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
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.
BALANCE IN THE SYDNEY CONFERENCE
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
PRESS COVERAGE SUCCESS
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.
Programme: Monday 9 April, ABC-TV
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-backer Murdoch's Australian"
"The major financial contributors to the IPA include ...
- All three statements are false
and Mr Littlemore knew them to be false. Robert Hodsen and Sally
Virgo, Littlemore's research assistants, inquired about our board
and founders. They specifically asked about News Limited and
Mr Murdoch. They were repeatedly told that neither Mr Murdoch
and his family, nor News Limited are associated with the Institute
as board members or supporters.
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."
- Murdoch papers do not
donate space to the IPA. Our material is accepted at the discretion
of the journalist in charge for topicality and quality in just
the same way that similar decisions are made in the ABC.
- The Programme stated that William and Harold Clough, two
IPA Board members, are also board members of West Australian
- 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".
- This is false. No representative
of any casino or gaming organisation is on the IPA board.
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".
- The purpose of the one-day conference was to provide evidence
of bias and it did so in some considerable detail. The Littlemore
team attended and filmed the conference and had access to all
the papers delivered at the conference. The Littlemore Programme
also had access to two Backgrounders produced by the IPA
on media bias. It would have been legitimate for Littlemore to
disagree with contributors' methodology, data, or conclusions---but
it is improper to claim that we have provided no evidence.
Littlemore claimed that "ABC Radio gives Warby ( IPA
Staff) a regular slot on 3LO Melbourne"
- This is also false. Michael
Nahan, the IPA's Executive Director, did have a regular fortnightly
slot on 3LO, which ended three years ago. Michael Warby has never
had a regular slot on 3LO.
Littlemore claimed that "Michael Warby ... is a salaried
mouth-piece (of the IPA)".
- Dr Nahan, in his discussion with Robert Hodsen, made it clear
that all published contributions by IPA employees are those of
the authors themselves and that there is no "IPA line".
Mr Warby is no more a salaried mouthpiece of the IPA than the
ABC's own journalists are salaried mouthpieces of the ABC.
- 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 conference was run on a shoestring budget, no-one was
paid and the entire conference cost the IPA a net $800. In contrast,
Littlemore's hatchet job on the conference probably cost the
Australian taxpayer over $16,000;
- apart from the 50-or-so people who voluntarily give the Institute
between $25 and $50 for work on the media, the Institute receives
no financial support for its work on the ABC and the media;
- no corporate supporter has ever suggested that the IPA undertake
work on the ABC. Indeed the Institute's work on the ABC, because
of it controversial nature and the fear of retribution by the
ABC, undermines our corporate funding base. The interest in the
ABC comes from the Institute's staff and from its grass roots.
Feedback from our 2,000-plus individual members indicates that
bias in the ABC is the issue that most concerns them.
- some of the speakers at the conference took great financial
risk by speaking out, as they depend upon the ABC for a large
proportion of their funding.
- there is no link, commercial or otherwise, between the media
and the IPA. Our ideas and arguments and those of the conference
participants were reported in the media solely because they were
newsworthy---which is the point that Littlemore is trying to
The most serious and libellous claim made by Littlemore
was that the Institute is a "right-wing propaganda organisation".
- As spelled out in our website, to which Littlemore had access,
the IPA's independence is one of its most valuable assets and
it maintains its integrity in two ways:
- First, we make extensive use of our own Research Committee
and external referees for our monographs, for many of the Backgrounder
series and for any other publication that might be controversial
or highly technical. Final decisions on these publications rest
with the Committee and not with any sponsor or contributor. No
confidential studies are undertaken.
- Second, we ensure that our funding base is wide and diverse.
We have no government funding, nor are we beholden to, or the
mouthpiece for, any particular section of the community or any
particular economic activity or group. Our annual budget---about
$800,000---is obtained from more than 2,000 individuals, corporations
and foundations. No single source accounts for more than 7 per
cent and no sector accounts for more than 15 per cent of total
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.
- First he quoted her applauding the ABC for opposing injustice
and revealing the shortcomings of our democratically elected
leaders but chiding the ABC for a philosophy that opposes free
speech, free enterprise, etc. Littlemore misconstrues the quote
to say she was suggesting that the ABC and people in general
who opposed injustice also opposed democracy which she clearly
does not. Littlemore then, through one of two references to Hitler,
misquotes her message to develop a false association with him.
Littlemore falsely claimed that the IPA was "pushing
uranium mining against aboriginal land rights".
- The IPA has never done
so. The article which Littlemore flashed on screen to support
this claim did no such thing. It discussed the importance of
the Ranger Uranium mine to the Aboriginal communities with rights
over the mine's land and that an expansion was being held up
by a dispute between competing groups claiming the rights. In
the article, the rights were taken as given and were not criticised.
Littlemore falsely claimed that the Institute was "for tobacco".
- The Institute has never
published or argued in favour of tobacco products or smoking.
It has written and argued about the rights of smokers, against
excessive taxation of tobacco products and the misuse of science
in the debate about passive smoking, but never in favour of smoking
or the use of tobacco products. The article by Ron Brunton which
was flashed on screen in apparent support of his claim was, in
fact, highly critical of smoking, saying
"There is no denying that smoking greatly increases the
risk of lung cancer as well as other diseases. But the anti-smoking
advocates take their battle against the tobacco companies much
further than this, hoping to inflict such damage on them through
litigation that the whole industry will go under. Smokers are
portrayed as victims, who bear little personal responsibility
for their habit. And all of us are supposedly at risk from passive
Littlemore falsely made a claim that Alan Moran in his paper,
sub-headed the "cost and benefits of smoking", was
unable to point to any benefits. The study quantified and discussed
in detail the benefits of smoking in terms of willingness-to-pay
according to accepted methodologies.
Littlemore claimed that "The IPA is against" (Aborigines,
the environment, gays and lesbians and gun control).
- His reference was to an article by David Barnett, the husband
of Pru Goward, commenting on the ABC in the Australian Financial
Review. The association is entirely baseless. The article
he quoted bore no relationship to the IPA, its author has never
worked for the IPA (he has written articles which were published
in our quarterly journal The IPA Review but these, as
is stated in the journal, are the views of the author), he has
never written for the IPA on the topic of the article (including
in The IPA Review).
In this context he used a quotation from Adolf Hitler, "the
broad mass of the nation ... will more easily fall victim to
a big lie than to a small one", to imply an association
with the activities of the IPA which he repeatedly labelled as
a right-wing propaganda organisation.
The association is, of course, baseless
and false, as are the 'right-wing' and 'propaganda'
tags. The Institute---unlike Hitler, and may we say Littlemore
and the ABC---cannot propagate anything to the nation except
through the media. And what influence we have in the media rests
solely on the strength of our ideas, evidence and arguments.
As for any so-called big lie to which Littlemore referred, that
would be better exemplified by the knowingly spurious claim he
made that we have failed to provide evidence of bias.
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
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
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
Don Parham, independent documentary film-maker,
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
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
(Please click here for access
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