Jackboot Journalism

The ABC does a number on the IPA


It had to happen. After our years of analysis and commentary on the bias of the ABC, it was only a matter or time before it responded. As if to confirm the thesis, the ABC did what only those without arguments do: it hit out.

Mr Stuart Littlemore, in his report on ABC-TV on Monday 9 April 2001, managed in a short 15 minutes to confirm all the claims that the IPA has been making about the ABC: bias, staff capture, lack of objectivity and an inability to understand what is wrong with itself.

The entire programme was devoted to an attack on the IPA and its recent conference on the ABC in Sydney. Littlemore's report stands as a classic example of jackboot journalism.


For those with more than a passing interest in the IPA conference, Their ABC or Our ABC?, it is obvious that we took great trouble in bringing together people from a wide range of political and professional perspectives, particularly those with a great deal of knowledge of the ABC. Indeed, six of the ten speakers were or are currently employed by, or contracted to, the ABC, adding up to over 90 years of experience with the broadcaster. (A list of speakers is included below.)

The IPA has been interested in the media since the 1980s. In recent years, it established the Media Monitoring Unit to respond to the need for detailed, empirical and objective measures of political bias in the media. We believe that we succeeded. The Conference took a constructive approach, providing detailed evidence of the lack of balance in the ABC and what might sensibly be done about it.


The Conference had extensive press coverage, as has our other media work. It is clear that there is widespread concern in the community and that the issues raised at the Conference and the standing of its speakers were newsworthy.

What was Littlemore's response? Rather than address the issues, our arguments and our evidence, he used libel, made specious claims, engaged in character assassination, and used false association and trick photography to damage the IPA's credibility and reputation.


We have made a formal complaint to Jonathan Shier, the Managing Director, and requested a right of reply---on air---to Littlemore's accusations and fabrications. We await the response.

The IPA will take no legal action. We all know that mud sticks and that a retraction through formal channels would take considerable time. In addition, the IPA---a small NGO cannot readily sustain legal action against the ABC, a $600 million corporation---even if the law and the evidence are entirely on the IPA's side. This decision will, however, allow us to pursue a public examination of Littlemore's Report and reveal his contempt for his audience and his inability to engage in constructive argument.


To this end, we are including here, on our website, a detailed analysis of the Littlemore report together with a rectification of his 'facts' and claims. We also provide a complete transcript of his programme.

We will leave it to you to discover to what degree the programme was a gross abuse of the ABC's power and influence. The standard of journalism and of treatment of critics shown by Littlemore has no place in, and should not be tolerated in, any media outlet---let alone a public broadcaster.

Dr Michael Nahan, Executive Director, Institute of Public Affairs.

Littlemore Programme: Monday 9 April, ABC-TV

False Claims:

Littlemore claimed three times that Rupert Murdoch or News Limited was a financial contributor to the IPA. He claimed:
"Rupert's one of the obscenely rich people behind the IPA"
"IPA-backer Murdoch's Australian"
"The major financial contributors to the IPA include ... News Limited".


Littlemore falsely claimed that: "News Limited... Also donates a great deal of space on its op-ed pages to the cause of which Murdoch is a member."


The Programme stated that William and Harold Clough, two IPA Board members, are also board members of West Australian Newspapers Limited.
This claim is false. Neither man is on the board of West Australian Newspapers Limited. Hal Clough was, but resigned last year. Bill Clough never was.

Littlemore claimed "The names on the IPA's board are harbingers of its message ... Casino owners are well represented".

Littlemore stated, on the question of the IPA claims of ABC bias, "The IPA has one song to sing on the ABC. They can't back any of it up with proof of bias" and "What the IPA don't do is adduce any evidence of this bias".

Littlemore claimed that "ABC Radio gives Warby ( IPA Staff) a regular slot on 3LO Melbourne"

Littlemore claimed that "Michael Warby ... is a salaried mouth-piece (of the IPA)".


False motives:

Littlemore repeatedly and falsely claimed that the Conference and the IPA were "extremely well-funded" or "moneyed", "a great testament to the power of money in our media".
Littlemore was told that:


The most serious and libellous claim made by Littlemore was that the Institute is a "right-wing propaganda organisation".


False Description:

Littlemore falsely describes the Conference as " the usual coterie of harmless duffers" and a "drone fest of the same old..."

In truth, the conference brought together people from a range of political and professional perspectives; people with a great deal of expertise in and about the ABC and a group whose expertise covers a wide range of ABC activities.

Littlemore avoided mentioning or referring to the speakers who did not fit into his 'right-wing mould" such as Tony Moore, Publisher of the left-wing Pluto Press or Richard Fidler, currently doing a film for the ABC.

He omitted to mention the many speakers with extensive experience with the ABC. Six of the ten speakers, including Quentin Dempster, were or are currently employed by, or contracted to, the ABC. The five former or current ABC people, other than Mr Dempster, have collectively clocked up over 60 years with the ABC. Littlemore omitted to mention Keith MacKriell, former federal Head of ABC Radio, Dr Franco Papandrea, a policy analyst in the Federal government for over 25 years, or Don Parham, a documentary film maker.

Littlemore purposely misconstrued Pru Goward's contribution.

Littlemore falsely claimed that the IPA was "pushing uranium mining against aboriginal land rights".

Littlemore falsely claimed that the Institute was "for tobacco".


False Associations:

Littlemore claimed that "The IPA is against" (Aborigines, the environment, gays and lesbians and gun control).


Sexist Comment and Distortion:

Littlemore described the criticism of the ABC as a "slap with a limp wrist" and cut immediately to Michael Warby---a Fellow of the Institute who is an openly gay man---clearly a homophobic innuendo.

He repeatedly referred to and focused on David Barnett, the husband of Pru Goward---the only female speaker at the conference. And he did this despite the fact the Mr Barnett did not speak at the conference, or ever write on the issue of the ABC in any IPA publication, or ever work for the IPA. His association was solely with Pru.

He adjusted the speed of the film, the angle of the film and the lighting to cast speakers in a bad light---things which he and his predecessor have continuously railed against.

On two occasions he flashed pictures of Hitler on the screen in a clear attempt to provide a false visual connection between the IPA and the Nazi leader.

For a transcript of the episode of "Littlemore" in question, please click here: Transcript

IPA Conference Contributors

Michael Warby, Fellow of the Institute of Public Affairs
Why bother with balance and accuracy when you have virtue?

Tony Moore, Publisher of Pluto Press and ex-producer for ABC TV
Did anyone ask the audience? There is more to life than the mandarins know

Don Parham, independent documentary film-maker, ex-ABC Presenter
Confronting ABC bias---the war we had to have

Franco Papandrea, Director, Communication and Media Policy Institute, University of Canberra
Is public broadcasting needed in a digital age?

Michael Duffy, Publisher and columnist
Eat your heart out Rupert Murdoch: the ABC of synergy and monopoly

Pru Goward, ex-ABC Reporter and political commentator
Nothing that a good dose of clear thinking won't fix

Keith Mackriell, Federal Head of ABC Radio from 1974 to 1984
Promise deferred

Quentin Dempster, Presenter, Stateline NSW
Destroying the ABC

Christopher Pearson, Editor of The Adelaide Review and columnist
The problem of staff capture

Paddy McGuinness, Editor of Quadrant and columnist

(Please click here for access to Conference papers)

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