January 30, 2014

Twirling towards freedom

Abbott and the ABC: An inconvenient truthiness

By Michaela McGuire
Abbott and the ABC: An inconvenient truthiness

On Wednesday morning, Our Glorious Leader handed down a maxim to the newsrooms of the national broadcaster. If you can’t say anything nice, the finger-wag went, don’t say anything at all.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has attacked ABC News, telling Sydney broadcaster Ray Hadley that, “A lot of people feel at the moment that the ABC instinctively takes everyone's side but Australia's.” Abbott lamented further that, “You would like the national broadcaster to have a rigorous commitment to truth and at least some basic affection for the home team, so to speak."

So to speak.

The American comedian Stephen Colbert coined the term ‘truthiness’ back in 2005, satirizing the misuse of appeal to emotion and gut feelings as rhetorical devices in politics. In an interview, Colbert elaborated on the definition of the word: “Truthiness is, ‘What I say is right, and nothing anyone else says could possibly be true.’ It’s not only that I feel it to be true, but that I feel it to be true. There’s not only an emotional quality, but there’s a selfish quality.”

These feelings of Abbott’s ­– that Andrew Bolt’s readership constitutes “a lot of people”; that the ABC is “self-regulated” and not the most carefully scrutinized media organisation in the country; that Big Ted and Jemima are teaching children how to craft and then burn their own tiny Australian flags – are selfish at best and dangerous at worst.

Abbott’s feelings on this matter have no regard for evidence, logic, intellectual examination or “a rigorous commitment to truth”, but are squarely rooted in the interests of maintaining the secrecy around Operation Sovereign Borders and the treatment of asylum seekers.

Last week, the self-appointed guardians of the national interest at The Australian dutifully reported that the publication “has been told” that two of the asylum seekers already had burns, and that Neil James of the Australian Defence Association “added that when the Australians arrived at the scene, the engine of the asylum-seeker boat was already cold.”

These two pieces of information were presented as facts, not feelings, exclusively to The Australian. Without being handed the same tidbits, the ABC instead did what we pay it to do: present the allegations, acknowledge the source, and report any denials (and there have been many).

As Abbott repeatedly pointed out while in opposition, the ABC is supposed to be above partisan politics. Now that he’s in government, the rules seem to not only have changed, but don’t exist at all. Abbott’s claims that the ABC “self-regulates” are, of course, entirely ridiculous and ignorant of the fact that the ABC is accountable to the Australian Communications and Media Authority.

Amongst the hypocrisy, secrecy and unbelievable statements to emerge over the past week, one thing is clear. Abbott has fired a warning shot, and the lines we should be worried about crossing aren’t at sea, but right here at home. 

Michaela McGuire

Michaela McGuire is a journalist and the author of Last Bets: A True Story of Gambling, Morality and the Law and the Penguin Special A Story of Grief. Visit her blog, Twirling Towards Freedom.


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