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Why does the ABC continue to insult us with Bolt?

It seems the ABC can’t get enough of Andrew even though his extreme views on everything, from white settlement to climate change, are as dangerous as they are unpalatable. He has co-hosted Jon Faine’s conversation hour, appeared on Lateline, been a panellist on Q&A, and is a regular commentator on the current affairs show the Insiders on Sunday mornings.

It’s not as if Andrew doesn’t have ample opportunity to opine misleadingly all over the media. He has his own twice-weekly column in the Herald Sun for a start, is a regular on 3AW and has gigs happening all around Australia.

It’s fair to say that Andrew and his ilk pretty much dominate commercial media but it’s his appearances on the ABC that bestow on him a credibility he doesn’t deserve and that he can never achieve in the tabloids. Perhaps this is why he so proudly declares his ABC credentials on his CV.

The Mr Right of Australian politics is the man the ABC producers call when they want to provide balance. But if balance is such a priority, where then is Mr Left, or indeed Ms Left? And if ABC programmers are really after balance, then perhaps they could invite a socialist, or even a communist, to offer audiences an alternate view.

But that’s as unlikely as Barnaby becoming treasurer. The ABC has been running scared since being fingered as left-wing sympathisers during the Howard years, and as well as losing funding and staff, and have lost their nerve.

The ABC is happy, however, to let Andrew deny climate change till the cows come home. I’m all for a diversity of opinion but I expect the ABC to ensure its commentators are well-informed, have intellectual integrity and do not glibly dismiss the findings of the world’s leading scientists. And get away with it – that is, unless Annabel’s sitting opposite Andrew on the Insiders couch.

Andrew’s growing presence on the ABC might also be a ratings grab. He brings with him an audience that would otherwise rarely, if ever, tune into the ABC. The risk of course is that shows like the Insiders will then need to appeal to the lowest common denominator in order to keep Andrew’s fans watching.

The ABC’s slide into mediocrity is already well underway. ABC television news is indistinguishable from news broadcast on Channel 9, in-your-face ABC promos almost put the commercial media to shame and local stories take priority over international news.

The decline of current affairs at the ABC is nowhere more apparent than on local radio in the afternoon drivetime slot once hosted by Virginia Trioli. The present host, much less interested in politics than her predecessor, this week, expressed relief in the renewed vigour of the Victorian Liberal Party, not because a contest is good for democracy, but because the coming state election would be that much more entertaining.

Andrew’s place in the hearts of ABC management is all the more galling, when with one hand he takes the taxpayers money, and with the other, belts the ABC around the head for being publically funded—brings a whole new meaning to biting the hand that feeds you.

It’s all about as unseemly as a communications minister skiing the Colorado slopes with Kerry Stokes, then announcing a $250 million cut in rebates to free-to-air networks.

We could always take refuge on Radio National where the intellectuals go to play, but be warned: Andrew has managed to weasel his way in there, too. He’s appeared on Late Night Live, hosted by Mr Left himself, Phillip Adams. But then, Phillip has been spruiking Rupert Murdoch’s repository of right-wing nasties, the Australian.

There’s still a lot worth defending at the ABC as its Friends know, but programs that challenge audiences, journalism that lays bare and investigates the dark side, and a culture that nurtures a fierce pursuit of truth, are fast disappearing.

A real fear is that audiences will soon see the ABC as just another place to go for entertainment and forget or not know that its Charter promises Australians something different from commercial media: stories that help us understand who we are, where we come from and hopefully, where we’re going, stories that encourage us to reflect, to engage and think about our place in the world. Stories about us.

The time is well overdue for the ABC to send Andrew Bolt packing and spend the money paid to him from the public purse on fair dinkum journalists and much-needed quality programming.

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

If you like this piece, or support Overland’s work in general, please subscribe or donate.

Trish Bolton’s novel, Stuck, was the recipient of a 2018 Varuna PIP Fellowship and a 2015 Varuna Residential Fellowship. In 2017, Stuck was longlisted for the Mslexia Women’s Novel Competition (UK) and Flash 500 Novel Competition (UK), and in 2016, was the joint-winner of the Fellowship of Australian Writers (FAW) Unpublished Manuscript Award.

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    • Sophie, I think you’re probably right. Andrew gives it to the left, the so-called inner city elites and academics. He doesn’t quite fit the larrikin mould but he’s seen as standing up to authority figures and Australians love that. Funny though, how the people Australians often take a shine to or take notice of, are usually from the right and rarely from the left

  1. My fear is that the last bastion of media impartiality has been compromised. Of all of Howards doings this is the thing that I despise the most. To me at least it is a treasonous act upon our nation and also one of very limited forward thinking. For either side of government will be able to use the ABC as it wishes and once entrenched they will be excessively difficult to remove.

