Its re­sponse to Danby lays bare ABC’s hubris

Even Me­dia Watch at­tested to the ac­cu­racy of the La­bor MP’s crit­i­cism over re­ports on Is­rael

The Weekend Australian - - INQUIRER - GREG SHERI­DAN

As the great Yu­goslav dis­si­dent and demo­cratic so­cial­ist Milo­van Dji­las once re­marked: “In pol­i­tics more than any­thing else, the be­gin­ning of ev­ery­thing lies in moral in­dig­na­tion.”

Michael Danby, the fed­eral La­bor mem­ber for Mel­bourne Ports, has been feel­ing some moral in­dig­na­tion about the ABC’s cov­er­age of Is­rael.

He has been the La­bor mem­ber for Mel­bourne Ports since 1998. Be­fore that he was a union of­fi­cial and for a time worked for Jewish com­mu­nity or­gan­i­sa­tions.

Danby is Jewish. His fa­ther was born in a part of Ger­many that later be­came a part of Poland. Danby’s grand­fa­ther, though he had served in the Ger­man army, was, along with his wife and many mem­bers of his fam­ily, slaugh­tered at Auschwitz.

Mel­bourne Ports is one of the two fed­eral seats with the high­est pro­por­tion of Jewish vot­ers. Danby is not a sin­gle-is­sue politi­cian but is a strong sup­porter of Is­rael who be­lieves the ABC does not re­port the na­tion fairly.

Frankly, no one could se­ri­ously con­test that propo­si­tion.

Danby is a pas­sion­ate man, some­times im­petu­ous. He al­most never gets in­vited on to any ABC pro­gram and the Mel­bournebased Fair­fax me­dia never prints his opeds but merely at­tacks him from the left, as do the fel­low trav­el­ling web­sites such as Crikey and The Guardian Aus­tralia.

So oc­ca­sion­ally he buys ads to make his point. He has even used his elec­torate com­mu­ni­ca­tions al­lowance for this, af­ter check­ing with the rel­e­vant agen­cies that this was kosher, so to speak.

He has bought ad­ver­tise­ments to cam­paign for pub­lic trans­port in his elec­torate, for more fed­eral in­fra­struc­ture spend­ing, for same-sex mar­riage, and some­times for is­sues re­lat­ing to Is­rael and, on a cou­ple of oc­ca­sions, Iran.

A for­mer chair­man of the par­lia­men­tary joint stand­ing com­mit­tee on for­eign af­fairs, he is an old-style so­cial demo­cratic in­ter­na­tion­al­ist with a pas­sion­ate con­cern for hu­man rights, free trade unions and the like.

Danby took two ads in The Aus­tralian Jewish News over a cou­ple of weeks to com­plain about the treat­ment of Is­rael by the ABC’s So­phie McNeill.

The ABC’s Me­dia Watch sum­marised one ad. It said: “The nub of Danby’s com­plaint is that two re­cent sto­ries by McNeill re­ceived very dif­fer­ent cov­er­age. The evic­tion of a Pales­tinian fam­ily last month af­ter a court re­turned their home to Jewish own­er­ship scored a two-minute fea­ture on the mid­day news.

“But the stab­bing to death of three mem­bers of a Jewish fam­ily in July did not re­ceive such per­sonal treat­ment and was re­ported only in the con­text of a surge of vi­o­lence in which four Pales­tini­ans were also killed. They did not get fea­ture treat­ment ei­ther. So, is that bias? Or part of a pat­tern?”

It is hon­est of Me­dia Watch to pose the ques­tion that way. Let me an­swer it: Yes, it is a pat­tern, and yes, it is bias.

The ABC is con­sis­tently bi­ased against Is­rael in a sim­i­lar way to the BBC and for sim­i­lar rea­sons. The over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of ABC re­porters and gen­eral broad­cast com­men­ta­tors share a fairly nar­row spec­trum of world view, rang­ing from the mid­dle left of La­bor to the green left.

This is why the ABC finds it so dif­fi­cult to come to grips with, or even un­der­stand, the com­plaints this kind of bias gen­er­ates.

Within their world view th­ese ABC broad­cast­ers mostly be­have pro­fes­sion­ally, and in the field of­ten with heroic dis­tinc­tion. But in that world view, as has been well es­tab­lished in count­less books and stud­ies, Is­rael rep­re­sents, en­tirely falsely in my view, Western colo­nial­ism, mil­i­tarism and racism.

This gives re­porters and pro­duc­ers an in­stinct never to rep­re­sent Is­rael sym­pa­thet­i­cally. Jewish Is­raeli civil­ians (even vic­tims of ter­ror­ism) are al­most never por­trayed sym­pa­thet­i­cally on the ABC, un­less they are abus­ing their govern­ment or so­ci­ety. Then they are moral he­roes.

To hu­man­ise an in­no­cent Jewish Is­raeli grand­fa­ther or child bru­tally mur­dered in their home by a ter­ror­ist seems some­how or other to be sup­port­ive of Is­rael, so it is rarely done.

