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.