Magazine article Review - Institute of Public Affairs

Media Propagandists for Social Justice

Magazine article Review - Institute of Public Affairs

Media Propagandists for Social Justice

Article excerpt

Journalists act as the eyes and ears of a wider society. But what if their views show systematic differences from that wider society? Will they perform their proper function, or does reportage give way to advocacy?

NOWHERE in Australian journalism is the endemic lack of intellectual rigour more obvious than in the day-to-day material produced by members of the federal press gallery. Apart from conspicuously wearing history's black armband, a disproportionate number of reporters, notably from the staff of the Sydney Morning Herald and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's various television and radio programmes, also cloak themselves in the ever-fashionable mantle of `social justice'.

Warming as it may be to its wearers, however, the term `social justice' has now been applied so broadly that it covers every cause to the left of centre and is used to excuse the most egregious biases in reportage. When the press gallery stood to cheer the passage of Labor Prime Minister Paul Keating's Native Title Act, it did so not to show its ingrained support for Labor policy, nor because it understood what the Act was all about, but rather to show that its heart was firmly on the side of social justice.

Social justice has become the fig leaf for left-wing bias in the media, the camouflage from behind which the Left attempts to pursue its agenda. It is not then surprising that Prime Minister John Howard occasionally reminds the ABC, the principal purveyor of material under the social justice banner, that the range of views it presents is too narrow. Any casual listener would be forced to agree. The ABC is apparently happy with its role as the de facto Opposition, confident that if its reporters express their own views during interviews, those views will, in the overwhelming majority of cases, challenge or denigrate a Federal Coalition position. Social justice demands that such views dominate the public broadcaster.

Examples of such behaviour are not hard to find. In early September, when the Government announced a list of delegates for the 1997 Constitutional Convention, the 'AM' programme, which Mr Howard sees as reduced in relevance, interviewed a number of self-identified committed republicans who had been selected among the government nominees. Not unsurprisingly, they and the ABC interviewer challenged the right of the Government to nominate a sprinkling of young people who had expressed support for either the monarchist position or concerns about the various republican cases posited.

There was, however, no question of any hostile response to the committed young republicans named as part of the government delegation. Clearly, the ABC has decided that bias in favour of republicanism is its policy and above question.

Such attitudes are now being promulgated across the whole of the ABC's programming. Even self-nominated media critic Stuart Littlemore eschewed his usual flailings at the Gulargambone Gazette when the Federal Government rejected funding for the ACT's ill-contemplated heroin trial and launched into a polemic in support of that approach to the drug problem. Littlemore did of course describe in his personal memoir his commitment to Labor' and his attempts to colour ABC broadcasts decades ago when he was a full-time employee,2 so such a lack of objectivity is not unexpected but perhaps his programme, and others, should be renamed to identify the biased social commentaries they are in fact.

In 1997, a Canberra consultant conducted an interesting review of three ABC programmes, 'AM', 'PM' and `The World Today', throughout the month of May. Each of the daily broadcasts was analysed for content and pro- or antiGovernment viewpoint.

On 1 May, for example, 'AM' broadcast four items, three of which were judged political stories. The first was about cuts to the ABC budget (no prize for guessing the point of view), the second was about alleged divisions in the Coalition over Wik, and the third about a car accident involving Aviation Minister John Sharp. …

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