Danby in his ads was re­spond­ing to this pro­found emo­tional truth. The ABC’s re­sponse to Danby’s crit­i­cisms is dis­may­ing. It ex­hibits bul­ly­ing, hubris and unchecked power.

But first a word on McNeill. It is the case that she had a record, be­fore her ap­point­ment as a cor­re­spon­dent, of pro-Pales­tinian ac­tivism. It is en­tirely le­git­i­mate for crit­ics of her jour­nal­ism to point to that his­tory. It’s also en­tirely le­git­i­mate to crit­i­cise jour­nal­ists. This may shock you, dear reader, but there have been oc­ca­sions when I my­self have been crit­i­cised, even in­deed on the ABC, mean­ing the crit­i­cism came from tax­pay­ers’ money.

ABC broad­cast­ers some­times darkly re­fer to “dossiers” that have been com­piled on McNeill, as though this in­volved ne­far­i­ous ac­cess to ASIO files. What they mean by dossiers is ar­ti­cles and footage that McNeill her­self has pro­duced. In other words, judg­ing a jour­nal­ist by their out­put.

Quelle hor­reur — surely only the El­ders of Zion could plot such fiendish strat­a­gems!

The ABC is­sued a kind of pa­pal doc­u­ment be­at­i­fy­ing McNeill and con­demn­ing Danby’s crit­i­cism as “highly in­ap­pro­pri­ate”. McNeill her­self is­sued a bizarre state­ment de­mand­ing Danby be cen­sored. She said: “If us­ing tax­payer dol­lars to print false claims about a jour­nal­ist is al­lowed within par­lia­men­tary guide­lines, then clearly they need to change.”

Just take a step back and look at the larger pic­ture. Danby, who al­most never ap­pears on the ABC, has paid for crit­i­cal but not re­motely abu­sive ads, the ba­sic ac­cu­racy of which is at­tested by the ABC’s Me­dia Watch, in small-cir­cu­la­tion news­pa­pers that might reach 20,000 read­ers. In re­sponse he is at­tacked, mocked, vil­i­fied and con­demned in many ABC news pro­grams and by nu­mer­ous ABC com­men­ta­tors to a cu­mu­la­tive au­di­ence in the hun­dreds of thou­sands if not mil­lions.

A more so­phis­ti­cated broad­caster would have in­ter­viewed Danby at length about his crit­i­cisms

Surely even in the ABC some­one must see this is a kind of par­ody of free speech.

It’s more like the Chi­nese Com­mu­nist Party dis­cov­er­ing an en­emy of the state preach­ing in a home church and si­mul­ta­ne­ously de­nounc­ing him in Peo­ple’s Daily, Global Times and the Xin­hua News Agency (irony alert, that sen­tence con­sciously in­volves ex­ag­ger­a­tion, don’t pre­tend to take it lit­er­ally).

The ABC did the same thing a cou­ple of years ago when a Jewish old folks’ home with­drew an in­vi­ta­tion to the ac­tress Miriam Mar­golyes to read from an anti-Is­rael play. All over the coun­try the ABC beat this story to death as a crime against free speech.

Nat­u­rally the nurs­ing home didn’t want to de­bate Mar­golyes, so she was given un­crit­i­cal in­ter­views, with no at­tempt to pro­vide a bal­anc­ing voice, to a cu­mu­la­tive au­di­ence in the hun­dreds of thou­sands to be­rate Is­rael and de­fame the Jewish com­mu­nity. Oi vey! The im­pli­ca­tion is al­ways that Jewish crit­i­cism of the ABC over Is­rael is some­how sin­is­ter. Two ques­tions: what penalty has any ABC pro­ducer or broad­caster ever paid for this crit­i­cism? An­swer: none. There­fore it is re­ally not too sin­is­ter. And is not even the ABC aware of the true, as­ton­ish­ing weird­ness of a body that gets more than $1 bil­lion of tax­pay­ers’ money each year try­ing not to an­swer crit­i­cism but to de­clare it “in­ap­pro­pri­ate”?

A more so­phis­ti­cated broad­caster would have in­ter­viewed Danby at length about his crit­i­cisms, even if the in­ter­view was ro­bust or Danby’s views were an­swered by some­body else.

The worst part of this saga is that Bill Shorten gave in to ABC pres­sure and ad­mon­ished his col­league.

Full dis­clo­sure: I have known Danby for more than 40 years, and ad­mired him all that time. He is ex­actly the kind of per­son we need in par­lia­ment — pas­sion­ate, fiercely in­de­pen­dent, brave as a lion, taken up with hu­man rights con­cerns in China, Ti­bet, North Korea, Dar­fur — a gen­uine in­ter­na­tion­al­ist of which there are al­most none in Can­berra.

In tak­ing on the colos­sus of the ABC, Danby spoke truth to power. Good on him.

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