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  • Is the ABC Biased? We asked Australians and the results may surprise you

    • October 30, 2018
    • Neer Korn
    "The overwhelming majority of Australians do not hold any view on ABC bias. It's just not on their agenda, not something they ponder and not a topic of conversation among their friends."

    For some years now there has been a consensus amongst those holding conservative views that the ABC is biased towards the left. They regard this to be an undeniable fact, certain that their views and perspective are grossly under represented and those of the left the prevailing ones. In researching our Who Can You Trust? Edition we asked Australians public from all walks of life, ages and geographical spread how they feel about the ABC and whether they believe it is, indeed, biased. Their answers were varied and quite surprising.

    The level of concern about the ABC was manifest at this year’s Liberal party federal council where a motion was passed calling for the “full privatisation of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, except for services into regional areas”. While the government has made it clear it has no intention of doing so, the very call for it by the major coalition partner is significant. Their argument is that the ABC is vehemently against them and, by definition, pro-Labor and the Greens.

    A small minority of Australians believe this to be the case. Egged on by their favourite commentators, they feel the ABC does lean to the left. This view is most likely to be espoused by older Australian males. “The ABC is so far to the left now, it’s ridiculous,” said one. “If you’re a conservative you just don’t get a look in.” Much of their focus is on political and current affairs programming and in particular The 7.30 Report and QandA whom they see as the worst perpetrators. “They’ve even admitted they’ve got virtually no conservative voices on their network, so I just don’t trust them at all,” claimed a Toowoomba man, “they get four left-leaning people on the panel and they get one conservative.”

    This view may be exasperated by a perception that many Australia’s media outlets are owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp and considered as having an anti-left bias, which makes the ABC stand out in contrast. “The conservative government is absolutely supported by the Murdoch press,” claimed a 40 something woman in Sydney, “and I think that the ABC went over to the other side and sided with the Fairfax press.”

    Surprisingly perhaps there are also those who are adamant the ABC is biased in the opposite direction. They reason that being government owned the ABC is compelled to support the ruling party of the day and that this fluctuates depending on who is in power. As a Melbourne pensioner recalled, “I can remember very clearly that when the Labor party was in power there were many comments about them only interviewing right wingers and now it’s all ‘You’re only interviewing left wingers.’”

    The overwhelming majority of Australians, however, do not hold any view on ABC bias. It’s just not on their agenda, not something they ponder and not a topic of conversation among their friends. They can’t understand what the all the fuss is about. Pushed to consider the issue most assume there may well be some bias at the ABC as they consider all media to be biased by nature. This view has become common in recent years with “fake news” becoming a household vernacular. They have come to understand that no news source should be taken at face value. We’ve come a long way from the early 80s when channel 9’s evening news bulletin ruled the ratings, running a campaign stating that “I know everything I need to do because Brian told me so.” Brian being their trusted and long-standing news reader Brian Henderson. Such a campaign would be meaningless today.

    Australians believe that the onus is on individuals to navigate multiple sources of news before deciding on the truthfulness of a story or otherwise. They are particularly sensitive to feeling the wool being pulled over their eyes, so theirs is a cautious approach. “I still watch ABC, but it doesn’t mean that I’m trusting it 100 per cent,” said one participant.

    Any bias at the ABC however, pales into insignificance relative to other sources.  Trust in the organisation is profoundly high and at levels other news organisations could only dream about. “Obviously they are more impartial than the big networks,” is a representative view. “Some of the stories might be wrong, but if they are, it occurs far less than in any other news organisation.”

    There is enormous public appreciation for the ABC offering a respite from sensationalism. They consider the organisation to present news and stories that people are interested in rather than those that will rate well. “I really like the ABC because they’re not commercialised, and I feel like they don’t need to sensationalise their stories to get viewers.” This common view leads to an unparalleled sense of trust, especially when considering the ABC’s local news offerings. “They are more focused on what’s happening rather than gossip,” one young woman offered. Another added “They’d rather have us be a bit more informed about important topics that are meaningful rather than what [Kim] Kardashian and Kanye [West] are up to.”

    But there’s a much more significant point to make in this debate. For most Australians news and current affairs is merely one small part of the ABC offering. It does not define the organisation. Their ABC is all about dramas, documentaries, local radio, catching up on iView, quiz shows, kids’ channels and the myriad of other offerings they truly appreciate, respect and genuinely love. This is true across the board and across all viewer and listener segments and electorates.

    Considering the esteem in which the organisation is held it seems illogical and counterproductive for any government to pick a fight with the ABC and assume there may be votes to be gained in punishing the ABC for perceived bias. The last thing Australians want is a diminished ABC and any real thought of privatising or causing harm to the organisation would become a toxic political issue and hugely unpopular.

    It is often said that Canberra is a bubble of sorts, far removed from the real world. I can attest to this first hand during a short and unillustrious career as a political advisor. During one visit to Canberra I joined the then Opposition Leader’s office for a viewing of Question Time. The experience was akin to watching a sporting match. Bowls of peanuts, beers flowing, feet on the coffee table and much cheering, booing and guffawing depending on who scored a goal and how impressive it was. The public’s perspective of such behaviour being shameful and embarrassing was completely lost on them. The real world is easily forgotten within the confines parliament house.

    The demonising of the ABC is surprising considering how much political parties expend on research, polling and focus groups. Even a superficial gauging of public opinion would inform them that the ABC is a cherished Australian icon.

    The slogan “hands off our ABC” holds true across the country.  

    Note: The Korn Group has provided research and consulting work for the ABC in the past.

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