Media madness

Tony Moore & Evan Jones

The ABC fades to black

Tony Moore

So its come to this. Four Corners, one of the world's longest running television programs, is now under pressure from an ABC executive that is less cultural visionary than a feral abacus.

The ABC should not have to choose between current affairs, entertainment, documentaries and drama. We want it to do all these things and the government is obliged to fund it to meet all charter requirements.

Corporate sponsorship, seized upon by Christopher Pine after being floated by Robert Manne, will undermine whatever diversity the ABC still has. SBS style between-program advertising will by necessity influence what programs get commissioned, even if editorial independence is guaranteed.

The ABC bureaucracy is unfit to deal with the commercial temptations that limited advertising brings with it, and the same favouritism that currently dominates co-production and outsourcing will see 'uncommercial' program proposals that upset the market for commodities ignored, before the government even gets the chance to attack them.

The on-going program cuts by the board and ABC management are caused by the ongoing funding squeeze by the Howard government that has made its hostility to the national broadcaster only too clear.

However, given this hostile environment, the ABC board and its advisers should cut more wisely and imaginatively, lancing management fat and sharpening up its business dealings with co-producers, rather than axing treasured on-air content and hacking into the already tight budgets of flag ship programs like Four Corners, Australian Story and Foreign Correspondent.

From ABC enterprises to SES salary packages, there are plentiful non-program areas that could be trimmed.

It might have seemed like smart politics to the ABC board to bring its funding pain home to the public by ditching Behind the News. But the spotlight has been shone back onto ABC management's criteria for chopping particular areas, and has once again undermined the security and morale of hard working program makers.

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Speaking of media bias

By Evan Jones

Why was Australia in Iraq? Prime Minister John Howard joined the 'Coalition of the Willing' after George Dubya's phone call. There was no parliamentary debate or vote (probably a godsend for the moral pygmies on both sides of the House). Has the colonial cringe ever been as base as at this moment?

White Australia's character was nurtured on the teat of Mother England. Its constitution was passed by the British parliament. The military was for long an arm of the British forces. Australia's foreign policy was essentially derivative from Britain until a Washington embassy was established in 1940.

The post-World War II Labor government's attempts to nationalise the commercial banks was ultimately decided in the British Privy Council, a judicial lineage not abolished until 1975. A republic is still on the back-burner.

The Cold War was not a propitious time to forge independence, and so it proved, especially with the Yanks going bananas over Mao's victory in 1949. The Menzies government sent troops to Korea.

A month later the government obtained the first of a series of dollar loans from the World Bank. The massive Snowy Mountains Scheme project brought in the United States Bureau of Reclamation, and behind the USBR came the American contractors. Procurement of capital and industrial and military equipment was dislodged from the previously intimate British connections.

And so Australia replaced one imperial elder with another (albeit for a period kowtowing to both of them). Australia agreed not to recognise 'Red' China. During the Vietnam War it was 'all the way with LBJ'. In the 1960s, three intelligence bases were placed on Australian soil (North West Cape, Pine Gap and Nurrungar), of enormous significance for snooping on the Eastern Hemisphere. Bolshie labour leaders were the subject of special attention by US attachés.

The 1972 Whitlam Labor government looked dangerously independent in spirit, and so the Yanks sent in the enforcer Marshall Green as ambassador, fresh from keeping the lid on subversion in Indonesia.

After Whitlam was sacked in 1975, things quietened down in the Antipodes. Small beginnings towards a less dependent and Asian-focused foreign and military policy were developing in the 1980s, but this was snuffed out with the election of the Howard government in 1996. The 1997 White Paper, In the National Interest, provided an immediate pointer to the Coalition's shift to the American embrace.

This altered course was right on cue for lap-dog support of regime change in the Middle East. In this thrust John Howard has been ably assisted by the media.

We are not well served by the two companies that dominate the Australian print media.

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