ABC 24 Hour News is stretched pretty thin. To fill up the yawning hours, it has embraced a grab bag of right wing activists as its “independent” commentators. They are drawn from rightist organisations promoted by John Howard who, when he was Prime Minister, appointed their leaders as ABC Board members.
The panel of the Drum tonight included a columnist for the left leaning (not) Australian, Imre Salusinszky, and Jessica Brown, a researcher for the right wing think tank, the Centre for Independent Studies. An ABC radio journalist, John Barron, a Research Associate at the United States Studies Centre, rounded out the trio.
Salusinszky is a former literary academic and and editorial advisor for Quadrant, John Howard’s favourite political journal. Howard, you might remember gave a rousing speech to mark Quadrant’s fiftieth anniversary, claiming Quadrant and its supporters had “fought the good fight” against “stultifying orthodoxies and dangerous utopias” of those Howard considered leftists.
Quadrant had been targeting the ABC for some time. In 2000, It advocated changing the Corporation’s culture “at the top”, with changes on the Board and managers it appointed. According to Quadrant, the ABC should not be allowed to operate independently.
“The term “independence” when applied to the ABC is code for a particular set of values and prejudices, which include contempt for the prime ministership of Robert Menzies, for the present prime minister [John Howard], hatred of business, and a whole suite of “progressive” policy positions,” the editorial said.
Quadrant, the Melbourne based Institute of Public Affairs and the CIS have all received generous funding from mining companies, merchant banks and corporations seeking to influence the national political debate in their private interests. Their staff present the resulting “research” in the mainstream media.
ABC Drum commentator, Jessica Brown, a post graduate student, is described as a Policy analyst at the CIS. Founded by a former school teacher, Greg Lindsay, CIS champions “free markets and free enterprise” espoused by economist Milton Friedman and propounded by Friederich Hayek. A rather verbose Kevin Rudd said of Hayek:
Hayek’s polemic against the left was an axiomatic component of his advocacy of a radical, neo-liberal alternative – one which argued the absolute centrality of the market; a role for the state as a protector of that market but little else besides; and apocalyptic warnings that any political interference with the integrity (even ‘sanctity’) of the market would place the entire national project on the “slippery slope” to totalitarianism”.
John Howard appointed two CIS directors to the Board of the ABC. The most senior, Maurice Newman stayed on as Chairman of the ABC during the Labor government. Although he kept a low profile under Rudd, he’s still calling the shots at the ABC.
Newman was however, no friend of the Labor movement. He said that his friendship with markets high priest, Milton Friedman, had been motivated by despair with the Whitlam Labor government. “The Whitlam Government regularly mocked markets and business and engaged endlessly in mindless class warfare as if embarking on its own version of the Cultural Revolution, with its madness and irrationality,” Newman once told a CIS rally.
Another CIS Director, Steven Skala, also remains on the ABC Board. Skala is a Vice President of Deutsche Bank.
According to former Quadrant editor, Peter Coleman, the CIS was explicitly established to promote a right wing political agenda:
… the CIS has expanded its range from economic policy and social policy (family, crime, education, indigenous affairs) to foreign policy and religion. It has published 250 books and monographs, and the quarterly magazine Policy (edited by Andrew Norton), and has hosted innumerable seminars.”
Part of the CIS plan is to promote this agenda through the wider media.
So by co-incidence tonight on the Drum, Tony Abbott was seen as a great Liberal leader, with the independents unlikely to support a fragmented ALP.
But the Drum got even better.
The right tilting panel discussion was immediately followed by an interview with a former Victorian President of the Young Liberals, James Patterson, who denied there had been a greenslide at the federal elections. Patterson described the emergence of the Greens as a party with the balance of power in the Senate, as a “One Nation moment”. You can only imagine the tough questioning he faced from Imre and Jessica (or Jess as she’s called by the ABC presenter).
On one level, this infiltration of ABC television gives the lie to the right wing drum beat that the ABC is operated by and for the left. But the right’s leadership know they stacked the ABC Board years ago. They know that Newman, and Skala and Keith Windschuttle (I haven’t even mentioned him) still sit on the ABC Board.
Their acolytes, Salusinszky and Brown are committed right wing activists. Even inferring they are independent commentators is a calculated insult to real journalists everywhere.
And Tony Abbott isn’t even Prime Minister yet.