OPINION – The Liberals versus ABC Journalists

Opinion written by Dr Ian Cook, Murdoch University Senior Lecturer In Global Politics & Policies 

Justin Milne’s resignation as chair of the ABC is yet another moment in an ongoing feud between the Liberal Party and ABC journalists.

Allegations that he tried to fire journalists who were “hated” by the Australian Government were the reason that Milne had to resign. But tension between some people within the Liberal Party and ABC journalists has been going on since at least the mid-1970s.

Bias, especially political bias, is always a tricky thing to write about. What to one person seems to be fair and balanced reporting can seem outrageously partisan reporting to another person.

And given that they are obsessed with how they are reported in the media and generally convinced that they’ve been unfairly treated if they are ever criticized, politicians are the most likely to see themselves as victims of bias. Simply to be challenged to defend their decisions and policies can outrage some Ministers and Prime Ministers.

When it comes to biased reporting, the major parties have different journalists in mind when they complain about bias. For the ALP it’s the bias of News Limited journalists. For the Liberals it’s the bias of ABC journalists.

And, to some extent, they’re both right.

I’m not trying to undermine or question the integrity of ABC journalists by saying so, but ABC journalists are likely to appear biased by those in the Liberal Party.

ABC journalists work for a publicly funded corporation and some members of the Liberal Party don’t believe that publicly funded organizations, especially news media organizations, should exist. So there is an ideological division at work here.

And journalists are, as a whole, generally more progressive in their political outlooks than most people and many in the Liberal Party. How much this affects their reporting is debatable. But it’s possible that their reporting reflects their progressive views.

If you believe in climate science, for example, as progressives generally do, then it will be hard to take a climate change denier seriously. Just ask Malcolm Roberts.

So there is likely to be a progressive bias in ABC reporting. How strong that bias is and whether it affects the substance of ABC reporting is another matter. And there are exceptions to the rule that a level of anti-Liberal bias is inevitable in ABC reporting. The ABC’S Chief political correspondent in WA, Jessica Strutt, for example, used to be media advisor to then Liberal Premier Colin Barnett. So we need to be careful about making blanket statements about an inevitable bias in ABC reporting.

The only difference between News limited journalists and ABC journalists is that News Limited journalists don’t have a charter that says hey are supposed to be fair and balanced in their reporting and they’re not, in a way, government employees.

Both groups of journalists would argue that their commitment to journalistic integrity means that their reporting is as fair and balanced as possible. It’s just that most people in both major parties won’t believe them.

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