said the broadcaster was delighting in “advertising” what he had to say. Abbott accused the broadcaster of attacking the nation.
Though the phone tapping took place during the tenure of the previous Labor government, Abbott’s administration has been vocal that the reporting has badly damaged relations with Indonesia. At the same time, Abbott’s government has been turning back boats into Indonesian waters with no prior warning. This follows an ABC report that Australian navy personnel had abused asylum seekers in their care by forcing them to hold onto hot pipes that burned their hands. The allegations came from members of the Indonesian navy, but were not fully verified by ABC reporters.
An investigation by Media Watch, an ABC watchdog programme detailed varied journalistic abuses or stretches of the truth and found its own network had “overreached” on the allegations of abuse. The programme said the story should have been more adequately researched.
Tony Abbott later said he wanted the national broadcaster to apologise but would “leave it up to them”.
“My concern as a citizen of our country is to try to ensure our national broadcaster is accurate, is fair,” he continued.
Others in his party, such as communications minister Malcolm Turnbull, have not been so direct, noting the importance of freedom of press and a lack of self-censorship
The ABC, in a poll conducted by Essential Research found the taxpayer-funded broadcaster, is considered the country’s second most trusted institution after the Supreme Court. Further research conducted by the ABC found that 85 percent of people believe the broadcaster provides a valuable service.
None of this stops repeated claims of bias against the broadcaster, usually by conservative politicians and journalists. The supposed bias shown last election against Labor by News Limited papers has not been subjected to the same attacks by the Coalition. Other conservative commentators have noted the former government’s own attempts at censorship of the press.
This has come at the same as an”efficiency study” of the ABC and the Special Broadcasting Service, which also receives government funding, has been announced. Beginning this month, it will announce its findings in April and there is much speculation budgets will be cut. There has even been talk of privatising or scrapping the broadcaster, though communications minister Malcolm Turnbull has been keen to distance himself from the ideas.