One of the arguments for a public broadcaster is that the public need to have an unbiased source of news and information. As if government ownership could guarantee such a thing. It is instructive therefore to observe how the ABC dealt with the menugate scandal. I think the answer is “very poorly”. Indeed we recall how badly they dealt with the Gillard coup in 2010.
Anyway the Australian has the story:
THE ABC failed to alter its reporting to reflect the dramatic change in the “menu” scandal story as the substance behind the claims fell away on Wednesday evening.
While other media outlets chose to report that restaurant owner Joe Richards had mocked-up the menu himself, and that it was seen only by him and his son, the ABC’s Leigh Sales still led her introduction to 7.30 with the “shocking sexist misstep by a prominent Coalition MP”.
This was despite the 7pm bulletin containing a reference to the new confession at the end of its first item as the news broke.
Hours later, Lateline’s Emma Alberici also led the program with the old story.
But it was persistent and misleading tweets from the ABC’s Latika Bourke which contributed to confusion about the timeline.
Mr Brough also said he thought it “extraordinary” that the ABC largely ignored the new information.
Okay – the most obvious excuse is that the ABC had pre-recorded the whole evenings news and everyone had gone home. But is that true? Probably not. It is certainly not the case that the news broke too late for the ABC to report it. It could well be that the line the ABC takes is determined in advance and the people who make that decision had gone home (and switched off their phones). That is plausible – after all the ABC is a government bureaucracy and this is a classic example of sluggish response to new information that bedevils all bureaucratic organisations. Contrast that with private sector organisations that responded much more quickly to the new information.
The other explanation is just old fashioned bias. That is on display too. Take, for example, the op-ed published today on the Drum by Barrie Cassidy.
The explanation however, raised several points. Firstly, why then did Mal Brough personally apologise for something that he now says, didn’t happen. That is, the menu was not circulated. Secondly, why did it take so long for the explanation to emerge? And finally how plausible is it anyway, that somebody would go to so much trouble producing such elaborate material just for the amusement of a few kitchen hands?
What does he mean, “why did it take so long”? The menugate story collapsed within hours of it breaking. So quickly, in fact, that his own organisation couldn’t or wouldn’t keep up with the breaking news.
I think we have just seen one of the “better” arguments for public ownership of the ABC collapse along with the PM’s gender war.