  2. Yep, couldn’t agree more Rob. The funding cuts, a hostile board (during the Howard years) and the push for ratings have all undermined the ABC. Governments of both hue have always waved the big stick at our public broadcaster, but now after the vitriol of the past liberal government and commentators like Bolt who find lefties under every ABC couch, they are even more vulnerable.

  3. This seems like a good time to let people know that, while Friends of the ABC defends the ABC against governments that interfere in its independence or seek to undermine it, FABC is also a critical supporter. It does what it can to keep the ABC on track as an independent, quality broadcaster.

    It is important you let the ABC know what you think about the quality and diversity of its programs and presenters. And please consider joining FABC http://www.fabc.org.au
    Your membership would be valuable to FABC – whether you wish to be active or simply become a member. FABC depends on members to be able to inform, educate and campaign to ensure the ABC’s healthy future.

    Readers of this blog may be interested in an article in FABC’s newsletter: http://www.fabc.org.au/vic/links/newsletter/news_30_winter_2009.pdf#page=3

  4. Glenys, it’s good to be reminded of the behind-the-scenes work of FABC to maintain the public broadcaster’s integrity. And also to remember the many hard-working and committed people who work under very difficult circumstances to bring us programs like 4 corners and news and current affairs such as AM and PM.

  5. Trish Bolton and some of you sycophants who have commented, Who in Gods name do you think you are? The A.B.C. is paid for by the taxpayers of this country, all the taxpayers.
    Apparently you believe it is only for you; The effete, elite, Left, Progressive Liberals. Your comments are understandable as you are unaware of the problem with your brains. I suggest you google Dr. Ben Carson, world renowned pediatric neurosurgeon, Johns Hopkins Director, learn of his recent medical discovery; “LIBERALS” HAVE LIMITED BRAIN ACTIVITY, BOTH SIDES OF THE BRAIN” ESPECIALLY IN THE SPHERE OF LOGIC”

  6. Natalie,
    seriously, is that necessary? ‘you are unaware of the problem is your brains?’ Couldn’t you just say something like ‘The ABC should be able to present both left and right views’ instead of resorting to personal attack? Really…

    Trish, this is a well articulated article. The ABC is refreshing compared to mainstream media(channel nine, seven etc) but, like you’re saying, it could go one step further and present a broader range of views…

  7. I enjoy Bolt’s appearances on Insiders. Even if I don’t agree with his arguments I usually end up sympathising with him if he is sitting opposite, say, David Marr with his simmering hatred of anyone who disagrees with him.

    Bolt usually presents reasoned arguments and he’s worth it just for the contrarian value. Most ABC commentators are centre-left, hence their feigned outrage at Bolt’s arguments.

    • I kinda like David Marr’s simmering – great choice of word to describe Marr’s outrage at Bolt’s lack of compassion for asylum seekers. I don’t mind a contrarian, but on the ABC expect contrary views to be more than just ideological rants – that’s available 24/7 on commercial media.

      • It’s an interesting contradiction all right – from a man who’s supposed to be espousing the virtue of compassion, you get so much hatred.

  8. The ABC is refreshing compared to mainstream media(channel nine, seven etc) but, like you’re saying, it could go one step further and present a broader range of views.

    You don’t present a broader range of views by dumping speakers that some of your viewers don’t agree with.

  9. Trish

    I liked your article, although perhaps a little unkind to Phillip – maybe the only cerebral item at the Australian, apart from George Megalogenis. We’ve put a link to your article from Friends of the ABC website and as Glenys has said FABC needs your and your readers’ support – there are misguided people around who think that the battle for public, independent, commercial-free, broadcasting is over. There are many enemies of commercial-free working in ABC marketing: those insisting on endless, boring “announcements” and quizzes for silly prizes. ABC management for the most fails the transparency test – we are rarely enlightened about their thinking and clearly they do not understand they have a responsibility to explain what they are doing and justify their actions.
    Regards
    Peter Monie

  10. I’m also a big fan of Phillip and his little radio show, but while it’s one thing to write for The Australian, it’s quite another to become its salesperson. In my view, whenever an ABC presenter enters a commercial contract they compromise the integrity of the ABC. So too, do programs such as ‘Saturday Mornings’ where guests – property investment advisers, financial advisers, home renovation experts – get a free half-hour plug for their service or product. It’s commercialism by stealth. Perhaps we won’t realise how important our ABC is until it’s gone. Thanks for the link and keep up the great work.

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