Friday, April 11, 2014

Whose ABC?

It’s their ABC according to conservative punters, politicians and commentators. The suggestion is that the ABC is become just another Australian media outlet that’s sympathetic to the progressive cause, promoting ALP politicians and policies over those of the Coalition Government, that it's not supportive of the Government or the 'home team'.

It's a matter of perspective. Any consumer of Murdoch’s News Corporation and the majority of Sky News Australia’s offerings would have to turn their heads to the left to see the ABC, yet that doesn’t mean that the ABC is a lefty-socialist mouthpiece, as conservatives would have us believe. According to the Political Compass, both the ALP and Liberal well to the right of the centre line, and I'd suggest that they've both edged ever further to the horizon in the seven months since then.

An analysis of guests on the ABC’s two flagship panel shows, Q&A and Insiders shows where those two shows line up on the issue of bias. The result is that each show is fairly well balanced, with Insiders slightly favouring the right, and Q&A slightly favouring the left.

Insiders has slid a little to the left, though. In earlier years, regular Insiders guests included Andrew Bolt and Piers Akerman, both hard-line conservative climate-change-denying commentators who write their opinion pieces for News Corporation. Mr Bolt has his own show on Network Ten, and Mr Akerman has simply disappeared from television. For the sake of simplicity, anyone who regularly writes for the Murdoch papers has been placed in the conservative column.

With Q&A in particular, it can be difficult to categorise the political leanings of every guest, as they aren’t all known as politicians or political commentators: guests include comedians and musicians, business leaders and theologians. Those guests have not been categorised, except in blatant cases like Billy Bragg. Palmer United Party representatives have been tagged as conservative, despite being further left than the ALP. 

It’s also unfair to criticise Q&A for being slightly more progressive; Prime Minister Tony Abbott has an open invitation to appear on Q&A, but has refused to appear on the show for several years. 

To give any perceived bias inherent within these ABC programmes some context, the most direct comparison is with another current affairs chat show: Sky News Australia’s evening chat show, PM Live. The show’s regular guests are predominantly conservative commentators and former Liberal politicians. The single former-ALP politician who was a regular panellist was Mark Latham, and he has not appeared on the programme since his on-air shout-athon with Chris Kenny.

So in comparison to PM Live, the ABC panel shows have a higher proportion of left-leaning guests. That's only part of the story, though. The ABC shows are far more balanced and closer to the centre, as required by its charter. It is, in fact, Our ABC.

Post Script: No analysis of Andrew Bolt's guests was possible, as the Network Ten website now automatically redirects to, which is great for watching past programmes, but useless for readers like me. More dumbing down, courtesy of Ten?

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