For those of you who don’t know Gerard Henderson runs a blog at The Australian where he pretends to be a
bitch female dog called Nancy who comments on the passing parade. This column used to be at the SMH but they axed it and for reasons I can’t quite work out (pity? affirmative action?) he soon got a gig at The Australian peddling the same guff.
Anyway he has taken a disliking to Chris Berg. Why he would consider a smart, intelligent and articulate person as a threat I couldn’t possibly comment on, but there you have it.
So Chris and I have a book out on the ABC. I appeared last week on Outsiders to promote the book and Chris appeared on the Bolt Report to promote the book. Both appearances caused twitter storms. Me with a statistic that ABC journalists were almost 5 times more likely to vote Greens than the general population and Chris with this statement (emphasis added):
Chris Berg: So the Labor Party believed that the new services provided by, particularly the Murdoch press if you will, the Murdoch press was providing this right-wing, or commercial bias or whatever it was. And the Labor Party felt that they needed a countermeasure to that. So they insisted that the ABC set up a news service. And that news service is specifically non-commercial. It’s specifically non-right and it’s specifically left.
All the luvvies on twitter went wild. Didn’t the great Satan Berg know the ABC was set up in 1932, under the then Lyons government? Blah, blah, blah.
It turns out Gerard Henderson has gone wild too. This is what “Nancy” had to say.
What a load of absolute tosh. Chris Berg does not know that when the ABC was set up in 1932 Joseph Lyons was prime minister of the United Australia Party government. The UAP is the predecessor of today’s Liberal Party of Australia. A full discussion can be found in K.S. Inglis’ This is the ABC: The Australian Broadcasting Commission 1932-1983 (MUP, 1983) and Anne Henderson’s Joseph Lyons: The People’s Prime Minister (New South, 2011).
That latter author – Anne Henderson – is Mrs Nancy.
Like all people with a feeble grasp of history Nancy knows dates but not stories. Even worse, Nancy purports to make claims about a book that he clearly hasn’t read! If Nancy had read the book, he would know that at page 29 the story is set out:
Nevertheless, in 1932 the ABC was just a shadow of what it was to become, producing programming that was rebroadcast by the A-class stations. The first major change to the ABC was giving it the power to create original journalism. For its first decade in operation the ABC relied on the newspapers for news-gathering that it would subsequently broadcast. Labor however claimed that this reliance meant that the biases of newspaper proprietors were being transmitted through the national broadcaster. In a bill passed just before the 1946 federal election, the Chifley government required the ABC to gather its own domestic news itself. The opposition claimed that this was an attempt to bias the imminent election in the government’s favour. Robert Menzies objected that the bill had been ‘literally shuffled through the Parliament in the small hours of the morning on the last day of the session’. Nevertheless, the bill passed parliament.
In fact, let’s actually quote Sir Robert Menzies’ objection to the Australian Broadcasting Bill 1946:
… the central proposal of the bill [is] that the commission should establish an independent news service … Why, then, is the proposal put forward? Quite obviously it is because the Government believes that through a government instrumentality it can establish a news service of its own. The news collected will not be objective, but in ways and means suitable to the government of the day. This is not a case being put up for objective news gathering. It is quite the contrary.
Now Nancy may wish to google the dates and the Chifley government – but I am confident that the Chifley government was a Labor government and Labor was in power in 1946. Bob Menzies was in opposition. True the ABC was set up in 1932 – but it didn’t have its own news service at that time. Perhaps if Nancy had read K.S. Inglis’ This is the ABC: The Australian Broadcasting Commission 1932-1983 (MUP, 1983) he would have known that already.
If he had read our book Nancy would know we have a longer discussion of this point at pages 53 and 54:
In the debate over the 1932 bill, the Labor member for Kalgoorlie, Albert Green, warned of the ‘chains of newspapers … obtaining such a stranglehold over the eastern part of the Victoria, and disseminating its propaganda through the stations that it controls’. The private monopolisation of radio—‘one of the most revolutionary additions to the pool of human resources’—was constantly invoked by Labor members throughout the early debates. This concern, they felt, was more than just theoretical. The 1931 election loss showed, they felt, that the private media was systematically biased against the Labor Party, and a public broadcaster would be able to right that wrong.
Control of the wireless was the high ground of the political contest during the interwar years. In New South Wales the Lang government had sought to establish a state government radio network that would resist what Labor saw as the Nationalist Party-dominated private media. As Green, the most forthright of the Labor members on this point in the 1932 debate, put it:
“Some B class stations are controlled by newspaper combines, which use them to broadcast only one political opinion. I had hoped that the air would be free to all, and that at election time every party would be given an opportunity to express its opinions over the air. Unfortunately that has not been our experience. Certain newspaper combines are endeavouring to obtain a monopoly of B class stations, and I sound the note of warning that sooner or later some government will have to tackle the very difficult, but necessary task of dealing with the problem of metropolitan B class stations. Nothing short of a complete national scheme will do.”
In this sense, independence was understood by the Labor Party as being pro-Labor—or, at least, not anti-Labor. The 1942 inquiry into wireless reiterated this concern, arguing that public broadcasting was needed ‘to prevent the service from being used for improper purposes’.
So when Nancy claims:
As to Chris Berg’s idea that the ABC was set up by the Labor Party in 1932 to provide balance to the Murdoch press (i.e. the newspapers controlled by Keith Murdoch) – well it’s one of the great media howlers of our time.
That is a lie – Chris made no such claim. Maybe this is why he still appears on Insiders – able to manufacture untruths about his betters while citing books he clearly hasn’t read.
What actually happened in 1932?
Nancy says that Lyons’ predecessor, Labor PM Scullin, “had other things on his mind than establishing a national broadcaster” and that the ABC was “a relatively conservative institution” in its early decades.
If one were to actually read Inglis as far as pages 17 – 18 you would learn that the Scullin government introduced a bill to establish the ABC into parliament “on the very day that government was defeated in the House of Representatives”. And “A Bill differing little was introduced [by the Lyons government] on 9 March, and after some vigorous debate and some amendment the Australian Broadcasting Act became law on 17 May 1932”. Oh dear.
Was the ABC a conservative policy as Nancy claims? Again no. The legal historian Geoffrey Sawer described James Fenton, the postmaster general who brought the bill through parliament, as speaking “more like a Labor man than a U.A.P. man”. (Australian Federal Politics and Law 1929-1949, MUP 1963 p. 54).
Bottom line is this – Nancy has misled The Australian readership as to his understanding of the events he is discussing. He has misled his readership as to what Chris Berg was saying. He has not read our book, he has not read Inglis. Presumably he has read Mrs Nancy’s book. Pretty poor effort.