Mark the day – Sunday 13 March 2011, the day Andrew Bolt took over as compère of the ABC’s Insiders
, bullied his way into the dialogue and eventually ruled the roost, leaving Barrie Cassidy looking defeated.
That day the panelists comprised three current and past News Limited journalists – Andrew Bolt from Melbourne’s Herald Sun
, The Daily Telegraph’s
Malcolm Farr, and Kerry-Anne Walsh, a political reporter for The Daily Telegraph, Sunday Telegraph
and The Sun-Herald
and now writing and commentating for national and international publications and broadcast media.
Many who comment here and on other blogs in the Fifth Estate have lamented what seems to them to be a steady take over of OUR ABC by News Limited. Again and again ABC news headlines replicate, sometimes word for word, headlines in a News Limited outlet. While everyone knows that news is news and that accounts of the news are likely to resemble each other, the carbon copy we see so often on the ABC suggests that ABC staff, now required to run a 24 hour news service as well as its TV and radio news bulletins, are so stressed that copying headlines is the best they can do, or that this is a deliberate strategy that is approved by ABC management. How many times have we heard ‘The Leader of the Opposition says…’ or ‘The Opposition has objected to…’ before we hear what the Opposition is responding to? Instead of putting it the other way round, leading with what the Government is saying or doing, and then giving the Opposition response, an eminently logical sequence, it is the Opposition up front. This looks to be quite deliberate. And since many of these sorts of headlines in News Limited media derive directly from Coalition press releases, the inbuilt bias of such releases is perpetuated.
But this infringement of political reportage pales when compared with the flagrant infringements we see when Andrew Bolt appears on Insiders
Bolt, who is vying for the title of Australia’s most aggressive shock jock, has a penchant for taking over Insiders
with his bullying, loud-mouthed, ‘I will not be silenced’ behaviour that thrusts aside comments from the other panelists and sadly the show’s host Barrie Cassidy. Any comment with which Bolt does not agree, whether made by Cassidy or the other panelists, is dismissed with an imperious wave of his hand and a supercilious smirk. On this week’s show, Malcolm Farr tried to counter Bolt’s claim that Kevin Rudd had sought to dominate the front page of the Sunday edition of The Courier Mail
, by explaining that the decision about what appeared on the front page was the paper’s not Rudd’s, but that was of no interest to Bolt who peremptorily dismissed Farr’s comment. Kerry-Anne Walsh made no attempt to contradict Bolt. Perhaps she agreed with his every utterance, but I suspect Bolt’s intimidation ensured her compliance.
The saddest sight though was Barrie Cassidy, who many of us like and respect, diminished by Bolt’s aggression, intimidated by his bullying, subjugated by his rudeness and self-opinionated dominance, and eventually reduced to the defeated look of the conquered in a cock-fight. We longed for Cassidy to pull Bolt into line, to contradict his outrageous statements filled with hate and loathing for Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard, but no, Bolt was allowed unfettered opportunity to emit his bile on whomever he pleased.
This is not the first time that Bolt has behaved this way on Insiders
. Similar performances have evoked angry letters to Cassidy imploring him to ditch Bolt from his panel in the interests of balanced discourse about contemporary politics that at present are as complex as they have ever been. But the pleas have fallen on deaf ears. Is Cassidy deaf to the damage Bolt inflicts on our ABC when he appears on Insiders
, or is he bound by a contractual arrangement that guarantees Bolt a regular place, or is Bolt’s appearance part of a deliberate strategy of ABC management to facilitate Bolt’s extreme views? We ask the questions, but know not to expect any answers.
Past communication with Barrie Cassidy have evoked an always-courteous but generic response. The ABC values our feedback and is grateful for our communications, but excuses itself on the grounds that the likes of Bolt are used to provide what the ABC euphemistically likes to call ‘balance’.
You cannot achieve balance by engaging someone who is consistently antagonistic to one side of politics, even if the others are leaning the other way. Balance is achieved by engaging balanced people. By no stretch of the imagination could Bolt ever be categorised as balanced.
While facilitating difference of opinion is stock in trade for current affairs programs, that is achieved by engaging panelists who exhibit a diversity of opinion, sometimes for, sometime against the various political parties and their policies. Check this week’s Insiders
and find even one occasion when Bolt said anything complimentary about Julia Gillard, Kevin Rudd or any member of the Government. It was all negative, carping, destructive, finishing with his prediction: "Julia Gillard is finished".
We know that Greg Jericho’s caustic comments on Grog’s Gamut
about reportage of the run up to the last election caught the attention of Mark Scott, MD of the ABC, who took his comments to a meeting of his executives and to a forum on journalism. He took them seriously. Whether any change of behaviour at the ABC resulted is difficult to discern, but we hope he might similarly take note of all the voices of protest that were generated by this week’s Insiders
, more than I can recall previously. Evidence of action in response would be the permanent removal of Bolt from the Insiders
panel. That might prove to be too difficult for the ABC who no doubt would fear a backlash from Bolt and from News Limited for whom he operates. I suspect that a ‘long talk with Andrew Bolt, asking him to tone it down a bit’, would be the ABC’s preferred option. But those who have observed Bolt over the years know that a ‘good talking-to’ will do nothing to change his behaviour.
Bolt is a case hardened political operative for the conservative side of politics. His aim is to remove the Labor Government from power, even if that means having to endure an Abbott Government. He will use any means in his considerable armamentarium, backed as he is with all the power that his sponsor News Limited has at its disposal. He is a formidable operative boosted by a level of arrogance that saw him yesterday returning to his blog to boast about what ‘fun’ he had had on Insiders
, while ‘others were choking with rage’.
Those of us who value what OUR ABC has to offer, resent the influence News Limited appears to exert on our ABC through its news bulletins and current affairs programs, and the pernicious influence that the likes of News Limited’s Andrew Bolt has on the ABC’s flagship political program Insiders
. We are angry at the subversive influence of News Limited on the ABC through its media outlets and political operatives.
Yesterday seemed like a turning point, when what we had been suspecting for years – that increasingly News Limited was dominating the ABC – became obvious as Andrew Bolt took over and arrogantly, and with almost no resistance, pushed his venomous agenda as he pleased. If you see it differently, don’t forget what Bolt and other political operatives tell us repeatedly, ‘in politics, perception is everything’.
This is our perception - we want OUR ABC back. And if we can’t have it back, don’t expect us to stay tuned to Insiders
when Bolt is there.
What do you think?